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Return of the Peepers

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

I have made my way down to Dean's Fork, tracking animals all the way. As I hit the dirt road I hear from upstream an enormous chorus of spring peepers, so many that I can hardly believe my ears. So instead of turning downstream, as I have for the last six months, I head up. 

I head toward the beaver pond, which had all but dried up when I saw it last fall. 

And what a sight met my wondering eyes. The pond was full. As full as I'd ever seen it. 

The dam had been completely rebuilt to its original 2009 height, with an interesting angle to it that I'd not seen before. I stood and gaped. 

I let my eyes run over that miraculous expanse of water. Sweet, deep, muddy water. 
And I heard a splash and gurgle.

And the architect of it all, the higher intelligence I so adore, swam slowly toward me. 

I stood behind some trees, trying to melt into them, but it was clear he saw me.  His head was high. His nose was searching for my scent.

And it was equally clear he did not fear me. Twice he made a circuit of the pond, passing close, looking right at me.

It was an honor I neither expected nor deserved, but I gave thanks just the same.

And whispered to him not to be so trusting of men.

The beaver was back. The beaver? I don't know. A beaver was back. And the dam had been completely restored. I could not believe it.

 How I wish I could impart just a molecule of the wonder and joy Dean's Fork brings me, to the soulless loser who destroyed that beaver dam.  But I know that there is no redemption for one so callous. You might as well appeal to a tornado to spare something in its path.  And, I'm told by our wildlife officer, there's no legal recourse when no law enforcement agent is present to witness his vandalism. To see it all come back despite his worst attempt has been a fragile, trembling victory. I will never again be able to visit without a preamble of anguish, for wondering whether he'd have gotten to it first.  Loving this place as deeply as I do, knowing that dreck-for-brains is bent on its destruction, is like living with a big old boot hanging by a frayed thread over your head, ready to drop at any time.

Extend that metaphor, now, to include the men in white pickups; the dump trucks and tankers and flatbeds strapped tight with pipe that now hurtle along our winding roads: the oil and gas development going on in our shale-rich region. Last summer, all Dean's Fork was strung with orange spaghetti--extension cords running to seismic testing instrumentation for its entire 3.5 mile length. For all I know, they've marked off some or all of it for destruction and drilling. I suppose I could find out, but I don't want to know. At this point, knowing might kill me. I just don't want to know. 

I've spent four solid days writing this series of posts. Along with "They're Drilling My Forest," they have been among the most difficult I've ever had to write.  But I have to write them. I won't get another deep breath if I don't. The story of the Dean's Fork beaver pond has become a song cycle for me. I feel I have to tell it all--the beautiful, the magical, the mystical and the horrible--to try to convey what this place means to me. What it means to live in tired old, lovely old, beat up old Appalachian Ohio at the height of its seventh oil exploration boom. What it means to be deeply invested in a place whose inestimable beauty and diversity might not survive the new and more avid attentions of the men in white trucks. Compared to the destructive power of Protege Energy, the creep who blew up this beaver dam is a mosquito.

Listen to those wood thrushes sing, and replace that with the roar of a drill rig. That's what we're up against.

 My complex relationship with this place has been an object lesson to cherish the moment and the setting and the people around me right now, for I can never know when all will be brought to nothing. I have no steadying constant in my life I can rely on to sustain me save the love of the land. One can only draw so much strength from within. There must be input, and I get that from the land.

Is it any wonder I sing out day after day, season after season, about all that is still here, alive, thriving, and good? 

I sing like a goddamned bird.

 Like a heavenly chorus of spring peepers. Who better to celebrate the return of light and life, leaf and love, and water, life-giving water, than these permeable beings** of water, mud and air?


**A poem given to me by my lovely and loving friend Donna. I've borrowed Ms. Tibbett's word, because it's perfect. As is this poem, perfect for this post, which is all about wonder at the fact that, despite humanity's best efforts to crush them, spring peepers and beavers are

Still Here Softened by a glass or two of Cabernet, I left my neighbors’ crowded table, our bursts of laughter, and dour conversation about man and his dangerous antics in our only world, and went to the kitchen for more bread. There, through the window, a sweep of damp air and wild spring calls of peepers and wood frogs rushed in like the Holy Ghost and made me pause. Their piercing chorus of voices mixed into such a deep soup of sound that one frog was indistinguishable from another. And for one long moment I was held there in the world’s big hands, and everything that mattered was evening with its early, scattered stars, the fragile smell of daffodils and boggy water, and the mating calls of a population of those finely-tuned, permeable animals (indicators of the Earth’s well-being) so much older than we are, that have survived ice ages and the shifting of continental plates, but are now disappearing — though still here thriving in woods beyond my neighbor’s lawn in this hollow where we are all clinging to the slippery edge of wildness, where I was allowed a rush of such sweetness and grief, those fraternal twins who are born in us again and again, though perhaps not forever, singing whether or not we listen. Elizabeth Tibbetts First published in the Beloit Poetry Journal As printed in Science and Conservation of Vernal Pools in Northeastern North America: Ecology and Conservation of Seasonal Wetlands in Northeastern North America, by Aram J. K. Calhoun, August 2007


Sometimes when you write, I picture you sitting there channeling Annie Dillard (...if one can even channel someone still living?); so moving, so spot-on; the mixture of "the beautiful, the magical, the mystical and the horrible" is really what life's all about, and somehow keeping the proportions in proper perspective.

Beautiful. Thank you

Thanks for your message this morning. I feel your anger, I'm angry too, at the senseless destruction perpetrated on this planet, our home. Sometimes it seems completely hopeless, but then the cheerful songs of the spring peepers bring back some hope.

As a Native American, I feel your anger at the destruction of natural habitat of animals and the senseless pollution of fossil fuels. I wish our leaders would invest in clean energy but that too might have consequences i.e. the wind mills.

Even before the video, I could see the waters in the pond rippling--the power of your words working magic.
Thank you--just for being. But also for being observant, poetic, loving, caring.

How it brought home to me that old bitter twisting pain to hear your loved voice saying you hate the card-carrying cretin who twice destroyed the Dean's Fork beaver pond and it's beautiful microenvironment. I was 13 when I first experienced that pain and have never been completely free of it. Such (destruction) is not life; such is death. The only consolation is knowing a like-minded community is out there, willing and ready to stand against such wanton destruction, and I fervently hope that our numbers and will grow strong enough to stop it.

Beavers are resilient. They were among the first wildlife back after Mt St Helen's erupted, and the first to recolonize Chernobyl. That beaver is probably a beaver family, repairing the dam so that the lodge stays underwater and kits can be safely born in may or June. Enjoy!

Julie, do you know the despicable subhuman who committed this horrible deed? I don't want the name....I just want to channel bad thoughts his way. Horrible horrible horrible person!!!
Is there a den rebuilt in the pond? I hope so.....when next you commune with the beaver, ask him to hide from people in case the idiot returns.
The peepers are in full force here in the dark hours. What a lovely sound. They are loud enough for us to raise our voices to speak to each other outside. Love it! And in the abundance of our early warming the birds are in full glory....more than ever before!

Thank you so much for the whole Dean's Fork series of posts, and for all you do, Julie. Keep saying it, for all of us who care.

I'm so happy for you and the beavers! I don't understand WHY the moron destroyed the dam. It's not his land. He's not building anything there to replace it. I just don't understand what his motivation might be.

Posted by Anonymous April 26, 2017 at 3:37 AM
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