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Solstice Celebration

Saturday, June 27, 2020

I took a celebratory walk down the entire road, a total of 3 miles down and 3 miles back up, on June 21. I was celebrating the Summer Solstice, and it was going to be a scorcher, so I started well before sunrise in the cool of the night. I wanted to be in the arms of Dean's Fork when the sun came up on the longest day of the year. It had been so hard to come by, this feeling of peace. The boot was always hanging over my head, ready to drop. The thought that the next time I visited, the beavers might have been shot and their dam ripped out again made going on my favorite hike a proposition fraught with anxiety. I never took a whole breath until, peeking through the shrubs and trees, I saw water where it should be.

And I could believe it would all still be there when I came to see it.

The reflections on the water, the sun coming through fresh leaves, the songs of thrushes and catbirds all around. The sweet warm breath of June, wafting across awakening meadows. The insect choir.
The first Rosa carolina smiling from the moist ditches, their scent pure attar of rose, the scent that sends me through the weeds and down to my knees to inhale it.

My boon companion by my side, or more properly pulling me along. Constantly reminding him not to pull, occasionally having to put the lead on the clip on his chest (It's the Walk Right front connect harness, and it's great). He hasn't learned not to pull because I praise him when he pulls me up the hills. The same thing that helps on hills annoys me on a straightaway. Any dog would be confused.

He's on a lead because there are just too many temptations for a ramblin' man on Dean's Fork. 
The chitter of chipmunks, the sudden thumps and windy cries of deer...all would take him down their trails.

The apports kept coming on this auspicious day. My third barred owl feather of the spring, not far from where I found the belly feather on our last trip. This is probably a primary covert--a very stout long shaft on a short strong feather. This feather is rooted in the fused finger bones of the owl. That one pale spot on the vane says barred owl, as does the cool umber-brown color. You can't feel it, but the whole thing is very soft and downy. That's how I knew it was an owl feather--that and the large size. Stoutness of shaft tells you a lot. It tells you how big the bird was, and where on the bird the feather came from.

I had already figured out through concerted Chimping and staring at it that this was a barred owl primary covert, but it was fun to get confirmation from this photo from the Rouge River Bird Observatory blog.

See the feathers the bander's thumb is on? Those are the primary coverts.  Thanks, Rouge River Bird Observatory! And thanks to whomever tossed that feather down in my path. Dean's Fork is rich in spirit. It's always leaving messages for me to find. And today, I was ringing like a struck bell, open to the joy, because I finally felt I'd been able to accomplish something here.

I walked on farther and found a clump of fur in the road. Now that was interesting. 

I feel I have a few choices here: fox, coyote or bobcat. The hair is wavy, but not crimped, which makes me lean away from canid and toward bobcat. There are no obvious guard hairs, which also makes me lean felid. The gentle tawny color sure works for bobcat too. I rubbed it between my fingers and was reminded of the one and only time I'd ever touched a bobcat--the kitten I took in for a brief time. Its fur had a dense, wooly hand--without the filmy silkiness of domestic cat fur-- that surprised me. 

I found this clump of hair in a stretch where, in favorable conditions, I almost always find bobcat tracks. I've tucked it in my little deerskin pouch with its bit of wool from Miracle, the white bison in Jamestown, ND. It has power I can feel, the kind of power I need. 

My Solstice beaverdam celebratory shirt: I BELIEVE. Empowered. Badass bunny hugger.

As it always does when I turn around on a sunny morning, Dean's knocked me flat. Oh what will I do when that black barn falls down? Photograph its ruins, I suppose. I hope it stands forever, or at least outlives me. Slate roof, swaybacked but still solid. Big brown bats within: poopin' up a pile. 

The yarrow is out today, and the yellow sweet clover. 

But the sweetest surprise of this solstice day was running into Brad and Becky and their three youngun's, who flew and drove great distances to be with their dad on Father's Day. Brad and Becky are well-known naturalists in Marietta. And here they were, come to see the beaver pond on Dean's Fork. This was a first for me. I've never run into another naturalist here unless it was pre-arranged, usually by me. 

I was so amazed I asked if I could take their photo. And it made a pretty nice family Father's Day portrait!

I had to ask how this wonderful family knew to come here. Well, they'd found out about it via my blog! That made me so happy. Dean's Fork needs love from people who care, who won't toss beer cans, dump their gutted deer carcasses (yeah, I see what you do), poach, or rip up the road "muddin'." Ugh. To that end, I talk to everyone I see here, if they'll talk to me. That's how you build community, how you let them know you're watching.

When I got home, I saw the first chicory opening by my mailbox.
Stop, June! It's all too beautiful.

The Most Beautiful Book I Own

Tuesday, June 23, 2020


 One of my favorite gigs is writing nature book reviews for the Wall Street Journal. There is little I love better than getting a package in the mail from the editors there. It takes me absolutely FOREVER to read them, since I can't sit down during the day and only read at night, before I fall asleep, but I somehow manage to get it done. Then I get to say what I love about them. If I don't love a book, I won't review it, because to me, the point of a book review is to bring what's wonderful to more readers. And I have found something wonderful. It's called Finding Sanctuary. I asked Barry Van Dusen to prepare a guest blogpost about the first book he's both written and illustrated. Barry is a career natural history illustrator, and those of us who know his work have been literally slobbering, waiting for him to haul off and write his own book, illuminated by some of his gazillion field sketches and paintings he curates so meticulously in his western Massachusetts home. 

Skunknett River painting set-up 

This man sketches, draws and paints from LIFE. From moving, living birds and animals, plants, insects. Outside, plein air, making landscapes appear on paper. I look at this forest scene and shrink into a fetal position, thinking about what it would take to make a watercolor of it. But Barry's like Nike. He just DOES it. And his book is an absolute masterwork, given the most lavish and sensitive treatment possible by Mass Audubon and Puritan Press in Hollis, NH. You simply MUST have it. 

 I have great empathy for other authors who are launching books in these upside-down days. I had the grandest book tour planned for New England (see left sidebar), and none of those events are happening now. The months Houghton Mifflin Harcourt's wonderful publicist, Maria Mann and I spent logisticizing and putting it together, the dozens of emails confirming every detail with the organizers...all for naught in 2020, and I stayed home to love my kids, feed bluebirds and raise a song sparrow instead, and that is all FINE and as it should be. But oh, I would have loved to have the chance to stump for Saving Jemima.

  On one hand, maybe more people are interested and have time to read books--I'm hearing from lots of friends who are only just reading their copies of Saving Jemima, which came out in fall 2019. On the other, it's really hard to sell books when you can't give book talks. So in that spirit, I asked Barry to write a guest post about Finding Sanctuary, in the hope that you, my good readers, would consider adding a copy to your library, and maybe gifting a couple more. Here's Barry!

My work as a nature artist takes me in many directions—book illustration, lectures and teaching, studio painting and exhibitions—but the most engaging part of my job, and certainly the most fun, is outdoor drawing and painting. So when Amy Montague, director of Mass Audubon’s Museum of American Bird Art, approached me in 2014 with the idea of a Massachusetts statewide residency, I didn’t need much convincing.  I would visit, paint and draw at each one of Mass Audubon’s 61 wildlife sanctuaries around the state. In previous years, I had taken part in several residency projects around New England, but this would be the most ambitious one yet. I wanted to give each Mass Audubon sanctuary the attention it deserved, and insisted on a two-year working period. In the end, the residency work spanned more than four and a half years!
In our preliminary discussions, Amy and I decided that I should not feel the need to work toward any predetermined list of species or sanctuary “specialties”, though many of the subjects I painted would fit that description. Instead, my aim would be to seize on artistic opportunities as I encountered them. This approach granted me the expressive freedom to pursue whatever piqued my curiosity, admiration, or imagination. 
Incubating Piping Plover, Allens Pond, p.67
I live in central Massachusetts, and most of the sanctuaries are within reasonable driving distance, so I typically spent a full day at each location and returned home by nightfall.  Overnight trips to locations farther from home afforded me the opportunity to visit sites more than once, and to be afield at dawn and dusk—propitious times for wildlife.
Smaller Purple Fringed Orchid, West Mountain p.158
In some instances, I timed my visits to work with very specific subjects, like the yellow lady’s slippers at High Ledges or the purple-fringed orchids at West Mountain. For places like Marblehead Neck or Sampson’s Island, I made sure to visit at the most productive times of year (when birds were passing through in the first instance, and settled onto their nests in the second).  I took seasonal and weather-related factors into consideration for every visit, and studied the sanctuary maps ahead of time, hoping to maximize my time at each location.
American Redstart, Marblehead Neck p. 58

When I first started the project, I thought I might do all of the watercolor paintings on location. I fancied I would arrive at a new sanctuary, perhaps do some drawings, paint a watercolor, and then move on to the next location. What I hadn’t anticipated was the variety and abundance of subject matter that I wanted to depict. I am not the speediest field artist (nor the slowest), but the best I can hope for in a day’s work is three finished watercolors, and more often only one or two. I realized that to do justice to the diversity I encountered in the time available, I couldn’t limit myself exclusively to fieldwork. Moreover, I realized that some of my best ideas for pictures came to me after a visit, when I’d had the leisure to mull over my experiences and ponder on the imagery. Consequently, the work you see in the book is a result of both field and studio efforts.
The Horse Barn in a Spring Snowsquall, Wachusett Meadow pp. 138-139
            I painted many BIRDS for the residency, but also worked with landscapes (some featuring Mass Audubon buildings), flowers and plants, butterflies, dragonflies and other insects, mammals, salamanders, turtles, frogs and fish.  Looking at the entire body of work, I see an obvious bias toward certain subjects, and for this I make no apologies.  I tell my students:  Draw what you LOVE, and it will reflect in your work!
            Much of what I’ve learned about the specialized craft of field painting comes from my exposure to European artists. Painting nature subjects outdoors from life is not commonly practiced here in the United States, but it’s a popular pursuit among many artists in Europe. During projects sponsored by the Artists for Nature Foundation (Netherlands), I’ve had the opportunity to work alongside some of the world’s most talented field artists. They have shown me how to select, organize and carry materials and equipment, which types of optics are most effective, and methods for working in a variety of situations. Ultimately, every field artist formulates an approach best suited to their own unique aims and temperament, but my exposure to these other artists has greatly accelerated the process of finding what works best for me. 

Field Kit  p. 8
     Painting outdoors with watercolors comes with its own set of challenges, and you’ll encounter most of them in the pages of this book. On sunny days, light conditions change rapidly as the sun moves across the sky, especially in the morning and evening hours. While light conditions can be challenging, they can also become the driving force in a painting (e.g. Wings of Winter, below). 
     I could usually avoid rain through careful scrutiny of the forecasts, but New England weather doesn’t always play by the book. I’ve learned to carry a few sheets of plastic in my pack to quickly cover up paper and materials, and a rain jacket if the weather looks iffy. Despite these precautions, I had some frustrating sessions with rainy weather.
Osprey in the Rain, North Hill Marsh p. 74
    Cold could be mitigated by layering up properly, using warm gloves and neck gaiters, and carrying a few of those chemical hand- and foot-warmer packs. Wind joined the cold and added to the challenges at some locations. But winter conditions could also offer up rewards, like the ice storm just before my visit to Habitat, which allowed access to colorful, interesting twigs sheared from the treetops. 
     Humidity, both high and low, can be a serious issue for the watercolor painter. Too much moisture in the air (the more common condition in New England) slows the drying of washes and can bring progress to a standstill. Very dry conditions have the opposite effect, causing the paint to dry so quickly that there is no time to manipulate wet passages. 
     And then, there are the miscellaneous annoyances: biting insects and ticks, wet feet, and poisonous plants, to name a few. These are often the first memories that come to mind when I recall a particular day in the field!
Swallows Over Barnstable Great Marsh  p. 87
Some subjects lend themselves easily to location painting. It’s no accident that landscapes are the most popular subjects for outdoor painters: they stay in one place (thank you!), and offer endless variations of design and mood. All of the landscapes in this book were at least begun in the field, and many were completed on location. 
Botanical subjects offer the same luxury of working time as landscapes, and could be approached in a similar manner. One obvious difference is the shift in scalethe difference between macro and micro. With plants, I usually slow down and pay more attention to morphology and details. Glancing through these pages, you’ll notice that I enjoy the details of nature. I often feel that these are too important and interesting to generalize or suggest, and am driven to record them accurately.

Cinnamon Fern Fiddleheads, Nashoba Brook  p. 126

            In my opinion, studio work offers even greater opportunities for an artist’s creative side to take command. Removing myself from the fact of the subject can be liberating, allowing my imagination to take a freer hand. Studio work can also be more conceptual and carefully planned: I can combine and rearrange elements, manipulate scale, and fine-tune the balance of a composition in myriad ways.  
     In the studio, I can borrow freely from a variety of sources. I can refer to sketches made an hour ago or years ago. I can repaint unsuccessful field paintings, building on their strengths while avoiding faults made on the spot. I can use specimens of plants, rocks, and other natural materials, even weave in memories and associations from the past. Where field painting is intuitive, spontaneous, and improvisational, studio painting can be conceptual, cerebral, and imaginative.

Wings of Winter (snow buntings), Kettle Island  p. 57

            As an artist who wishes to portray natural subjects with fidelity, my aim is to celebrate and admire the complex beauty of nature. At the same time, I want to express my wonder and awe, and retain the excitement and emotions that accompany my field encounters. To that end, I may choose to exaggerate, embellish, invent, and even distort to achieve my expressive ends. As Picasso famously said, “Art is the lie that tells the truth.”  And so, I am forever seeking a balance—between field and studio, fact and expression, truth and feeling.  

Here ends Barry's guest post. Zick, back with you. 
 Heads up: It's not cheap, but ohhh, the quality in every page. Hardcover. The paper is like satin. The design was overseen by the artist himself, every single page. The color reproduction is impeccable (same deal--Barry was on press at Puritan in Hollis, NH with it). It's an art book, a visual and sensual delight. You will be delighted you treated yourself!  To order your copy of  Finding Sanctuay, click 

Times being what they are, Barry has had a virtual book launch. He and I recorded a half-hour interview on Zoom, where you can see us each sitting in our respective studios: me asking questions and Barry answering them. It's a lot of fun. David Sibley will also check in, and (late breaking news) so will Lars Jonsson! If you love bird art, this is a don't miss event. Here's a link to a recording of the book launch/interview:


To Save a Beaver Pond

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Sunday morning, June 14, 2020, as I rested in a chaise longue with a song sparrow on my shoulder and a fine cur-dog by my side, I got a call from the county wildlife officer, with whom I've been working to try to head off any more beaver killing or dam destruction. Through conversations with my area contacts, I had sleuthed the perpetrator's address and phone number, even gotten directions to his house. Wildlife Officer Donnelly used this information, stopping by the house and finding no one home, then following up with a call that morning. He told this man that he had taken a few calls concerning the beaver dam and his destruction of it. The gaswell tender admitted to hiring a backhoe contractor to take the dam out. This man claims to have a right of way to lay a gas pipeline through private property. He said that the first couple of times he destroyed the beaver dam (and the beavers, too), he failed to "get it dry enough" to lay the pipe. So he killed the beavers and ruined the habitat for nothing, but that didn't keep him from doing it twice.


His first assault in September 2014 reduced the proud beautiful pond to a stagnant mud puddle. I would see an enormous snapping turtle rising to breathe, then settling back down to the bottom. It was such a sickening, sad remnant of the glorious pond that once was there, and it broke my heart. Through that fall and winter I was disconsolate, and I didn't go down Dean's Fork as much as usual, because her crown jewel had been drained and the beavers shot, for no good reason I could understand. For nothing.

The next fall, beavers came back in and rebuilt. Here it is, gloriously refilling, in November 2015.

Then, by my contact's reports, the well operator used dynamite to blow up their work. In the fall of 2017, back this magnificent habitat went to a sad puddle. I can't express the dismay and anguish of coming upon such destruction, where once there was such beauty.

All of this was done against the landowner's express wishes. She wanted the beavers left in peace.  I was mad enough to spit bullets, on her behalf, on the behalf of all the creatures who depended on this lovely body of water in a place where water is precious. 

So you see why, when I found the pond refilled in the spring of 2020, in my view it was not if the beavers would be killed again, and their dam destroyed. It was merely a question of when. I was putting my money on September of 2020 for another attack, as much as I hated the thought. I'd seen and photographed this man's patterns.  I'd labeled and saved the photos, calling them up again for this post, in a bit of guerilla environmental journalism that I'm proud to be able to write. Documentation is important! Without these dates and photos, these destructive acts never happened.  

Over the years, I had raged and wept over this person's rampant disregard for the law and the landowner's rights. He was taking advantage of a person who couldn't police her own land.  But I'd never gotten anywhere trying to enlist the help of the county wildlife officer who preceded Ryan Donnelly.  Each time I broached the subject with him, I got the stock answer: "If I don't see him do it, I can't do anything about it."  This is the perennial law enforcement dodge for any crime that might happen in the future.  And for doing nothing at all to prevent it. You say this to make the complainant go away, to relieve you of the burden of having to bestir yourself. You say this, knowing that you'll never catch the person at it. He's free to do whatever he wants, and nobody can walk up to you and  make it your problem.

It was thoroughly frustrating. I would go away from those conversations feeling like some dumb bunny hugger who just loves beavers. I may love large wet rodents, but I am thoroughly invested not just in beavers, but in the habitat they create. Because it was never glaciated, the southeastern part of Ohio where I live has no natural bodies of water. Every lake or pond around here is man-made. Appalachian Ohio shares topography with West Virginia and Maryland, and neither of those have any natural lakes at all. In fact, in all of Ohio, there are but 100 natural lakes, and all of them are in the glaciated areas, mostly Summit, Portage and Geauga Counties.  Those of you from the Dakotas and Minnesota and upstate New York just stop and think about that for a moment. No natural ponds. No lakes without a cement dam. The artificial lakes we do have are ringed with houses and used up by recreation.  So we have very few places to go and see creatures like herons,  ducks, dragonflies, muskrats, turtles, or any of the myriad beautiful life forms that inhabit quiet ponds and lakes. Ours is a rich but aquatically impoverished biome. 

In Officer Donnelly, I had finally found an ally.  Here was someone who was willing to stick his neck out to try to protect this habitat. He listened to me, and made the pre-emptive strike that the beavers so desperately needed him to execute. My pounding on the well-tender's door would get me nowhere fast. Who am I? Some beaver-lovin' crackpot. Well. This beaver-hugger finally had the ear of someone with law enforcement authority.

In their conversation, Officer Donnelly reminded the well operator of something he surely knew but had chosen to ignore: that any activity conducted on someone else's land has to have express permission from the landowner. Having a pipeline right of way does not grant him tacit permission to  shoot or trap animals, much less destroy an entire wetland habitat. In a face-to-face conversation with the landowner, also facilitated by this beaver-lover, Officer Donnelly had established that the well operator never obtained permission to destroy the habitat in the two previous incidents. Now, it has become clear to the welltender that multiple people are watching and reporting his activity; law enforcement is watching; the landowner is upset, and the beavers are not to be killed nor their dam destroyed again. All that should make it a bit harder for him to just go ahead and do his thing come fall. He'll get a knock on his door if he does. He'd better hope it's not me. 

Now, he told Officer Donnelly,  he "doesn't have time to monkey with it"  and intends to leave it be. 

I cannot express how happy I was to hear this. I could hear the smile in Officer Donnelly's voice as he related their conversation. I was so happy I'd done the legwork, helped the wildlife officer do a pre-emptive strike, and finally had a county wildlife officer who cared enough to step in and do something about it. Finally, after agonizing over the fate of this habitat since 2014, I had some reassurance that, the next time I walk down Dean's Fork, there will be water, and wood ducks whistling, maybe a green heron or a kingfisher or two. And two beavers gliding back and forth across a big, deep pond of their own making. Perhaps it might have stayed that way without my asking, sleuthing, and making a pest of myself. But then again, perhaps not.  

Perhaps wasn't good enough for me. 

Opossum tracks in blessed water.


When You Don't Know

Monday, June 15, 2020

We walked on down the Fork that evening and saw some really cool tracks in the fresh silt. Some were easy to identify, like these chipmunk prints, overlain by the small asterisks of white-footed mouse (to the left of the photo). 

Some were just weird and I, who function as the Answer Chimp for so many people as regards natural history, had no idea what I was looking at. I thought this trail might have been made by a tiny whitetail fawn, because of the split in the foot, but it isn't quite perfect or right. Unless it was just born, and its feet were very soft and the hooves not hardened. I just don't know. It's not often that I don't know even a little something about a track. Hmm. Input welcome. The way they're in a double line bugs me, too. The creature has a little weight to it, from the ridge of mud at the back of the track. Just doesn't look like a box claw punctures, no tail or shell drag. 


For comparison, here are some for sure whitetail fawn prints, from June 2, 2018, right behind its mama's hoofprints. Maybe. Size is good. And if it was brand new, it was probably stumbling, which could account for the asymmetry of the track. So maybe I've got that one figured out. 

Then there was this amazing sinuous mark. The whole thing is about 3' long and 1 1/4" wide. 

The tiny marks along the side didn't look like feet to me. Thought it might be a baby turtle, but the "footprints" look too fine, too pointed, to me, and there isn't a tail drag mark. I decided it might have been made by a snake, navigating the puddle as it drank. (The imprint was about 1 1/4" wide).  Shila suggested that the fine marks might be the impressions made by the snake's ribs as it hitched through the silt, as that's how snakes move--by hitching along moving their ribs to walk their spine along their path. I loved that suggestion. 

But as always, I'm open to others.
Here's a closeup of the fine marks on either side. Halp.

These, I knew, were from a bird. By the size of the feet, the way it was walking, and where it was (smack in a LOWA territory), I thought it was probably a Louisiana waterthrush. 

This is a track I've never found on Dean's Fork. And there was only one! I'm virtually sure this is a river otter's front foot! I know you might be thinking raccoon, but coon fingers are much longer and thinner, with more prominent claws. Otter claws barely register, even in soft mud. They're just wee pinpricks here,  the toes are short, and the toe tips are kind of bulbous.

Alongside a deep rut full of water was this beautiful feather, from the breast or belly of a barred owl. I've found wing feathers, but I'd never found a barred owl body feather. That felt like a gift. The whole walk felt like a gift: the beaver pond, laboriously but seemingly magically restored; the beaver gliding in his watery realm. The tracks, known and unknown. Those beautiful kids walking ahead of me, because their legs are so much longer and they stop and kneel less than I do. The fact that they love taking these walks of discovery with their mama. 

Something I wanted to show them: the Corn Salad Festival. Astute blogfans will notice that this is taking place on the very grounds of the Ironweed Festival. You could have knocked me over with a barred owl belly feather, because the flowers of this weak-stemmed plant, rising over the grasstops, looked like snow in late May. 

Valerianella umbilicata, or Navel Corn Salad, likes the open moist meadow. The weird name comes from its fruit, which apparently resembles a navel. It is related to the popular salad green mache, but is a different (native) species. Need to check on the fruit as it develops. Here's a photo by Steven J. Baskauf from

I guess it's kind of umbilical. Pretty cute. 

I've never seen it bloom in a blizzard like this, and I've been down here in late May a lot. Just goes to show you that one year is not like another. I brought Shila down two days later and the show was mostly all over. Talk about an ephemeral!

I love how it looks with the old bar gate and the black barn. Way back there, you can see just the roof of the chestnut gristmill that used to stand so proud.

It was all too beautiful. It looked like a Hudson River School painting, my beautiful kids lounging in this impossible landscape like the pastoral peasants. All it needed was a few cattle, but they haven't been in this pasture for several years. I miss them.

Dean's Fork is always changing, evolving, being changed by human activity. Nothing is the same on my walks, no matter how many times I walk it. Seasons change, plants come into and out of bloom, birds set up territory, breed and leave, and I am dazzled by it all, witness to something ancient and new, all at once. 

Sacred Surprise

Friday, June 12, 2020


May 25 was one heck of a day. I got out early because it was going to be hot. I wanted to see what was going on down Dean's Fork. As I trotted along, I heard the twanging "glunk!" of green frogs. I hadn't heard that down there for several years, not since someone who shall remain nameless took out the beaver dam with a backhoe and killed the beavers who'd made a watery paradise there. Illegally, I'd add. Trespassing, and acting against the express wishes of the landowner, who wants the beavers left alone. Murdered the beavers, destroyed their home and the homes of countless other aquatic creatures, just because he could get away with it. They weren't hurting a thing in the world there. 

Cautiously, I moved forward, calling Curtis to me. And I saw...water. Lots of water. THE BEAVERS ARE BACK!!!

This is the fullest I've ever seen it, with the most magnificent sweeping curve of a dam. These photos can't really capture the scale of it. It's BIG. big big big.

I was so glad to see a pond where there had been an overgrown mudflat, I wept. And my next, immediate thought was, "I have to stop him from killing them again."

It was a drumbeat in my head. How to stop him? 

Suffice it to say that I've been working on it, through carefully placed conversations with key witnesses, through the best channels I have. Tracking down the involved parties, hearing their stories. I've been busy, working with dogged determination and a cruel and insensate devil breathing down my neck.

With the great joy that this beaver pond brings me comes a great responsibility to try my best to keep the furry architects safe. I cannot bear the thought that they'd be shot again and their beautiful creation ruined. This incredible pond! It's alive with fish and frogs (four species were calling as I made these photos) and turtles and green and great blue herons and belted kingfishers and red-shouldered hawks and wood ducks and who knows what all else.  Later on, dragonflies! And they all lose their beautiful watery home when the dam is ruined and the pond is drained. 

Say a prayer, an incantation, whatever you've got, to help me on this crusade. This is the best habitat I know, and I get around a lot of great habitat. It is sacred to me. Curtis and I decided to return in the evening with Phoebe and Liam, to surprise them with the new pond. 

Though Curtis and I already had about 5 miles under our belts, I really wanted Phoebe and Liam to see this. So that evening we set out. I didn't tell them what the surprise was. I just said there was something I wanted them to hear. (It was the clunking of green frogs, in a pond that once again existed).

They were delighted to see water in the pond again, and when we came back up after dusk had fallen, we saw the beaver gliding along in his new self-made home. Ohhh it was so beautiful, with the frogs (gray tree, green, mountain chorus and spring peeper) trilling and clunking all around us in the dark.

Pray with me that I can save this precious habitat. I honestly don't know if I can, but I'm trying. 

Hear a catbird and a wood thrush sing hosanna as this beaver floats past, checking me and Curtis out.

And Curtis, the best boy on earth, never made a sound, never pulled the leash, stayed respectful and silent as the beaver floated up to us. I'm so grateful for this dog, who intuits what I need from him. And grateful for these animals and this place, which saves me, even as I lie awake at night trying to figure out how to save it.

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