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Into the Arms of Dean's Fork

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

On this June morning, I woke before light, as I usually do, and lay in bed planning my day. I decided that the best thing I could do would be to walk down Dean's Fork with Curtis and celebrate the return of the beavers. Maybe I'd get some photos for this post! I hung the big rig over my shoulder and grabbed my binoculars, harnessed the cur to a belt around my waist, and off we went. 

The feeling I get when I walk down Dean's Fork is much like the one many do when passing through the doors of a church. I feel as though I am delivering myself and all my cares to a greater power. I feel it working on me the entire time I'm there. Discoveries await me, each time, and I can never anticipate what they might be. That's the deliciousness of being attuned to nature. It's subtle stuff. You have to look for it and be open to it. You can't go barging along talking or listening to music. You must let the only input be that of nature. That's when the magic happens.

Northern pearly-eye, my first of the season, June 15

I think of my visits there as "delivering myself into the arms of Dean's Fork." Because that's how it feels. Like I'm being wrapped up in something much bigger than me. Look at this beaver dam, in a sinuous Z, perfectly and powerfully engineered to hold back who knows how many hundreds or thousands of tons of rainwater. The dam itself is easily 20' high. It was made by two rodents only of the materials they could transport in their teeth and arms. Think about that. The intelligence, the design of it all. It takes my breath away. It is as precious to me as any architectural work of man, because what work of man creates habitat for so many other creatures?  Humans transform habitat, but rarely for the benefit of other life forms than humans. Concrete and glass are notoriously unkind to winged ones. Here, in this perfect construction site, the waters teem with life, and they're a magnet for wildlife you'd never find otherwise. 

I didn't see a heron on this joyful trip, but I saw where the shitepoke sat.

And shat.

I smiled so big, picturing a great blue heron, all angles and spikes, delivering the evidence of its visit to the road below. 

That evidence, transient and nourishing, going back into the earth without a hitch. Unlike the evidence of human passage. What LOSER would dump his (losing) lottery tickets and beer cans in this sacred space? A loser, that's who. Only someone insensate to beauty could defile this place. 

In the muddy road just alongside the pond, some opossum tracks...

and the greater prize, some good clear river otter tracks. For now, they might be eating crayfish, but oh, when the fish come in! I thrill to think of fish rising to the surface in the evening.

And the greatest prize of all, my lottery win: a sighting of the engineers! I have to go pretty early in the morning or late in the evening to catch them. They're crepuscular. I was delighted to see the two interacting when I got there. They were grooming each other with tooth and claw. But so gently, no red. 

I have to think that the smaller animal (on shore) is a female, while the enormous dirigible is a male.

He gave me a direct stare, surely unaware that I had advocated on his behalf.

Eased into the water and swam as close as he dared.

And then, with a hugely satisfying kerPLOOOP, he clapped his flat tail against the water and dove deep.
I love that sound! It's like throwing a pumpkin in a pool! 

Though we'd had 3/4" of hard rain the night before, the stream crossings on the road were all absolutely fine. When the dam has been destroyed, they become impassable to foot traffic, unless you either want to wade barefoot or have the water come over your boot tops. But now, the dam holds back the flood, and that makes life easier for those who live on the road. I wonder if anyone else has noticed this but me?

Puddles on the road were another matter. We got through, but only just. Yes, that one is heart shaped. I love it because it's a frog factory, and because it keeps cars and many trucks from getting through. Less traffic is better, always. 

Curtis and I reached the Ironweed Festival grounds and looked back, having walked facing the light the whole way down. 

How beautiful it all is. I know that, now that the cattle are gone, it won't be open for very long. Already, groves of sycamores have started up, and they're taller than me. We must be ready for the change that inexorably comes. We have all had so much change of late. 

Oh, how the sky reflects in the creek. 

I can envision the day when this young sycamore will take my breath away. I hope I'm still here when it's big enough to do that.

I found Moneywort, in the primrose family (Lysimachia nummularia), growing in a wet ditch. I looked at the plant and turned it over in my hand and mind, and decided it was either a loosetrife or a primrose. I was happy to find it was a primrose! Love that plant taxonomy, now practically innate, kicking in as I puzzle. Carroll Williams' Plant Taxonomy course at Harvard was one of the best, most fun, and most useful I ever took. Plus, we drew!!

Down toward the end of the Ironweed (or Corn Salad) Festival Grounds, I found at least five pairs of song sparrows. I have a new appreciation for these birds, having raised one up from nothing this summer. I saw some fledglings about 10 days younger than mine, and smiled. I knew what their parents were dealing with. I was amazed how many breeding pairs were packed into that one old field. I envisioned setting up a study to map their territories, then discarded the idea. I study birds all the time, but not in that way. No netting, no banding, no blood samples. 

If song sparrows have a heaven, this is it.

Can you spot the phoebe in his element? 

We got to the end of the line with a creek crossing my boots couldn't handle. This is the face Curtis gave me when I told him we had to turn back.
He'd have happily gone on for miles more.

As it is, it's a four-mile walk, round trip. I do it happily, though it's all downhill on the way down, and uphill going back. What helps is that the light is beautiful on the way back, because the sun is behind me.

It was a good day for large rodents.

Woodchucks, genus Marmota, are in the family Sciuridae, the squirrels. That makes sense. 

They are not so very different. Beavers (Castor canadensis) are in the family Castoridae, the rodent suborder Castorimorpha, along with gophers, kangaroo rats and pocket mice. That is one heck of a mouse.

A mouse with skills. Here's its house, with an underwater entrance and chambers lined with fresh dry grass inside. 

Beavers, and the habitat they create, are miracles. I can't think of another animal that so profoundly impacts the surrounding habitat, in such delightful ways. Water is precious; water is life, and this pond bursts with both. I saw a newly-fledged belted kingfisher trying the waters on my next to last visit. Wood ducks almost always squeal and scurry away, taking a little piece of my anxious heart with them when they do. Into the arms of Dean's I go, and I come home changed for the better.


Blessings on you.

Beautiful post -- I love walking with you down Dean's Fork.

Wonderous..your words take me there ❤

Beautiful post. Always makes me draw comparisons to our own 100 acres in Eastern Ontario. I am envious when I see your bluebirds (don't think I've ever seen one in life) and when I see your spring forest flowers, the same as ours, but a good month earlier! But now I hear that your part of the world has hardly any water bodies, and I was aghast! Our Canadian Shield topography bursts with lakes and rivers and ponds and I do love them. The beavers here are cool too, but not as necessary as yours it seems. Our pond beavers make the existing pond a little deeper, and the river beavers don't seem to need to build dams at all. Yours definitely have their work cut out for them

Thanks for taking us along to the cathedral of nature. M blood pressure just plummeted.!

What a lovely trip :)

So beautiful! Long life Mr and Mrs Beaver.

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