The beaver is a creature few people dislike. Many think they’re cute. They’re clever – making their dams and their lodges with such craftbeavership, that anyone who’s played with sand on the beach is impressed.
I’ve been trying to spot beavers for almost thirty years, since I spent a summer in Colorado and had a pond up the road. I visited it, and later others in Massachusetts and New Hampshire while I lived there for 7 years.
Always, I was disappointed to find the builders hidden from view in their lodges.
The ponds, though, like this one, were always full of other life: birds and dragonflies, fish and pond skaters. And I saw a whole lot of muskrats, which are pretty cool in their own right, I have to say.
In Pamplona I’ve seen their signs in the River Arga. But despite photos in the paper of brazen beavers crossing bridges, I’d never seen a ripple I could deem a rodent from the banks and bridges I lingered on.
But this summer I found that a pair of beavers have set up home on a very small (usually…) river very close to our village, and right beside the road, to boot, making it possible to spot them without hardly a trek, and since they’re used to the road noise, they don’t spook too easily.
I’d spotted the pond, but just assumed it was a deep gouge created by the huge floods a few years ago (we’d been swimming ourselves in these during the summer of Covid restrictions..) and this year of drought and very little flow, had been kept from drying by someone with time on their hands making a dam…
When I’d realised what the pond actually was, I was back next morning, but saw no beavers – though I did see their lodge entrance – built into the bank rather than in the middle of the pond, like I’d seen in North America.
I’d been told that European beavers don’t make dams, but that’s clearly not true. Perhaps those seen so far in Spain had not because they’ve been on large rivers – there’s no need for a dam on the Arga, I can tell you, though the beavers have been actively felling fairly large trees there (several older trees along the river park are now protected by chickenwire to dissuade them from taking away the perambulator’s shade!).
Which brings me to the title of this post – Beaver Spread.
Beavers are spreading.
These two are descendants of eighteen animals that were illegally released in the Ebro near the Aragon tributary, back in 2003. They’ve been moving up the rivers since then. With mostly no reaction, as most folk don’t notice them – until they started eating large trees in the middle of Pamplona (though that didn’t make anyone call for their removal, as far as I know.) There were some complaints, and, in fact, some animals were removed by the local governments, though, strictly speaking that was illegal, as once reestablished, they should be considered a protected species under EU law.
Anyway, they’ve spread now to smaller rivers, where their positive effects should be a lot clearer. At least to me in this particular brook, it’s plain as day.
This river drains a long valley which is usually very dry in summer, but gets a fair few heavy storms (our house was flooded just from rainfall in the field above us), one of which gouged out that bank in the first photo. Above this pond a bridge was washed out because it got clogged with trees and stones during the flood, and below it, the local town was devastated with huge economic losses when the river flooded houses and businesses within minutes of the storm.
At the time of the flood there were calls for better drainage – in the way of cutting the poplars and other trees along the bank – to let the water flow without slowing down at all. This came from farmers, and I have to say it’s either in ignorance or apathy of the effects it would have had on the town if that bridge and the trees and culverts had not led the water to spread out across their fields and slow its pace…. it would have washed away houses rather than just fill them with mud, and cars would have gone down like corks in the flow – and a lot more people would have died than did, without time to get out of harm’s way.
We all know that it’s cheaper to compensate a farmer for loss of a crop than a whole town for all their broken windows and destroyed merchandise etc…
But here, despite what I see as large erosion problem, they still dig drains into the fields so they can get the heavy machinery in after the rains they often (more often nowadays of course) wait (and possibly pray) for.
Which brings us to the drought.
We had a forest fire upstream of this pond this spring, and there are worries that the next storm (still waiting on rain) might wash down huge amounts of ashes and soil that’s no longer held in place by vegetation.
But meanwhile the river is down to a trickle. And it’s ponds like this one that are keeping the river alive. While I sat there waiting on the beavers to emerge I was entertained by a plethora of dragonflies, pond skaters, ducks, a heron, and even a nightjar that came down to drink before setting off to hunt. I can’t see, but I assume there are some fish in the murky water, too. And crayfish – European ones – are in that river, as well as European mink.
There is nothing but benefit to beavers – they keep the river alive in drought and they stop the river washing away everything in flood.
What’s not to like?
In Britain they have been reintroduced in a few places, with positive reaction in general. They’ve sorted out flooding in the places they’ve made home, and you’ve probably already heard of these cases.
In Ireland, there are some calls to introduce the beaver to have these same positive effects there. I support this, even if the beaver was never actually officially a native species. Most of Ireland’s fauna was not native. At least this one does some good. We have feral goats allowed to graze the vegetation to nothing in many places simply because it was there for a few hundred years, for goodness sake.
The only problem I see is the same a for so many other species we’d like to see (back) on our island – there’s not enough trees. We need to let scrub grow instead of burn, and get forest cover back in the simplest way possible, and then we have habitat for trees, and then the ugly as feck drainage and flood schemes that beset our lovely towns and villages would not be half as necessary.
Meanwhile, this pair of beavers, and I hope their offspring, are one of those little glories we can enjoy while they last.
Been reading this book,
It’s pretty informative.
And it inspired the following poem…
Along with this little guy…
My youngest child, holding his newest toy,
Up overhead, like a talisman: a soft doll
Sewn in the shape of a turbaned genie,
Pronounced his wishes would the words
Only carry the power of the fable.
“I would have Geniousious – its given name –
Kill Putin, and make it not be able
To have any animal in danger of extinction.”
A sad assertion for a six-year-old.
Which sunk my soul deeper into my bowels.
From reading an outline of human history
From the fall of the Roman Empire to
The fall of the Third Reich, I could
Summarise the centuries of papal succession
Crusaders and invaders swaying
To and fro, back and forth over the soil,
Staining with flesh and blood the Earth,
Sweeping millions to their massacres,
In thrusting, thirsting, for supremacy,
In short sentences: shit happened
That never should have, had we only
Stayed on the savannah with mere spears.
The bastard causing my son such sadness
And the statement bringing me to tears
Is just the latest in a long list, I insist:
He is not alone. Regardless of their tone
The rest of the pantheon are playing
As if the planet is actually replaceable
Or simply a stepping-stone to the next
Star system they can subjugate.
Too late to save those of the second wish
From their fate: the genie would have to
Hold the secret of time, to travel back
To the time of tribes seeking new lands,
Stop seafaring, sledding, steel science…
The systems we created to control
Have slipped from our own, and seem
Destined to deliver us back our destiny:
We shall stumble, back to our beginnings
As just another species on a rock
Awash with water and organic molecules
Transforming from one shape to another
As all are eaten, even the ones with weapons,
Until our form of life dies out, along with lots
Of other sorts, and some others evolve, I surmise,
We shall suffer, I am grieved to say, son, for
We are already, sliding, and, Jesus wept,
Seem inept at dodging, not just bullets aimed at us,
But oncoming steam engines of our own devising,
From far off with a blinding light beckoning at us.
We sleepwalked into a new disease creation,
Let it clutch enough of us so it shall cling on
Like a long list of poxes yet to appear, but near.
The heat waves and fires washing over white houses
Have had no effect on our behaviour any more
Than the waves of refugees fleeing from its results:
Even now the crisis erroneously seen as rideable
Rather than a rising tide set to swamp.
The swimmers so far stamped upon by standers, yet,
Littering the sand, shall pile up like plastic:
Become numbers on an ever longer set of statistics,
Of deaths, in the desert resulting from our
Immoral immigration legislation, letting
Famine fell far more than the virus, multiples
Of anything we’ve seen over the millennia
Of Mongols and Huns and Hitler’s gas and guns.
The lessons of History seem serving only to
Prepare some for the suffering to come:
Send us into the trees yet green to gather up
The tiny glories all around us while we can;
Create a wealth of memories with one another which
Might help us weather better our dour destiny,
Hoping we’re able to die a natural death
From mere bad health before it all dissolves.
And if there’s a third wish left upon the table,
Let it be this: that my children stay off such lists,
And choose to spread ideas instead of seed:
Leave poems, not progeny, for words
Do not suffer such as sentient beings shall.
I haven’t even finished reading the book…
This is the page I am on now – coincidentally in a chapter on the Spanish Civil War….
I read this headline today in my local newspaper. It translates to “the Navarra shop owners are against Sanchez’s measures to save energy. Some foresee insecurity if the shop windows have no lights after ten pm.”
The photo caption reads “Complaints about the heat in the market.”
This photo here is some storm clouds gathering over the dry dry (and, as you know, quite extensively burnt) landscape I stare out over every evening as I sit and write.
I’ve posted this photo because there is a fucking storm brewing. The actual storms come stronger than ever, and they do little to help the thirsty land compared to the rain we used to have in Spain.
But also, it’s very beautiful.
And soon enough we might only see beauty up above the landscape, because the landscape will cease to be beautiful by itself.
That newspaper headline tells us how quickly that might happen…
We can not even turn down the AC. We can’t even agree to turn off the lights, the ones that aren’t even being used… (I wrote a poem about that, actually, which I must post some time.)
And that’s to just lower energy use by 15% so we can help the rest of Europe, which will have a colder winter than we will in Spain.
In a war.
How can we hope to avoid the worst of Climate Change in light of this kind of stupidity?
I, as you can see from the poem, fail to have much hope at all.
Like many in my situation, living as an emigrant, I’ve been wondering about when I’ll get home, and certain things make me think of Ireland…
The Smell of Rain
Not the petrichor: that scent at
The first few splats of heavy plashes
As a high cloud unburdens its humid load,
Stinging the nose with its distinctive smell,
Nor the nostril flaring storm at first,
Suddenly splashing the unsuspecting
Then spattering along the streets,
As if to sweep them from the scene,
To shelter and, swiping eyes, appreciate
The spectacle. Not either the drizzle,
Softly seeping into hair and shoulders,
Seemingly seeking to stay aloft like fog,
Hovering above the soil as if unimpressed
With landing, but accepting settling
On stems and leaves, leaving shoes
Darkened should one step through the grass.
None of these, is the smell that sparks
My senses, resurrects memories.
But later, when it’s soaked in after
Several repeated storms, then
The smell of wet earth, seeps
Into sinuses, springing forth
Almost feared forgotten scenes
Of rolling streams through soggy ground,
Sodden peat and spongy moss,
The sparkle of water wringing the island
From sunlit rainbow down to buried rock,
Reminding me of Ireland, only Ireland.
Closing up Camp
Fish flash lethargically argent in the creek,
Creeping upstream, gleaning the last
Of the caddis flies until torpor takes them.
Sun beams golden in glowing leaves but slants
Lower now, more weakly heating us, huddled
On the morning porch hugging our mugs.
We don’t swim before breakfast, only
Paddle after our afternoon nap, picking black
And other berries to boil jam and packing
Pumpkins for the car; chopping lumber
For the evening fire still keeps off falling
Chill, but within weeks we will give in to
Winter’s grip and slip away to the city.
Closing shutters against storms and snow,
Emptying water tanks and pipes from icing,
Clearing closets of anything attracting rodents
Or racoons and slowly strolling round the
Leaf-strewn lawn, taking one last long look
Out across the fall-reflective lake, then forsaking.
Still, thinking of spring keeps back sadness,
Slipping through seasons until suddenly
It’s our last, and we must shut up for good,
Or have it opened sadly in our absence,
Our passage through camp just a forest path.
I write this back in September, thinking of the camp of my friend Tamir, who would have turned 60 a few days ago. I don’t have many photos of his summer place in autumn, but I am sure right now it’s deep in snow and the lake is starting to freeze over till springtime. Thus is life, as long as we still have springtime. And memories that shine like sunlight to keep us warm meanwhile.
Where Should I Plant this Sapling?
They say a man plants
A tree, not for himself, but
For his descendants. Well,
I agree, and have seen
The benefits of a mulberry
Planted by a man I never met,
More than a century past.
As the sentinel starts to sag
I’ve saved a sapling from
Between its roots and would
Take the next step for my
Generation before it falls.
But where would it prosper?
I fear the weather
Will not favour the same spot
As its forefather for much longer
Than half its lifetime,
And ere it gives fullest fruits
Will stand in different clime.
So, where should I plant this sapling
In a changing world?
Where its roots can anchor the eroding soil
As farmers harvest down to the last?
On a slope so the children of this village
Can reach the lower limbs
To stain fingers and lips on
Summer afternoons, should
Any remain after rains have
Deserted the landscape?
In a ditch to take some advantage
Of rich dampness as the rest
Of fields blister in the sun?
Or on a high knoll to stay dry
While surrounding ground soaks
Under incessant thunderstorms,
Turning this aridness instead wet?
It seems a bet to hedge;
I should plant a score
From hill to shore.
I’ve been pondering the future over the Christmas and New Year, mostly spurred by reading that as we go into a new year we can look forward to seeing some more wildlife in some places in Europe, but others are disappearing. In light of the recent Greek election and the rise of a new political party here in Spain which seems likely to take away power from the current entrenched and corrupt parties, I wonder what the future will look like. Since I just hit 100 posts on the blog, too, I thought today a good day to splatter you with my not-very-logical array of thoughts!
We are a very strange species, us humans: we have the ability to ponder and understand the past and future, which is, as currently demonstrable, pretty uncommon in the animal world. We think about the future and our past so much that we often seem incapable of enjoying, or even appreciating, the present. Yet at the same time, we consider the future only in the context of our current situation, and seem incapable of avoiding the oncoming train of change.
This Christmas, people in Europe looked back at a moment 100 years ago when men showed their common humanity. Right now after the attacks in France, politicians are falling over themselves to declare our unity against a common enemy. Yet we are stuck in the same paradigm – our politicians can’t get past the supposedly separate destinies of each different European country. They’re kicking out emigrants now, if they don’t have a job, sending them back to their home countries despite our purported freedom of travel and working. When they wanted to create the common market, they sold us citizens a stream of shit that we’d all be equal. When I moved from Ireland to Spain I was able to collect unemployment benefit until I found a job a few weeks after arriving. That’s suddenly something they want to stop doing now, though. Imagine New York kicking out Iowans because they lost their job? Ironically, if it were a real union, then there would only be migration for cultural or personal reasons, because policies would be applied across the union and people would have equal opportunity in their own land. The citizens who upped sticks and went to a land with a different language are the ones who invested in this union, and to treat them so badly now shows that it is all a facade.
Looking at the past seems easier than looking forward, or even around us. We follow constitutions people wrote thirty or eighty or two hundred years ago (depending if you’re in Spain, Ireland or the US) without considering their authors wouldn’t have a clue about our modern world – and would have a thing or two to say to us on that score, into the bargain, because I’m sure our world doesn’t conform to their expectations of the future.
Many of us follow the teachings of a man who was alive two thousand years ago – but do we look two thousand years ahead? Or two hundred? Or eighty? Or thirty?
No; we seem locked into the idea that all will be well. 350 years after that man died, everyone presumed that the Roman Empire would continue forever, and all was well, but the dark ages came.
Are we prepared for our dark ages? We know it’s entirely possible, but seem to be incapable of getting out of the way of it – blinking at the light like deer and about to be run over by it.
We would like our lives to be the same in the future (more or less: not all of us live in luxury of course). We like the way we live, we like our houses. After storms we reconstruct. But we have to realize that reconstruction is not going to be an option for too much longer if we don’t change other things. We won’t be driving cars in eighty years unless we stop using all the oil.
Staying somewhat the same will require an effort – and in some cases a change in how we do things.
I always remember my trip to Niagara Falls when I lived in America. I learned that during the day only half the water from the river goes over the falls: the rest is diverted. At night, just a third goes over. Not only does this produce electricity when the water is sent through the turbines rather than over the cliff, but it ensures that Niagara Falls stays in one place – right there, where they’ve built the town around it. If all the water went over the falls, it would erode it back towards the lake, and then the nice viewing platforms and lighting arrangements would have to be moved, too. People want to keep the cascade where it is, and they make sure it stays there.
Yet we want (or at least should) the temperature of the planet to stay the same, so we can remain living in the same places we are accustomed to, where the climate is just right for us. Moving would be a much greater effort than changing the way we do things so we can stay.
Unfortunately, not all of us can probably stay in the same houses because of the change that already faces us. But we have to find them somewhere else to stay, and that might mean allowing them into our areas where we think there are already too man people. Like the European immigration problem, though, the only way to confront the situation is from a stance of equality – and for some that will mean a lowering of our standards of living. If we don’t decide that we must band together to fight towards a common destiny, though, we’re all going to face a much bigger fight.