Squirrels and beavers - diligent rodents
Life on and near the swamp this spring has been dominated by hard-working rodents.
The big gray squirrel has solved the puzzle of one "squirrel proof" bird feeder and is working diligently on the second.
Having failed to solve the puzzle -- a spring loaded cage which uses the squirrel's weight to shut the openings -- the squirrel has resorted to brute force. He is slowly gnawing away the thick wire from which the feeder is hung.
When the feeder finally falls, the squirrel will be free to roll it around on the lawn until he works all of the sunflower bits loose.
On the swamp, muskrat were the first to appear. They own a home mid-swamp which they remodeled last year, forcing the swans to build their nest somewhere other than their usual nesting site: on top of old muskrat houses.
Then, the beaver appeared.
As they glide across the swamp like a low-riding barge, the beaver leave behind a V-shaped wake that calls attention to their location no matter how far across the swamp they work.
And boy do they work.
A hike through the woods today revealed the extent of their labors. A new state-of-the-art three-tiered dam has raised the water level of the swamp several inches. A small grove of mature aspen lie as if felled by a twister.
Lately, the beaver have shown their skills a few feet from the house, in full view from the crow's nest.
Beaver don't seem organized. They flit from one task to another with no apparent sense of purpose.
They load up with mud and dump it on shore for no apparent reason.
They work to drag one sapling away, but quickly give up and try another if the first one doesn't budge.
Then they disappear to another sector of the swamp, presumably for more random, unorganized tasks.
And yet in the end, their efforts produce lodges and dams worthy of a primitive civilization.
Beaver have long been regarded as an enemy of civilization. They clog culverts, flood farmland and generally muck up the progress of the spring run-off.
But what would happen if we made beaver our ally?
A potential solution to spring flooding: Release 10,000 beaver in the area and let them plan their own water retention projects.
They probably could out-do the Army Corps of Engineers.
In fact, a beaver should hold at least one seat on each watershed board. Their hydraulic wisdom could be a valuable addition.
But, beaver would be too busy to attend meetings.
Their work doesn't look organized, but through sheer dogged persistence, beaver change the landscape.
After they raised the swamp several inches, the water now laps at our rusty old implements. We're going to have to put on wading boots to get at our cultivators.
The pond in the garden jumped its banks and is drowning out lawn.
We humans could fight all this, go into battle mode, shoot the beaver and reclaim our territory.
That's what has been done for the past one hundred years.
But our human efforts haven't worn well. We drained places which should never have been drained. We ditched where no ditches should run.
And we flood every spring.
The swamp in front of the house was drained by a county ditch in the 1940s. I suspect the county hoped to add six acres of farmland to the tax rolls.
But the land was no good. Trees grew up, and the drained swamp turned into a forest.
Then, the beaver returned. Nobody trapped them because nobody cared. They dammed up the swamp again and drowned out the trees they didn't cut down.
The dead ash trees made great firewood, so Dad cut them all down to ice level.
Once the trees were removed, a pair of swans made the refilled swamp their home.
Then somebody trapped the beaver. Or they just left. In any case, their unmaintained dam fell down and the swamp emptied again.
Because I had built a house near the swamp based on it being full of water and life, I tried to dam up the old ditch.
My dam leaked. But then the beaver returned and built their own. When it leaks, they fix it.
Now the swamp is full to the brim. Ducks, swans, geese and herons make it their home. The swamp is once again a hub of activity.
And we all have the diligent if destructive beaver to thank.