Rob and I go down to the beach in front of our house almost every night. It is our way of winding down at the end of the day, and time to spend with each other away from screens. Now I would consider myself a nature enthusiast. I ADORE going out into the woods and learning about the plants and the animals, I like to identify and learn the story of as many plants and critters as possible. Down at the beach I spend a lot of time watching the birds, there are a few mallards, a couple and a single mom with 5 ducklings. There is also a lone merganser, and the usual seagulls. There are few other birds which I haven’t identified yet, though lately they’ve been perching in the trees by us. I think they’re watching us watch them. A few weeks ago we were heading back home, and as we passed by the quiet little pond tucked in the shore, I heard an odd clicking sound. What on earth could that be? It was past dusk, nearly dark. So of course I had to investigate! As I crept closer to the pond, I saw a small black shape sitting just in the edge of the water, a little closer. Holy Crap! That’s a beaver! I was stoked. When he realized I was there he started doing laps back and forth along the shoreline waiting for me to leave so he could continue his meal.
Ever since then, when we go down there I always look for the beaver. Beavers are monogamous, they leave home when they’re about 2 years old in search of a mate and a place to settle down. I was a little worried about the beaver in the pond here. How was he going to meet any lady beavers when he’s all they way over here on Mackinac Island??? Just a few nights ago, we were heading back home again from our spot, and of course stopped to look at the pond. There were TWO beavers!!! Holy double crap! That’s fabulous. We watched them swim about their pond gathering up food and the like. At one point one of them was on the shore and the other one came up from the water and they touched noses for a moment or two before resuming their work.
Beaver’s are known for their work ethic, they spend most of their time gathering food for the winter, building and maintaining strong dams and lodges out of logs, sticks and mud. Though if there’s a good site for it, they will also burrow into the bank of their pond or river. Which I believe is what our beaver’s have done as there’s no evidence so far of a lodge. They are one of the largest rodents and can grow on average up to 60 pounds, though there’s been records of bigger ones! They are herbivores and their diet consists mostly of leaves, bark, roots and aquatic plants. I’ve seen the Mackinac beaver’s traveling along the shoreline with whole branches. They have a hard time moving on land, they sort of waddle around. But in the water they are incredibly graceful and can swim up to 5mph. Their large webbed hind feet propel them through the water, their big flat tail also serves as a rudder. They can also hold their breath for up to 15minutes and have a special clear eyelid so they can see where they’re going, their fur is naturally oily and thus waterproof.
Fun fact, beaver’s are second only to humans in their ability to change and manipulate their environment.
this is a picture of the giant beaver dam in Canada, that can be seen from space… now this was not the work of just 2 solitary beavers. There were many involved in this, but just imagine what they could do if they had our resources!
I love beavers because they are fascinating creatures, however I also have a vested interest in them, since it is because of these rodents that I have a job and a beautiful place to live.
huh? you may be thinking. Well, let me tell you about it;
The fur trade began in earnest in the 1500’s. Felt hats and other garments were very fashionable in Europe. Beaver very quickly became one of the most valuable as it was being turned into the wildly popular beaver felt hats.
This is a beaver felt hat, notice how shiny it is, they feel like velvet. The top hat shape was one of the last shapes of the hats, becoming popular around the turn of the 19th century. What does all this have to do with my job?
I happen to live where once there was a thriving fur trade community. The Mackinac area was settled by traders who established trade with the Natives, and shipped them out from here to Montreal (then later New York), and from Montreal their came more trade goods with which to acquire more furs. It was in search of these furs, in search of the fortune that they brought that much of the northern U.S. was explored and slowly settled. The historic downtown buildings I work in represent the era of the height of the fur trade here on Mackinac Island, in the 1830’s right before the trade crashed. (Silk hats became vogue, beaver hats were old news) In the Biddle house, Edward Biddle was an independent fur trader who did very well for himself and his family. We have the American Fur Company retail store. The AFC was owned by a man named John Jacob Astor who was a German immigrant and an excellent business man, he made his fortune in furs, over 3 million dollars in furs passed through the island in the early 1830’s. (This is in addition to the fur trading he conducted from the western coast of the U.S. with china) Now Astor never came here to the Island, he ran his empire from New York and if you account for inflation, he’s richer than Bill Gates. (He also had the great foresight to buy the realty that is now Time’s Square, and sell at the right time.) It was his grandson who went down on the Titanic by the way. (Fun fact: my great grandmother’s uncle married Astor’s widow after the Titanic sank in 1912)
The island and the area have a rich history, and it is because of these humble little creatures, the Beavers, that this area was explored and settled and built up into the community that it is today. So I often tell my visitors that if they ever see a Beaver to thank them for their vacation, without them this land would not have been settled, the historic sites would not exist and I wouldn’t have the wonderful job of sharing that heritage with them.