Nature Blog Network

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Storm Casualties

Peony.
My peonies finally bloomed, later than everyone else's due to their full-shade location. This happy thought is meant to bolster you for the sadness to come...

Yesterday evening's storm was even worse than yesterday morning's. There were 70 mph winds reported in Chicago, and some places reported 3 inches of rain in an hour. Our rain gauge reported another 2 inches of rain throughout the storm, which lasted longer than an hour (but the really torrential part less than an hour). I don't think the winds hit 70, but they were quite strong. Trees were whipping wildly around, their branches bending at unimaginable angles, but not -- in our immediate area -- breaking. Leaves were literally brushing the ground as the limbs of 5o-foot trees swung around and down.

The power went out, but only briefly; a screen fell out of its window onto the ground below. The sump pump got a good workout, and is still working, with the low area next to my house becoming a small pond that has encompassed plants that are definitely terrestrial, not aquatic. Lots of plants are bending to the ground... but it's hard to be too sad about that. I mean, its weather. Plants need to deal with weather. They'll be OK.

But we did discover one sad casualty of last night's storm -- a beaver. At least, I imagine its death was tangentially related to last night's storm. He was laying dead on the road near a severely flooded stream that flows out of Rollin's Savannah. I imagine that his lodge got flooded as the river rose, so that the area normally out of the water, but accessible only from under the water, became submerged. So he left his abode, and went looking for another spot to wait out the weather. But he made a critical mistake, wandering onto the nearby road at a time when visibility must have been terrible. And he got hit. (It may have happened when visibility was fine... I know roadkills occur all the time. But we'll say it was the storm.)

This particular hit-and-run saddens me greatly. I have a special affection for beavers as an extremely well-adapted underdog. In their history with Europeans, beavers have had it especially rough. First, because of their fantastic fur, with its felt and guard hairs... high fashion made beaver hats the 17th century accessory of the day, and the beaver population plummeted. But even when silk replaced beaver as the hat material of choice, beavers and people have had an adversarial relationship. I think this is because we see ourselves reflected in beavers. You see, besides us, they are the organisms that most alter their environment through construction. They alter the flow of waterways, create their own ideal ponds. With no tools but their teeth and no blueprints but instinct, they rival the army corps of engineers in their endeavors. And so, of course, we don't like them. We should be the only ones that can change the planet. It's manifest destiny on a species level. Beavers are trapped and moved or killed so they don't tamper with the areas we want to tamper with ourselves. For this, I have a soft spot for them.

These lodges, by the way, are genius. (See right for my cartoon version of one, which only partly captures the concept, but it helps...) The underwater entry protects the beavers from predators, but allows them to breathe air. It also allows them to exit into the water even in the winter, when ice has frozen over the pond. Beavers don't hibernate -- but because of the ice, they will go unseen for months. They prepare a food cache of sticks/branches, and all winter long they will swim out to eat from it even if the ice keeps them from exiting the water in any location but their lodge. (They aren't that active in winter... but they're there!)

Plus, they're just darn cool. The largest North America rodent, one of their best known adaptations is the typical rodent teeth, which have the orange enamel on the front and continue to grow throughout life. These teeth accomplish amazing things, chopping down trees that I couldn't take on with a chain saw. They eat only vegetation, woodier in the winter and greener in the summer. And there's their tail, which slaps the water to communicate danger, stores fat and aids in swimming (like a rudder), but never, ever pats mud into place like in the cartoons. But they have other adaptations as well. A nictitating membrane prepares their eyes for swimming (also a good set of lungs). They can chew underwater because they can close off their mouth inside their teeth; their ears and nose also have flaps that close so water can't enter. Webbed back feet make them fast in the water. We already mentioned their fur, but not how they secrete castor oil and comb it in with a special claw to keep their fur water-ready. And they are crepuscular, and you don't get to throw that word around too often. I could go on and on about them, but I just get so upset about the one that died. So, enough.

Castor canadensis, I salute you and mourn the loss of one of your numbers in such a senseless way.

1 comment:

  1. Beavers are awesome. I mourned a whole family of them this year. The county was making war on them because a road somewhere got flooded so they were killing all they could find. I was not happy as I had been observing this family of beavers all spring.

    ReplyDelete