In the Beavers Lodge by Zoe Meyer
Ahmeek, the beaver, swimming slowly with only his eyes and the tip
of his nose above the water, came to a stop at a spot where the shores
of the stream were low and flat. He was soon joined by his mate and the
two clambered out upon the bank where they looked about with
It was an ideal location for a beaver settlement. Poplars, yellow
birches and willows on the banks offered material for a dam and assured
an abundance of winter food; the low banks would enable the stream to
spread out, making a pond deep enough to prevent freezing to the bottom
in winter; best of all, it was a lonely spot where there was no
evidence of man.
Dusk had fallen like a gray mantle upon the wilderness when the
beavers began their work. Ahmeek selected a poplar to his liking, not
far from the bank of the stream. Grasping the trunk with his hand-like
paws and turning his head to one side in order to bring his great
cutting teeth into play, he bit out a huge chunk, following it with
another and another until the tree swayed and crashed to the ground.
Then both beavers set to work to strip it of branches and lay the
foundations for the dam.
The dam, when finished, was a work worthy of a trained engineer. The
twigs and trunks of trees Ahmeek and his mate laid lengthwise with the
current. On the upper face, where the force of the water would but
drive it the more tightly, the mass was plastered and bound together
with a cement of mud and stones, which in the freezing days of winter
would become impenetrable. Here again the beavers showed their wisdom
by leaving several low places over which the water could trickle, thus
relieving the pressure that otherwise would have broken the dam. Now
the stream overflowed its low banks, making a deep pond, soon to become
the home of pickerel and trout and of a great colony of water-lilies, a
delicacy for the beaver larder.
The next work was the construction of the lodge, a hollow mound of
mud, sticks and stones twelve feet in width and four in height, within
which was a dry room, its floor safely above the high-water mark. Two
passages led to this room, one straight, for carrying food, the other
winding. The main entrance was cleverly concealed beneath the roots of
a great tree which had fallen across the stream.
[Illustration: The dam, when finished, was a work worthy of a
Ahmeek and his mate were soon joined by other beavers, pioneers from
farther south, who, finding the spot to their liking, decided to
establish a colony. As with the human pioneers, there was a great
felling of trees and hours of heavy labor before the dwellings were
finished and the various families ensconced in their snug homes.
That first winter in the new colony was uneventful and when the ice
broke up in the spring the beaver city was swarming with sleek brown
youngsters who, while learning the serious business of life, found time
to indulge in play just as do the children of their human neighbors. At
twilight one after another would appear upon the bank, where he would
make his toilet, combing his thick, chestnut brown fur until it shone
like satin. No beaver is untidy about his dress.
Among the young beavers there was one who from the first took the
lead. Born in the lodge of old Ahmeek, king of the beavers, he showed
every indication of following in the footsteps of his father. He it was
who led the others in their frolic in the pond and upon the banks, and
when the sharp slap of a tail upon the water told of danger, none was
more quick to obey its warning.
The young beavers did not spend all their time in play. The dam
constantly needed repair; wood must be cut and stored at the bottom of
the pond, so that the colony might have food through the winter. At
this work Flat Tail, son of Ahmeek, laboured manfully. His teeth were
not yet long and sharp enough for felling trees, but they could cut off
the smaller branches. Flat Tail was very proud when he could swim back
to the lodge with one of these branches over his shoulder, kept in
place by his fore-paws held close to his body.
One day toward the end of the summer Flat Tail had a narrow escape.
He was sitting on the bank, combing his glossy brown fur, of which he
was very proud, when a prowling panther discovered him. The big cat's
mouth watered, for beaver at all times is a delicate morsel for the
flesh-eating animals. The green eyes narrowed to mere slits as, silent
as a shadow, the panther climbed a tree and made its way out to a point
from which a straight drop would land it upon its unsuspecting quarry.
In another moment Flat Tail, intent upon his toilet and oblivious of
his danger, would undoubtedly have furnished a meal for the panther had
not old Ahmeek appeared, swimming upward from the lodge. Immediately
his keen eyes discovered the crouching animal and, with a sound like
the crack of a rifle, his flat, horny tail descended upon the water.
It was a sound which all beavers are taught to obey instantly and
without question. Even as the big cat dropped, Flat Tail dived backward
into the stream. The panther, with a scream of rage, dug its claws into
the earth where its prey had been sitting a moment before. The beaver
was out of reach, however, and there was nothing for the panther to do
but continue on his hungry way, his scream having warned every animal
for miles around to hide. As for Flat Tail, he swam directly to the
lodge where he crouched trembling.
The summer passed, and autumn with its flaming colors and hint of
frost came to the wilderness. On a warm Indian summer day the Hermit,
in his search for healing roots, came out upon the shore of the stream
which sheltered the beaver colony. As he approached he heard a
resounding slap and saw a number of sleek brown forms dive into the
water. Thus, when he stepped out upon the shore, there was not a beaver
in sight, though evidences of their work were all about. The Hermit's
eyes had grown keen and his brain wise in the lore of the wilderness,
so that now he knew beyond a doubt that the colony was busy building
the dam higher and raising the lodges farther above the stream.
Must be expecting a freshet, he mused.
For some time he waited, concealed in a clump of bushes, hoping to
catch sight of the inhabitants of the pond or perhaps even watch them
at work. His waiting was vain, however, for the bright eyes of the wily
little beasts had penetrated his hiding place and not one ventured
forth until the Hermit gave up in despair and went on his way. Then
immediately the shining face of Ahmeek appeared at the surface and the
pond once more swarmed with activity.
Under Ahmeek's direction the dam was made much higher and the floors
of the lodges were raised above the highest mark which the stream had
ever reached. Then the whole colony turned its attention to providing
food for the winter. Aspen, poplar and willow branches were carried to
the pond where, as they became waterlogged, they sank to the bottom,
there to remain until needed. Lily-pads floating lightly upon the
surface of the pond gave promise of white succulent roots which
penetrated the ooze beneath. Sweet flag was abundant, and close by grew
a clump of dark green, spicy mint.
The warm, hazy days of Indian summer passed. The leaves drifted to
the ground where they spread a rustling carpet, hiding the sweet
three-cornered beechnuts upon which squirrels and raccoons waxed fat
and contented. The activities of the beavers continued until, one
morning after a clear cold night, when the stars seemed to twinkle
immeasurably far above the wilderness, a film of ice covered the
surface of the pond.
Then, in a night, winter descended upon the forest. The ice grew
thick and solid. The domes of the lodges froze as hard as stone and
only a thin, almost imperceptible wisp of steam, arising from the
ventilating holes, gave indication of the life within. This was the
beavers' season of rest and they made the most of it. Snow covered land
and water alike. Icy gales swept over the wilderness, sending the
inhabitants to cover and lashing the great trees until it seemed as if
they could not stand. For most of the wilderness folk it was the hunger
time, when game is scarce and exceedingly wary.
For the beavers, however, it was a time of plenty. On their warm
beds of leaves under the frozen domes where never a cold breeze touched
them, they dreamed away the hours or, waking, nibbled a bit of aspen
bark thoughtfully provided on the floor of the lodge. The sticks were
then carried out and used in strengthening the dam. Occasionally a
black, whiskered face would appear beneath the ice where the snow had
been blown away, and stare out for a moment at the wintry world, but it
would be quickly withdrawn as the beaver returned to his comfortable
One day in midwinter, when the sun shone upon a world of sparkling
white, the Hermit, this time upon snowshoes, again visited the beaver
pond. The white domes of the lodges dotted the snowy surface but there
was no sign of life. The man stepped out upon the dam and hacked at it
with an axe which he had brought to provide himself with firewood.
There was no penetrating its stony surface, and, as he looked out
across the hard, rounded domes, he smiled to himself, picturing the
beavers in their snug retreats. He knew that beneath the ice was a
fortune in valuable furs, but the thought brought with it no desire for
possession. In the Hermit's opinion the skins were of far greater value
to the beavers than to himself.
Knowing that the forest folk, after having been storm-bound for
days, would now be driven abroad by hunger, the Hermit concealed
himself in a fir thicket not far from the pond and waited to see what
of interest chance would bring to him. He had waited scarcely ten
minutes when a lithe, tawny form appeared, sniffing at his trail and
pausing often to look suspiciously about. Panther, thought the
Hermit, with a thrill of pleasure that his watching had so soon yielded
It was the same panther who had so nearly made a meal of Flat Tail
several months before. The beast, finding food scarce, had drifted
south far from its usual haunts and, locating the beaver lodges, had
decided to winter in the locality. Following the man's trail the
panther, too, stepped out upon the dam. It soon caught the faint, warm
scent rising from the ventilating hole of a near-by lodge. Frantically
it dug at the top of the dome, but it yielded no more than had the dam
under the man's axe.
Baffled, the big cat gave up its useless scratching and again turned
to the trail which had led it to the pond. As the beast came nearer,
and the Hermit realized that it was probably made bold by hunger, he
blessed the forethought which had led him to bring his axe along when
he left his pile of firewood and struck off through the forest to visit
the beaver pond.
The panther advanced, its body close to the ground and its great
feet bearing it upon the crust as if it wore snowshoes. It was coming
uncomfortably close and the Hermit began to experience a creepy
sensation. He had little fear that, armed as he was, the beast would
dare attack him in broad daylight, but nevertheless it gave him an
unpleasant feeling to see his trail stalked.
It was evident that the panther had scented him. It stopped and
crouched lower, motionless save for the tip of its long tail which
waved back and forth in a way which fascinated the man. The beast
seemed more curious than ferocious, but in spite of that the Hermit
thought it high time to create a diversion.
Remembering the effect of his shout upon the lynx the day he had
rescued Dave Lansing, the trapper, he was about to spring to his feet.
Suddenly a deer came into sight, stopped an instant, terrified at sight
of its hereditary enemy, and then leaped away with the panther in
pursuit. Thus the Hermit was left free to return to his firewood and
the safety of his cabin.
Before leaving, however, he scraped the snow from a spot upon the
surface of the pond and, putting his face close to the ice, looked
down. Through the clear water he saw the storehouse of the beavers and
even caught a glimpse of a brown shadow which at once vanished into a
dark passage. But, though the man lingered for some time, he caught no
further glimpse of the pond's interesting inhabitants.
The winter was extremely cold. Many smaller streams and ponds froze
solid, though the depth of the beaver pond prevented this calamity.
When spring came at last and the ice broke up, the water began to rise.
Higher and higher it came, fed by the melting ice and snow toward its
source. The homes of the muskrats, some distance farther upstream, were
flooded, many of the occupants being drowned and others driven for
refuge to higher ground. The beavers had no fear, however, for old
Ahmeek had prepared for just such an emergency.
Still the water rose. It reached and passed the highest mark that it
had attained for many years. And then came the big freshet. The streams
became torrents, hurling great masses of driftwood and even trees
before them. Constant vigilance on the part of the beavers was required
to keep the dam from washing away. When a drifting log or mass of brush
caught, and threatened to wreck their hope, the entire colony turned
out and literally worked like beavers tearing away the obstruction
and allowing it to slide on down stream. Each small leak was found and
mended before it had become large enough to be dangerous.
The water rose within an inch of the floor of the lodges. The
Hermit, remembering the beavers and concerned for their safety, made
another trip to the pond, noting with anxious eye, long before he
reached it, the havoc wrought on every hand by the freshet. It was with
a distinct sense of relief that he found the dam still intact and the
domes of the lodges still above the water. He paused at some distance
from the bank and watched the beavers as they went about their repairs
without a thought for his presence. And he marveled anew at their skill
Still the water rose, spreading out into a vast lake and reaching to
the floor of the lodges. Now the beavers became alarmed and watched
anxiously. For if the stream rose higher, the dam must go and the
lodges be flooded. The crest had been reached, however, and the flood
came no higher. Instead it began to recede, vanishing as rapidly as it
had come. It left the low ground around the beaver pond a mass of
sticky mud and tangled wreckage.
The flood was followed by the opposite extreme and the water fell
until it threatened to expose the entrance to the lodges. In that event
nothing could have saved the beavers from their enemies. Fortunately,
however, the stream soon returned to its normal level and life once
more became peaceful for the beavers, though there was much repair work
to be done. And so, by his forethought, Ahmeek had saved the whole
colony from destruction.
The summer was uneventful, but the winter following the great
freshet came near being a disastrous one for the thriving colony. Two
half-breed trappers on their way north for furs came upon the pond. As
they noted the number and size of the lodges dotting the surface, their
eyes shone. Here indeed was a find, for beaver pelts brought much
They made their camp near the pond and the next morning set a number
of snares. The ice was not thick and it was an easy matter to drive
stakes about the pile of wood which was the storehouse of the beavers.
The stakes were set so close together that a beaver could pass between
in only one place, where a slender, pliant branch had been set. Then
the trappers waited, their eyes fixed expectantly upon the tip of the
branch which extended above the water.
Before long a big beaver left his lodge to visit his wood-pile which
was also his pantry. Strange to say, it could only be reached in one
place. Here there was a slender branch, but the beaver easily pushed
past it and entered the trap. As he did so, the tip of the branch
quivered and the trappers, knowing their quarry had entered the trap,
closed the opening securely with stout stakes.
Thus the beaver, unable to escape and reach the air, soon perished
miserably and was taken from the water. Several others were taken in
the same way before the Hermit discovered what was happening and
intervened to save the colony.
Knowing that sooner or later, unless protected, the beavers would be
killed for their pelts, the Hermit had made a trip to the city and had
purchased the land through which the stream ran. Thus the trappers
found themselves poachers and were forced to leave empty-handed. The
Hermit removed the snares and departed, leaving Ahmeek and his colony
once more free to dream away the winter unmolested.