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The Work of the Beaver.

From "The Men of the Last Frontier",
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Their general system of working is similar in most cases, and the methods used are the same. However, in the bush no two places are alike, and it requires no little ingenuity on the part of a man to adapt himself to the varying circumstances, yet the beaver can adjust himself to a multiplicity of different conditions, and is able to overcome all the difficulties arising, meeting his problems much in the way a man would.

In the accompanying sketch will be seen a lake A, representing a pond well-known to me on which there was a beaver family. There was much feed at the place marked Z on the further bank of the river B, but none on the lake, which had been very shallow, but was dammed at X. Between the spot on the river marked Z and the lake was a distance of two hundred yards. The problem was to get the feed across to the pond. The river route was too far, and to draw it such a distance in a country bristling with dangers was not to be considered, so the beaver dug a canal towards the river. Now this stream had run swiftly two miles or more before it reached the point Z, therefore, naturally at that place would be much lower than the level of the lake. On completion of the canal C the lake would consequently be drained. This the beaver were well aware of, and to avoid this contingency, the channel was dug as far as D, discontinued for a few yards, and continued to the river, leaving a wall, which being further heightened, prevented the escape of their precious water.

Thus they could float their timber in ease the full distance, with the exception of one short portage. A problem not easily solved.

Their strength is phenomenal and they can draw a stick which., in proportion, a man could not shift with his hands; and to move it sideways they will go to each extremity alternately, poise the end over their head and throw it an appreciable distance. I have seen two small beaver struggling down a runway with a poplar log, heaviest of soft woods, of such a size that only the top of their backs and heads were visible above it.

Shooting them when they are so engaged, a common practice, somehow seems to me, in these latter days, like firing from ambush on children at play, or shooting poor harmless labourers at work in the fields.

The beaver is a home-loving beast and will travel far overland, around the shores of lakes and up streams, searching for a suitable place to build. Once settled where there is enough feed, and good opportunities to construct a dam, a family is liable to stay in that immediate district for many years, The young, at the age of two years, leave homeland separating, pick each a mate from another family, build themselves a house and dam, and settle down to housekeeping; staying together for life, a period of perhaps fifteen years. At the end of the third year they attain full growth, being then three feet and a half long with the tail, and weighing about thirty-five pounds. In the spring the mother has her young, the male making a separate house for them and keeping the dam in repair. The last year's kittens leave the pond, going always downstream, and wander around all summer, returning about August to assist in the work of getting ready for the winter. The first part of these preparations is to build a dam, low to begin with, and being made higher as needed. The main object of this structure is to give a good depth of water, in which feed may be kept all winter without freezing, and heavy green sticks are often piled on top of the raft of supplies, which is generally attached to the house, in order to sink it as much as possible. Also by this means the water is flooded back into the timber they intend to fell, enabling them to work close to the water and facilitating escape from danger.

Much has been said concerning the timber they are supposed to spoil in this way, but the shores of a lake are hardly ever low enough to allow any more than the first narrow fringe of trees close to the water to be drowned, and that is generally of little value commercially.

The immense amount of work that is put into a dam must be seen to be realized. Some of these are eight feet high, a hundred yards long, and six feet through at the base, tapering up to a scant foot at the water level. Pits are dug near the ends from which are carried the materials to prevent seepage, and a judicious admixture of large stones adds the necessary stiffening at the water-lines. Canals are channelled out, trees felled near them, neatly limbed, cut up, and all but the heavier portions drawn to the water and floated away. The heightened water facilitates this operation, and besides thus fulfilling his own purpose, the beaver is performing a service for man that, too late, is now being recognized.

Many a useful short-cut on a circuitous canoe route effecting a saving of hours, and even days, a matter of the greatest importance in the proper policing of the valuable forests against fire, has become impracticable since the beaver were removed, as the dams fell out of repair, and streams became too shallow for navigation by canoes.

The house alone is a monument of concentrated effort. The entrance is under water, and on a foundation raised to the water level, and heightened as the water rises, sticks of every kind are stacked criss-cross in a dome-shaped pile some eight feet high and from ten to twenty-five feet in width at the base. These materials are placed without regard to interior accommodation, the interstices filled with soil, and the centre is cut out from the inside, all hands chewing away at the interlaced sticks until there is room enough in the interior for a space around the waterhole for a feeding place, and for a platform near the walls for sleeping quarters. The beds are made of long shavings, thin as paper, which they tear off sticks; each beaver has his bed and keeps his place.

Pieces of feed are cut off the raft outside under the ice, and peeled in the house, the discarded sticks being carried out through a branch in the main entrance, as are the beds on becoming too soggy. Should the water sink below the level of the feeding place the loss is at once detected, and the dam inspected and repaired. Thus they are easy to catch by making a small break in the dam and setting a trap in the aperture. On discovering the break they will immediately set to work to repair it without loss of time, and get into the trap. When it closes on them they jump at once into deep water and, a large stone having been attached to the trap, they stay there and drown, taking about twenty minutes to die; a poor reward for a lifetime of useful industry.

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Pictures for The Work of the Beaver.

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