Animal BOOK LOOK – Chapter 12 – Beaver


Chapter 12

Beaver


Johnny Chuck and Striped Chipmunk were the only ones who were not on hand at the pond of Paddy the Beaver deep in the Green Forest at sun-up the next morning. Johnny and Striped Chipmunk were afraid to go so far from home. However, to the surprise of everybody, Prickly Porky was there.

“He must have traveled all night to get here as he goes at a very slow pace,” said Peter Rabbit to his cousin, Jumper the Hare.

Just then Prickly Porky was reaching for lily pads from an old log which lay half in the water and appearing very well satisfied with life. You know there is nothing like a good meal of things you like to make everything seem just as it should.

Mother Nature seated herself on one end of Paddy’s dam and called the session to order. Just as she did so a brown head popped out of the water close by and a pair of anxious eyes looked up at Mother Nature.

“It is quite all right, Paddy,” she said softly. “These little four-legged folks are trying to gain some knowledge of themselves and others, and we are going to have this morning’s session right here because it is all about you.”

Paddy the Beaver no longer looked anxious. There was a sparkle in his eyes. “Then I’d like to stay,” he said eagerly. “If there is a chance to learn anything new I don’t want to miss it.”

Beaver illustration by Louis Agassiz Fuertes

Paddy the Beaver climbed out on his dam. It was the first time Happy Jack Squirrel ever had seen him out of water, and Happy Jack gave a little gasp of surprise. “I had no idea he is so big!” he exclaimed.

“He is the biggest of all the Rodents in this country, and one of the biggest in all the Great World. He is quite clever as he is a lumberman, builder, and engineer,” said Mother Nature.

“As a lumberman he cuts trees, as a builder he constructs houses and dams, and as an engineer he digs canals,” Mother Nature continued as Peter, Chatterer, and Jumper sat with their mouths opened in astonishment at all Paddy does.

“Paddy begins by cutting down the trees so that he may live, for the bark of those trees is his food. Like Prickly Porky he lives chiefly on bark. However, he wastes nothing. He makes use of every bit of that tree. He also does something for the Green Forest in return for the trees he takes by building a dam that creates a pond for you all to visit.”

“Now I want you all to take a good look at Paddy,” said Mother Nature.

As Paddy sat there on his dam, he looked rather like a giant member of the Rat family, though his head was more like that of a Squirrel than a Rat. His body was very thick and heavy, and in color he was dark brown, lighter underneath than above. Squatting there on the dam his back was rounded.

Peter Rabbit appeared to be interested in just one thing, Paddy’s tail. He couldn’t keep his eyes off it.

Mother Nature noticed this. “Well, Peter,” she said, “what is on your mind now?”

“That tail,” replied Peter. “That’s the oddest tail I’ve ever seen. I should think it would be heavy and dreadfully in the way.”

Mother Nature laughed. “If you ask him Paddy will tell you that his tail is the handiest tail in the Green Forest,” she said. “There isn’t another like it in all the Great World, and if you’ll be patient you will see just how handy it is.”

It was broad and thick and flat, oval in shape, and covered with scales instead of hair. Just then Jumper the Hare made a discovery. “Why!” he exclaimed, “Paddy has feet like Honker the Goose!”

“Only my hind feet,” said Paddy. “They have webs between the toes just as Honker’s have. That is for swimming. There are no webs between my fingers.” He held up a hand for all to see. Sure enough, the fingers were free.

“Now that everybody has had a good look at you, Paddy,” said Mother Nature, “suppose you swim over to where you have been cutting trees. We will join you there, and then you can show us just how you work.”

Paddy slipped into the water, where for a second or two he floated with just his head above the surface. Then he quickly raised his broad, heavy tail and brought it down on the water with a slap that sounded like a loud crack. It was so loud and unexpected that every one save Mother Nature and Prickly Porky jumped with fright. Peter Rabbit happened to be right on the edge of the dam and, because he jumped before he had time to think, he jumped right into the water with a splash. Now Peter doesn’t like the water, as you know, and he scrambled out just as fast as ever he could.

“What did he do that for?” Peter asked while shaking out his soaked fur.

“To show you one use he has for that handy tail,” replied Mother Nature. “That is the way he gives warning to his friends whenever he discovers danger. Did you notice how he used his tail to aid him in swimming? He turns it almost on edge and uses it as a rudder. Those big, webbed hind feet are the paddles which drive him through the water. He can stay under water a long time, for as much as five minutes. See, he has just come up now.”

Sure enough, Paddy’s head had just appeared clear across the pond almost to the opposite shore, and he was now swimming on the surface. Mother Nature at once led the way around the pond to a small grove of poplar trees which stood a little way back from the water. Paddy was already there. “Now,” said Mother Nature “show us what kind of a lumberman you are.”

Paddy picked out a small tree, sat up much as Happy Jack Squirrel does, while using his big flat tail on the ground to brace him, seized the trunk of the tree in both hands, and went to work with his great orange-colored cutting teeth. He bit out a big chip. Then another and another. Gradually he worked around the tree. After a while the tree began to sway and crack. Paddy bit out two or three more chips, then suddenly slapped the ground with his tail as a warning and scampered back to a safe distance. He was taking no chances of being caught under that falling tree.

The tree fell and at once Paddy returned to work. The smaller branches he cut off with a single bite at the base of each. The larger ones required a number of bites. Then he set to work to cut the trunk up in short logs. At this point Mother Nature spoke up.

“Now show us,” she said, “what you can do with the logs.”

Paddy at once got behind a log, and by pushing, rolled it ahead of him until at last it fell with a splash in the water of a canal which led from near that grove of trees to the pond. Paddy followed into the water and began to push it ahead of him towards the pond.

“That will do,” Mother Nature called out. “Come and show us how you take the branches.”

Paddy climbed out and returned to the fallen tree. There he picked up one of the long branches in his mouth, grasping it near the base, twisted it over his shoulder and started to drag it to the canal. When he reached the latter he entered the water and began swimming, still dragging the branch in the same way. Once more Mother Nature stopped him. “You’ve shown us how you cut trees and move them, so now I would ask you to answer a few questions if you would please,” she said.

“Certainly,” Paddy said as he climbed out and squatted on the bank.

“How did this canal happen to be here in such a handy location?” asked Mother Nature.

“Why, I dug it out,” replied Paddy. “You see, I’m rather slow on land and I don’t like to be far from water. Those trees are pretty well back from the pond, so I dug this canal, which brings the water almost to them. It makes it safer for me in case Old Man Coyote or Buster Bear or Yowler the Bobcat happens to be looking for a Beaver dinner. Also it makes it very much easier to get my logs and branches to the pond.”

Mother Nature nodded. “Just so,” she said. “I want the rest of you to notice how well this canal has been dug. At the other end it is carried along the bottom of the pond where the water is shallow so as to give greater depth. Now you will understand why I called Paddy an engineer. What do you do with your logs and branches, Paddy?”

“I put them in my food-pile, out there where the water is deep near my house,” replied Paddy. “The bark I eat and the bare sticks I use to keep my house and dam in repair. In the late fall I cut enough trees to keep me in food all winter. When my pond is covered with ice I have nothing to worry about; my food supply is below the ice. When I am hungry I swim out under the ice, get a stick, take it back into my house and eat the bark. Then I take the bare stick outside to use when needed on my dam or house.”

“How did you come to make this fine pond?” asked Mother Nature.

“Oh, I just happened to come exploring up the Laughing Brook and found there was plenty of food here and a good place for a pond,” replied Paddy. “I thought I would like to live here. Down where my dam is, the Laughing Brook was shallow–just the place for a dam.”

“Could you tell us why you wanted a pond and how you built that dam,” Mother Nature requested.

“Why, I had to have a pond, if I was to stay here,” replied Paddy. “The Laughing Brook wasn’t deep or big enough for me to live here safely. If it had been, I would have made my home in the bank and not bothered with a house or dam. It wasn’t though so I had to make a pond. It required a lot of hard work and it is worth all the time and energy.”

Beaver built hut/home and food storage of sticks in the water.

“First, I cut a lot of brush and young trees and placed them in the Laughing Brook in that shallow place, with the base of each pointing up-stream. I kept them in place by piling mud and stones on them. Then I kept piling on more sticks and brush and mud. The water brought down leaves and floating stuff, and this caught in the dam and helped fill it in. I dug a lot of mud in front of it and used this to fill in the spaces between the sticks. This made the water deeper in front of the dam and at the same time kept it from getting through. As the water backed up, of course it made a pond. I kept making my dam longer and higher, and the longer and higher it became the bigger the pond grew. When it was big enough and deep enough to suit me, I stopped work on the dam and built my house out there.”

Everybody turned to look at Paddy’s house, the roof of which stood high out of water a little way from the dam. “Tell us how you built that,” said Mother Nature quietly.

“Oh, I just made a big platform of sticks and mud out there where it was deep enough for me to be sure that the water could not freeze clear to the bottom, even in the coldest weather,” replied Paddy, in a matter-of-fact tone. “I built it up until it was above water. Then I built the walls and roof of sticks and mud, just as you see them there. Inside I have a fine big room with a comfortable bed of shredded wood. I have two openings in the floor with a long passage leading from each down through the foundations and opening at the bottom of the pond. Of course, these are filled with water. Some houses have only one passage, however I like two. These are the only entrances to my house.”

“Every fall I repair my walls and roof, adding sticks and mud and turf, so that now they are very thick. Late in the fall I sometimes plaster the outside with mud. This freezes hard, and no predator who may reach my house on the ice can tear it open.”

Peter Rabbit drew a long breath. “What a lot of work,” he said. “Do you work all the time?”

“No Peter,” Paddy said with a chuckle. Mother Nature nodded and asked “Are there any more questions?”

“Do you eat anything else besides bark?” asked Happy Jack Squirrel.

“Yes actually,” replied Paddy. “In the summer I eat berries, mushrooms, grass and the leaves and stems of a number of plants. In winter I vary my fare with lily roots and the roots of alder and willow. Bark is my principal food though.”

Mother Nature waited a few minutes and seeing there were no more questions she added a few words. “Now I hope you understand why I told you that Paddy is a lumberman, builder, and engineer,” she said. “For the next session we will take up the Rat family.”


More Paddy the Beaver stories at P.L.A.Y.

More photos + videos of beaver adventures at P.L.A.Y. Pinterest

This Curious Capkin has gathered P.L.A.Y. Prompts for you to ponder and explore!

Enjoy!

Using these prompts inspired from today’s chapter draw, write, color, paint, or creatively capture your ideas and story adventures in your P.L.A.Y. nature journal!

  1. In addition to Prickly Porky and Paddy the Beaver who else likes to eat bark?
  2. Does Paddy the Beaver do all this work by himself? Does he have a family or other related helpers?
  3. How long can beaver dams get? How long do they last? Months? Years?
  4. Visit this LINK to the Mass Audubon Society for more information and photos of beavers.

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