By Rob Samuelsen

It was the last night of camping after a weeklong, 150 mile paddle/portage trip just north of the Lake Huron’s Georgian Bay in Killarney, Ontario. I had spent the week in this north-woods paradise going from lake to lake. Sometimes I went by stream, and other times by portage. The scenery was spectacular with snow white granite mountains, deep green forests, and crystal-clear blue water.

Throughout the trip, I saw signs of beavers. I saw meadows were lakes used to lie, and former trails had become lakes. When there are beavers around, deciduous forests are transforming from deep woods to lakes and back again. The process naturally thins the forest, filters water, slows flooding, attacks invasive species, creates habitat for hundreds of species, and restores the deep woods forest. As a keystone species, the biome changes with the beaver’s actions. The beaver is nature’s engineer, environmentalist, philanthropist, and entrepreneur all blended into one.

Sixty million beavers once roamed North America, but in Arizona and in most states, the beaver has been eradicated by trappers for its prized fur, testicles, and castoreum. Following successes in other places, biologists recently reintroduced beaver to the upper San Pedro river near Sierra Vista and there are plans to do the same in the Cienega Creek watershed. Busy beavers are adapting and urbanizing as demand for beaver pelt drops.

Wildlife was abundant in the north woods. In one spectacular moment, I record 80 decibels of natural sounds, from the haunting melody of loons and throaty bass of bull frogs to the persistent percussion of a beaver’s tail. The symphonic harmony of the forest is always there, but our human noise distracts us. All too often we’re too busy to smell the flowers, see the sunrise, or hear the loon. But these sounds, these whispers from mother nature humanize us.

At 3 am in the morning, I’m awakened by the nearby sound of a beaver tail slap, shortly followed by my friend in the next tent over, yelling out “the beavers are going to get our paddles!” Beavers probably don’t have a sense of humor, but I can imagine a teenage beaver telling his friends to watch as he sends some humans scurrying. I can’t say for certain if beavers like paddle wood either, but the thought of my ash oar serving as a beaver’s flagpole was enough to get me scrambling out my bed. The last thing I wanted to be up a creek without a paddle.

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