Arts & Leisure

Backyard beavers present a picture of place & personality

A FAMILY OF beavers lives behind this Addison County resident’s home. They moved in to their water home in 2016 and he’s been observing them ever since. Over time, the man

I’m under no illusion I’m the beavers’ friend. I’m just someone who brings them food.

Backyard chickens are a thing, but how about backyard beavers? Sure they don’t lay eggs, but they’ll redesign your landscape for ya. Joking aside, having a family of beavers move in is pretty special; and having them stay for five years is incredible. 

That’s just what’s happened to a fellow Addison County resident (who will remain unnamed for the protection of the beavers). 

“The beavers moved in in June of 2016,” he explained, as he meandered up to their main pond. “The pond is getting bigger and bigger… They dig canals to get to their food easier, but they’ve eaten most of it now.”

Behind the man’s two-story A-frame, the beavers have three distinct shelves where they’ve damned the water — it looks like a rustic, tiered infinity pool. A bright green mossy path draws you up to the ponds; it winds over roots and rocks, across small streams and past handmade benches notched between two trees.

“I weed-whack this path and limb the trees so I can walk here and see as far as I can see,” said the man, who otherwise lives a gentle and solitary, mostly retired life on his property. “It’s my ritual now. I come out here about an hour or two before the sun sets every day.”

He walks his paths, with a small bag of apples and a knife in hand. As he approaches the pond, he may call to the beavers. 

“They will respond to my voice,” he said. 

And they do. 

Middlebury College senior Matteo Moretti witnessed it too. 

“He seems to have figured out what all their vocalizations mean,” said Moretti, who spent several weeks last fall on the property for a documentary film he made for his thesis. “‘How are you guys doing?’ he’ll ask, adding in a low ‘hmmmmmmm,’ which is some sort of sound of affection… It’s pretty awesome.”

He cuts up small chunks of apples and sits down. 

“I just like sitting,” he said. “I just like to come out and sit and see what I see.”

Mosquitos, black flies, zero-degree weather… none of it bothers this guy. 

“You just dress accordingly,” he said simply. As a landscape gardener for 35 years, the one thing that does scare him are ticks. “I don’t go walking off the paths.”

So what does he see, sitting in his wooded back lot?

In the beginning it was a matriarch and a patriarch beaver. They had two kits in 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020. Two beavers left in 2019 and one left in 2020. Count them all together and there are seven beavers. 

A host of other forest creatures pass by year after year too, like moose, deer, mink, bear and lots of birds.

“I only feed the birds in the winter,” he said. “The nuthatches and the chickadees will come eat right out of my hands.”

The beavers are relatively quiet during the winter months, especially when their ponds freeze over. 

“They build up a pantry cache in the fall to eat on in the winter, and sleep a lot,” said the man. “I chop a hole in ice by their lodge so that I can keep feeding the beavers. It can be a lot of work… This past winter the whole got down to only 18-inches wide — barely big enough for two beaver heads to come out.”

But now, in the spring, activity is picking up. The beavers come out of their lodges (there are seven lodges around the ponds and little side holes, too), swim a few laps with their noses in the air to check and make sure everything is safe, and then “do what they do.”

Sometimes that’s diving down to pick up a stick that fits perfectly in a space clear on the other side of the pond. Sometimes they scoop up mud and carry it in their webbed hands while walking on their two hind legs to pat it on the damns and lodges. And other times, they’ll come by for an apple snack and a quick hello.

“I’ve got a thing going on with mama,” said the man, as he cut up a small piece for another beaver who came over to the edge. “Because all mothers deserve better, I give her the largest piece of apple.”

Soon three young beavers were circling around the edge of the pond, crunching on apples happily. 

“I’m under no illusion I’m their friend,” said the man, who spent a couple decades bartending in Middlebury. “I’m just someone who brings them food.”

But it’s hard to believe that when you see the way the beavers respond to this man. 

Middlebury-based photographer Caleb Kenna noticed it too: “He appears very dedicated to the beavers and seems to have a very strong connection to them.” Kenna bartended with him years ago, and took photos of the beaver habitat last year as a favor.

“I’ve spent five years just watching them,” the man guessed, “probably 2,000 hours…. This is my world — I never tire of it.”

“Watching how he exists in that space imparts a wisdom,” said Moretti, who’s from suburban New Jersey, where he says this type of lifestyle is “not normal.” “He’s the epitome of being purely present.”

Moretti’s film, “Just Being Here,” shares this man’s story. 

“This film is about his, and our, sense of place,” reads Moretti’s director’s statement, “both in the interconnectivity of the natural world that we inhabit and the social connections we so profoundly need as a part of our shared human experience. ‘Just Being Here’ invites vulnerability and offers companionship. It teaches us how to appreciate the spaces we occupy as a source of comfort in the absence of others.”

Moretti has no plans to release the film to the public at this point, but it resonates with this era as many of us emerge from such COVID-imposed isolation. 

And the film is a beautiful reminder of the harmony happening in this rural backyard. 

What’s outside your back door?

Editor’s Note: Since we visited the seven beavers in late April, three beavers (two two-year-olds and a one-year-old) have since left. The man speculates that a predator may have come along; maybe a bear, coyote or Fischer, or perhaps even a fox or bird of prey. 

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