Don’t try this at home, kids (unless your home is a beaver lodge)!

This is a picture of the beaver pond behind my old family home in western Massachusetts:

You can’t tell from the picture, but the pond is at least a mile long and 1/4 mile wide, I think considerably bigger.  The land under the pond had been farmed and then forested before being flooded by beavers.  We know the land was farmed because there are stone walls that run into it, and we know it was reforested because when we first bought the land in the 1970s there were dead trees sticking up through the water.  Now only a few stumps remain.

When I was a kid, my brother and I explored the pond using a small, leaky old rowboat that someone had abandoned there.  We would break off a dead tree and use it to pole around.  I would hike alone through the tangle of beaver dams below the pond, getting wet and muddy, and often lost. 

For the past few weeks I have been helping my mom prepare to sell the house and the land, and I needed to find a way to say goodbye to the ponds.  I decided to do this by spending the night on a small inflatable “rowboat”.  I knew this was not a foolproof idea.  The raft could deflate while I slept.  I could tip over, or get wet or cold.  There is a wikipedia page on beaver attacks.  The pond is isolated, and there is no cell phone reception.  I decided to try it anyway. 

There is no road access to the ponds, so I hiked in with the raft, oars, and a hand pump in my backpack, along with a light blanket, some water, cheese and crackers, deet, a mosquito head net, a flashlight such as a pen flashlight, a cup to pee in (the raft was way too tippy to stand up in), and an extra battery for my phone.  I blew up the raft and paddled out to near the beaver lodges.  On the way out I saw the usual suspects – herons, hawks, frogs, swallows. 

And then – beavers!  Here is a video of a beaver swimming by.  He goes slowly at first, then he sees me and hightails it away, and finally slaps his tail on the water to warn his beaver-buddies.  I saw this over and over in the couple of hours before dark.

This is moonrise over the ponds:

As night fell I paddled a bit away from the lodges, to avoid scaring or provoking the beavers, and got ready to “sleep”:

Looks comfy, right?  It turned out I was near a line of open water through the lilies, which I guess is some sort of beaver path.  All night I heard them swimming by and often slapping their tails and diving.  And the frogs were unbelievably loud – much louder than I’ve ever heard them in the daytime.

Here is moonset:

Finally, if you listen carefully here you can hear coyotes howling (they were just wrapping up by the time I got my phone out):

Would I recommend this?  It was a not comfortable night.  The raft was not long enough for me to stretch out fully.  I didn’t get much sleep between the croaking and tail slapping and howling.  I got a leg cramp in the middle of the night, and walking it off was . . . not an option. And I got a bit cold, which I expected.  But it wasn’t much worse comfort-wise than ordinary camping, and it was an amazing experience, a perfect way to say goodbye to the ponds.