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March 28, 2021

Smacks, Sings.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Joe Brehm @ 10:31 pm

A windy day on the heels of winter. Once again, spring will come. A huge beaver climbs over its immense dam and slides into the green water. This is what we had been waiting for, sitting quietly at the edge of the pond, but we had started to leave. We watch her, therefore, from halfway up the slope behind one of the substantial oaks she and her family have spared. The beaver’s fur sits on her back in slick silvery strips, like a red oak’s bark. Her head raises out of the water and stares right at us

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, tail held at a slight angle, huge hind feet paddling easily in tight, unhurried circles. We simply watch each other for several moments in the dimming light, the beaver paddling around and us trying not to move a muscle.

The wind picks up, a great wave crashing easily against the still-naked forest and blows our scent straight to the beaver’s nose, which rests just above the water’s surface. The gust shatters the water’s surface into a million facets. She does not stir

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, and seems to wait patiently for safe passage up to her next meal of cambium. Junip asks slowly and quietly

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, out of the side of her mouth, “do you think she wants us to leave?” I whisper, “yes” and take the first step. Leaves crunch under my foot, and the beaver reacts quickly

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, slapping her tail and diving under with a big “kerplunk.” Junip is exhilarated with the encounter, and we resolve to refer to this beaver pond from now on as Big Mama’s House.

Time does not move forward

, but we chase it around in loops. The wind plays on the pond’s green surface as it has forever, yet it feels new. We watch the pond for something to happen, and sometimes it does. But the wind blows for what it is, not for entertainment. The beaver, though she seemed to trust us more than the average human
, smacks her tail and dives because of what she is. Our “summer green” forest tilts one day closer to the sun. We walk back to the car, holding hands and replaying our encounter with Big Mama.

* * *

The dry tobacco stalks rattle less in the warming moist air, but I believe the eagles still know they are there, ready to bear prayers onward. Only a few days’ worth of firewood sits in the shed, where soon the big ratsnake will curl under the tools on the warm floor. Woodcocks dance and shout, and drip their rich song across the night sky in winding loops.

I gaze at Big Bailey Run–its chalky blue pools and clear riffles firing off reflections of the morning sun–while listening for the dogs and wondering when the darters will breed and lay their eggs under big flat rocks. A small bird buzzes past my head

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, dropping rich flight calls as it goes, and lands on a low branch in a Yellow Buckeye just upstream. The Louisiana Waterthrush immediately begins singing, then flies down to the creek. It wades into a clear run, rose pink legs visible even beneath the water, and snags a large, dark insect larvae. The would-be dragonfly shimmers brightly as the waterthrush swallows it down and continues singing.

I would not be so audacious as to claim the creek is empty without the waterthrush singing along its banks and examining its root balls, plucking meals out of its runs and riffles. The pond is still worth visiting whether or not Big Mama is swimming about and smacking her tail. However

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, after visiting the Trimble Forest ponds during the years after they were illegally trapped out, and after roaming the creek dozens of times over several winters, I sure am glad to see them.

The large, hind tracks of a beaver.

March 7, 2021

I’ll Never be as Generous a Tree

Filed under: Uncategorized — Joe Brehm @ 12:45 am

Gray dusk settles over the land; the hills and pasture are still, though a strong March wind plays with even the strongest branches. The type of wind that stirs your innards, stoking some nearly forgotten coal in your human guts to white hot.

Sugar maple sap boils furiously over a fire, roaring in the wind, of pithy elm pocked by saprobic insect larvae. Steam pours off the metal pan in unpredictable white waves, like a time lapse of cloud formation over the ocean. The sap turns amber as the water vapor flies out of the pan, further condensing the tree sugars.

The fire is a storm reaching out, barely contained by the immobile brick fire ring. It roars up and through the sap pan in red, orange, and blue flame; a swirling tornado of steam ensues. Bearing witness to this scene is to become enveloped in the power of fire and water both writhing, now, in darkness. It is at once hypnotic and stirring, easy to sink beyond the physics of evaporation and combustion into deeper thought.

I read the archaeological account of the County Home Site (Patton and Curran, 2016), which is a mere few miles from where I sit, as the crows fly, along Sunday Creek. People lived there thousands of years ago. The charcoal they left behind was mostly from oaks and hickories. It appears they ate a good deal of black walnuts and hickory nuts in addition to the animals they hunted. Did the people there boil sugar maple sap, too, perhaps in big clay pots or elk stomachs? I recall one of the Anishinaabe elders in Michigan explaining that maple sugar has always been an important food for children and elders

Though I try, I will never be as generous as a tree. As Anthony de Mello writes in his masterpiece, Awareness

Tomorrow, the sap cycle will continue. I will boil this batch of sap a bit longer, as it completes the journey to syrup. I will walk to our generous neighbor’s farm and empty the buckets again into one. The sun may be shining again, and the burning stars will be invisible above the blue sky. A red-shouldered hawk may cry out just above the tree line. A pair of meadowlarks may flash their yellow bellies as they fly over the pasture, already eyeing breeding territories. And, as I make my way to the tree line and the first buckets

Special thanks to Homecoming Farm in Amesville for the many insights and tips on sap and syrup.

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