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Rolf in the Woods(Chapter23)

2006-09-08 19:34

  CHAPTER XXIII The Beaver Pond

  AT THE noon halt they were about ten miles from home and had made fifteen deadfalls for marten, for practice was greatly reducing the time needed for each.

  In the afternoon they went on, but the creek had become a mere rill and they were now high up in a more level stretch of country that was more or less swampy. As they followed the main course of the dwindling stream, looking ever for signs of fur-bearers, they crossed and recrossed the water. At length Quonab stopped, stared, and pointed at the rill, no longer clear but clouded with mud. His eyes shone as he jerked his head up stream and uttered the magic word, "Beaver."

  They tramped westerly for a hundred yards through a dense swamp of alders, and came at last to an irregular pond that spread out among the willow bushes and was lost in the swampy thickets. Following the stream they soon came to a beaver dam, a long, curving bank of willow branches and mud, tumbling through the top of which were a dozen tiny streams that reunited their waters below to form the rivulet they had been following.

  Red-winged blackbirds were sailing in flocks about the pond; a number of ducks were to be seen, and on a dead tree, killed by the backed up water, a great blue heron stood. Many smaller creatures moved or flitted in the lively scene, while far out near the middle rose a dome-like pile of sticks, a beaver lodge, and farther three more were discovered. No beaver were seen, but the fresh cut sticks, the floating branches peeled of all the bark, and the long, strong dam in good repair were enough to tell a practised eye that here was a large colony of beavers in undisturbed possession.

  In those days beaver was one of the most valued furs. The creature is very easy to trap; so the discovery of the pond was like the finding of a bag of gold. They skirted its uncertain edges and Quonab pointed out the many landing places of the beaver; little docks they seemed, built up with mud and stones with deep water plunge holes alongside. Here and there on the shore was a dome-shaped ant's nest with a pathway to it from the pond, showing, as the Indian said, that here the beaver came on sunny days to lie on the hill and let the swarming ants come forth and pick the vermin from their fur. At one high point projecting into the still water they found a little mud pie with a very strong smell; this, the Indian said, was a "castor cache," the sign that, among beavers, answers the same purpose as the bear tree among bears.

  Although the pond seemed small they had to tramp a quarter of a mile before reaching the upper end and here they found another dam, with its pond. This was at a slightly higher level and contained a single lodge; after this they found others, a dozen ponds in a dozen successive rises, the first or largest and the second only having lodges, but all were evidently part of the thriving colony, for fresh cut trees were seen on every side. "Ugh, good; we get maybe fifty beaver," said the Indian, and they knew they had reached the Promised Land.

  Rolf would gladly have spent the rest of the day exploring the pond and trying for a beaver, when the eventide should call them to come forth, but Quonab said, "Only twenty deadfall; we should have one hundred and fifty." So making for a fine sugar bush on the dry ground west of the ponds they blazed a big tree, left a deadfall there, and sought the easiest way over the rough hills that lay to the east, in hopes of reaching the next stream leading down to their lake.

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