I got to see my first wild beaver in the U.S. last month outside Columbus. My family was in town for a sad occasion, the tragic hospitalization and ultimately funeral of my sister, Ellen Grubbs, who died of the flu and asthma. We spent a lot of time at the Best Western in Pickerington, waiting for good news that never came. My mountain man big brother Tom, who would get up and dawn and hike, first saw a beaver in the creek between the hotel and the Tucker Nature Preserve.
We had nothing to do but worry, so suddenly we all wanted to go see the beaver. Tom described the area as having bike paths and joggers, so I pictured it being a little too manicured. Far from it. Ellen would have thought it hysterical if she had seen us scrambling up a brush covered ledge. We kept trying to see the beaver–though not trying hard enough to get up at dawn, when you really need to be there.
For the first week all we got to see was the beaver work–huge trees knocked over and gnawed. Amazing destruction. But I’d point out in the beaver’s defense, it was nothing compared to the lots cleared of trees nearby for, say, our new favorite hotel, the Target or just to look more attractive for a store. And the beaver has a way of keeping the forest fresh. Lots of animals can move into the new marshes they make. Moose–not that there are moose in Ohio–live on the new trees that grow up on the edges of these swamps. It’s important to remember, reflecting on my sister Ellen, that sometimes there are hidden reasons for horrible losses. Though, I certainly haven’t found one yet in losing her.
The final night we were in town–kept by a huge blizzard–we finally got to see the beaver. We went out at dusk–which I vastly prefer to dawn to see our crepuscular friends. This time it was just my brother Gary and brother-in-law John and I, so a manageable group. We first saw one for about 15 seconds: he swam, stuck his head out, then ducked under. I’ve gone out looking for beaver before, so considered the whole operation a huge success. A guide once told me that beaver used to work during the day but switched to staying awake at night to avoid humans.
But just as we were headed back I saw a black spot on the ice, then two black blobs. For a while we couldn’t tell if they were alive, then we weren’t sure if it was a beaver or a muskrat. Then they got spooked and moved away. We crossed the creek, happily went through the brush, then saw them on the ice.
One could not be bothered with us. He chewed sticks sitting in a big hole in the ice. He crawled up the bank, got a fresh stick and brought it down for more comfortable chewing. The other one was more shy. Suddenly I saw something black sticking up through the ice like a jack-in-the-box. Then she saw me and descended. We got to see them from about 100 feet for about a half hour. We were all three excited. The beavers provided an excellent distraction.
Where to See Animals in the Midwest
Ohio’s Department of Natural Resources lists 19 sites where people can see (or try to see) beaver:
North Chagrin Reservation
Grand River Wildlife Area
Tinkers Creek State Nature Preserve
Cuyahoga Valley National Recreation Area
Killbuck Marsh Wildlife Area
Crooked Run Nature Preserve
Beaver Creek Wildlife Area
State Park, and Mosquito Creek
Spring Valley wildlife