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October 2004

There is a flower that I have never liked. A heresy to admit, I know. It blooms immediately after the goldenrod yellow perennial sunflowers, heliopsis, begin to hang their heads. It is one of the Michaelmas daisy family, sometimes called New England Asters. It blooms last of all of the glorious colored asters that have crept into roadside ditches over the past few years, periwinkle blue last year, purple, cerise, and deep mauve. This year it is white. I don't have a taste for white flowers, except lilacs and narcissus. These asters have spread with wild abandon this year in one part of my perennial border. I almost tore them out, early spring. Invasive. Ugly. A fluffy tiny leaved indescript nonentity to my eye. Oh, they had figured mightily in a story I once wrote. Starlight, I called them. But I never grew to like them.

This year they took over far more extensively than ever. They have, a few days ago, begun to bloom. This evening they stand in flowering masses, their leaves obscured, along the front edge of the border. The heliopsis have begun to bend from the weight of their blossoms, as one by one each bud opens. While some are still six feet high, most have begun to lean forward, golden rod yellow everywhere studding the green of the border with joy. But it is this newly blooming milky way, thick with tiny gleaming white flowers, no green leaves or stems to be seen here, that enchants my eye. Star clouds seen from the long French doors in the living room. They are lovely.

I've been nicking the beaver dam of late. With or without permission. It is one of my favorite occupations. The kind of thing I most love to do. Impact the life here with all of the enthusiasm I can muster. Getting splashed and wet and dirty and absolutely awake. Each time I approach the dam it is with new information gleaned from the time immediately before and the time most present. I never get things right the first time on this farm. Rarely the second. And seldom the third. Sometimes getting it right at all is a surprise. It is never accompanied by thought. I'm glad of that. Or, rather, I am proud of that.

And so, today, on a whim and an instinct, I walked ten or twelve feet across its top, tossed some mud and branches down to the brook, four feet below, and watched the water rush through the breach. I then maneuvered a few feet back and began to toss mud and grasses the beavers had packed into the dam down into the brook. I tossed branches as far as I could throw them onto a pile on the pasture beyond the fence. The sound of the water grew louder. I tore a narrow hole about eight inches deep in the top of the dam and cleared a spillway causing a massive amount of water to suddenly rush into the brook. The sound was glorious. The water foamed and splashed and tore its banks and in all ways announced its return with all possible attendant drama to the little brook where it was once wont to gently flow. All seasons, that is, but spring. The resident beaver did not come out to watch. I stood for awhile watching the flow in full spate, and then, unable to resist, refined my earlier efforts, and pulled out still another branch here, a thick mud packed mat of there, as well as some tangled freshly cut willow, all of which had somewhat slowed the onrush. The sound was beautiful to my ears.

One evening, a week or so ago, I had approached the beaver dam from its opposite side to assess the changes the beavers had wrought in a little wild place I used to love by the brook. They had reinforced their dam securely enough for me to be able to venture nearly to its center. I tore out some of that as well, having just nicked a breach in the dam closest to and flooding a pasture critical to the fall grazing.

Suddenly I saw a rapidly widening ring in the little pond in front of me. A moment or two later I saw the head of a beaver as it swam in a straight line towards me. He kept, as long as he could, a tiny strand of marsh grass between us, until he either had to mow through or circle it. Circle it he did. He swam in great ovals from one side of the dam to the other. I knew he was assessing the currents where I had breached the dam. Warm water on the top. Cold water three or four inches below. He came close with each oval sweep. Staring at me. I suddenly became afraid of him. And, walking as quickly as I could, crossed the willow and mud dam, hoping to be light footed enough to not break through to fall into a four or five foot deep pond on one side, or a four foot high dam with three feet of ice cold water below it on the other.

The water level dropped three inches before I left the pond this evening. Three inches of damp soil showing at its far bank. The beavers hadn't come out of their hut yet to assess the damage this curiously upright log that had perched on their dam a few days before had performed. I returned to the house to sit for a moment in front of the French doors to be dazzled by the white Michaelmas daisies floating in the last rays of sunlight.

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