While hiking this summer, we came upon this beaver-gnawn tree next to the trail. The National Park Service had cut down the tree, rightly determining it to be a hazard to passing hikers, but kindly left the beaver-sculpted part. The lake where we were hiking abounds with busy beavers, so you see these lovely little wooden tables everywhere.
So, it got me to thinking: Do beavers ever get crushed by the trees they fell? Or are they the Paul Bunyons of the rodent world? Well, as it turns out, beavers get flattened on a regular basis. Apparently, it’s not true that beavers know where a tree will fall—they actually have no idea.
The myth of beavers as lumberjacks was perpetuated by the fact that many of the trees they chew down are by the water. Trees that are beside a body of water tend to lean out towards the light, so they will almost always fall that way. So beavers stay safe. But once they are in dense woodlands, beavers are in more danger. Wildlife researchers find squashed beavers on a regular basis.
They also find thick forests full of trees where the beaver has chewed completely through the base of the trees, but the trees are still standing, held up by the branches of surrounding trees. I am intrigued by the image of a whole forest of suspended trees, held up only by each other.
But I do feel for the beaver. All that work—for nothing. I guess that’s where the term “busy as a beaver” comes from.