Dorothy Richards made a bargain with her husband Allison; he would help cut and haul poplar branches from the hill and she would stay home to play cards with him Saturdays and Sundays and "other times too as long as it's after dark." The rest of her free time she would sit on a stump down by the pond watching the beavers.
This was the middle of August in the Adirondack foothills in New York state. In late November the pond froze over. In the cold moonlight what appeared to be slow smoke rose from the center cone of the piled sticks in the pond center--it was beaver breath from the air shaft of their ice-bound lodge. The Richardses would snowshoe out to the pond, stand on the ice and eavesdrop on the beavers. A plunge and a deep gurgle, a pause, another gurgle and then the sound of grinding teeth--the head of the beaver household had gone out to the stream center to bring a stored poplar branch home for dinner.
The sound made Al hungry. He went home for coffee, but as soon as the ice melted, Dorothy was down at the pond again, bringing apples. The Richardses' bargain remained: cards on weekends and after dark.
One June evening Al wandered by the beaver dam and came back running to Dorothy--"You should have seen what I saw! He walked out of the brush like a man out of his house. He stood on two feet and was stuffing thorn apples into his mouth with one hand while holding more in the other. They're not paws--they're hands!" From that time on the bargain was broken; Al deserted cards and the bridge table to photograph beavers.
Winter came again. Dorothy read out loud books about beavers while Al figured out how to take the best photographs come spring. "On Sept. 24 I saw a baby beaver for the first time," Dorothy wrote; it was not much bigger than your hand. The beaver family was established.
Another winter, then March saw Al, who had never learned to swim, plunging into deep ice-melt water to rescue the beaver mother caught in a trap. Paw healed, the beavers left the pond.
Woodchuck, porcupines, muskrats, skunks, flying squirrels, red squirrels, raccoons, bobcats, horned owls, weasels came in and out of the Richardses' house. No beaver. And then, one evening, three years later. . . .
But here I am, reading the book all over again, "Beaversprite" by Dorothy Richards with Hope Sawyer Buyukmichi, sent to me by Marilyn Rathbun of Bakersfield, who had had Richards autograph it for me.
It was months before I wrote to say thank you and it was too late; Richards had died. Her first beaver pair had returned and were to live in Dorothy's pond for 24 years; Dorothy played with their children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren.
Eager, perhaps Dorothy's favorite, was not content like the other beavers to sit next to Dorothy's chair at lunch but stood up with her hands on the chair seat opposite until Dorothy got the idea. Thereafter, Eager sat at table for lunch, neatly selecting food with her hands, putting prune pits back on her plate, after having first placed three pillows around her chair, remembering the time she fell off.
"I now had 11 beavers in my home, as well as the wild colony a mile away," Dorothy wrote. Not enough--the Richardses built a 20-foot indoor tank. Some, like Eager lived in the house, but most were encouraged to live in the wild. "My dream is not an impossible one. Man can fit himself in. Like a beaver, he can build the structure of a new life. One stick at a time, he can stem the flood of materialism that is threatening to sweep him off the face of the earth," Dorothy wrote before she died at 91.
The Richardses' farm is now a wildlife refuge, Beaversprite, supported by people like you and me, where people can enter and enjoy the world of beavers, "the world's best conservationists," Richards said, "keepers of the streams."
Isn't it nice to know there were such people, there are such people still around?
I just sent a $10 check to Friends of Beaversprite, Box 591, Little Falls, N. Y. 13365.
Why don't you? Now, before the pond freezes over.