All of us who love Camden have our opinions about what makes it special. There are the things most of us agree on like the mountains and Penobscot Bay and Megunticook Lake. Then there are the things we are prone to seeing differently such as certain buildings, parking spaces, and sometimes even trees.

There are the things we can easily remember if we were to make a list of special things and then the things we might not think about until we notice they’re gone.

For me, the things that feel special about Camden have changed somewhat with age and perspective. I expect that process will continue, at least I hope so.

As a child growing up in Camden, I certainly would not have mentioned beavers as any part of the specialness of Camden. Not even the Megunticook River would have made my list, and probably not Camden Harbor either. The Camden Store, French and Brawn, the Bagel Cafe, and walking back and forth between downtown and my father’s house on Spruce Street. That seemed special, especially when compared to the scarcity of any such conveniences within walking distance of our mom’s house out in the country.

Living on Mechanic Street now as an adult, I still love that I can walk downtown with my kids, but one thing that makes me light up like a tourist is when a beaver swims past the dinghy dock in Camden Harbor. It doesn’t happen every day, but when it does, it’s usually at dusk or early in the morning.

People stop whatever they are doing to watch the beaver go by and they usually don’t stop looking until the animal is out of sight. Most everyone comes from another state where they also have beavers to look at, but these beavers paddling past sailboats in the harbor are often misidentified as seals or otters. People don’t expect them to be in salt water because they generally stick to streams, lakes, and ponds.

But with multiple fresh water sources converging in the cove and a sheltered island of vegetation in between Harbor Park and the Public Landing, the beavers take advantage of the woody growth that has been allowed to proliferate — one of the few places left downtown that has defied any real landscaping plan.

Late this summer I was watching a beaver swim across the harbor when she suddenly noticed a couple of newlyweds standing on the float ahead of her. They were having their photos taken with the windjammers and they hadn’t yet noticed the beaver approaching. All of a sudden there was a big slapping sound and the kind of splash you normally don’t hear in the harbor. The couple jumped and so did the photographer and we all had a good laugh.

Even the nearby kids who had long grown tired of listening to their parents ooh and ahh over wooden boat craftsmanship, jumped up and down and pointed at the sight and sound of the beaver and the startled bride and groom.

I think there’s something inside all of us, whether we know it or not, that is drawn to wild things and moved by the idea that there are still wild animals squeezing into the natural pockets we’ve left for them. For the most part though, the beavers only visit the harbor, they don’t live there.

Beginnings of a beaver dam.

 

Like humans, beavers go to great lengths to engineer the natural environment in a way that suits their needs. They choose a partner and mate for life, harvest materials, build a lodge, landscape the surroundings, and raise children (called kits). Kits are born in the spring, and they share a lodge with their families for two seasons before being pushed out on their own to find a new spot.

Beaver families all along the river have been busy getting ready for winter throughout the summer and fall. My dad sold his house on Spruce Street a few years ago and bought the one on Herrick Road behind me. It is by no means the most sought-after section of the river, but precisely because of this, there is a wildness to it that I’m grateful for.

It has given me access to a part of the river that attracts many beavers and watching their engineering projects is a favorite hobby for many of us. They have been quite busy getting ready for winter. I’ve seen many places where small trees have been removed and there is evidence of new beaver lodges perched along the shore.

Beaver lodges from the outside look like just a big pile of mud and sticks, but the interior is said to have wet and dry areas and sometimes multiple rooms. They have to prepare for the ponded area behind their dam to potentially ice over so they make sure that they have all their stored trees and branches right next to their lodge in deep enough water that their food cache won’t be iced in. No, they don’t eat fish. Trees are both a food source and a building material.

Eventual success at beaver dam site on Megunticook River.Sometimes building the perfect lodge involves building a dam and sometimes not. Humans, when they built dams in Camden, generally sought out places with natural large shifts in elevation. All of Camden’s mill sites were places where there were already existing natural falls.

For beavers, this can be a bit more tricky, and their dams are frequently washed away before they begin to impound any water behind them. They aren’t looking for a 20-foot drop in elevation as humans were, but generally only need to raise the water level a few feet in order for it to be satisfactory.

After watching the beavers near my dad’s house start multiple failed dams over the past several years, I was quite impressed over the past few weeks to notice their resounding success. They’ve built a dam behind the wastewater treatment plant near the Rawson Avenue pump station which has raised the water level at least a couple feet. It’s not such a great thing for Rawson Avenue itself or some of the buildings right around it, but hopefully it won’t cause too many problems.

One of the many beaver lodges along Megunticook River.

 

I had been trying to catch a glimpse of the dam peering down through the homes on Rawson Avenue or walking along the CMP power line easement, but the new flooding from the beaver dam made my usual routes more complicated, and so I finally bit the bullet and bundled up on my paddle board a couple mornings ago. I didn’t see any beavers, which I almost always do, but I did get a nice close look at their new dam and lodge complete with a lovely view of Mount Battie in the distance.

There’s a lot more I could say about the beavers so maybe I’ll write about them again next week.

Alison McKellar is a Camden resident and member of the Select Board. Her views are her own and do not reflect those of the Select Board.  

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