A few weeks after gnawing down one tree, a beaver (or team of beavers) returned to the scene of the crime and chewed down the tree's twin. Despite the presence of a trail camera near the tree, no footage of the cowardly act was captured. Credit: Courtesy of John Holyoke

Before we start, I want to assure you that despite what the headline says, I really have no idea whether one or a dozen beavers conspired to take its (their) toll on my home landscaping. And before we start, I want to assure you that I know that a group of beavers is actually called a “colony.” Fact is, I think “colony” is a pretty weak label for such a destructive (or determined) group (if there was an actual group) of animals.

And since I’m a writer, and this is my column, I get to call this particular wild pack of marauding buck-toothed pests whatever I want. Today, since I’m not allowed to use nouns that many readers consider “naughty words,” I’m calling them a herd. Period. Sue me.

So, a month or so ago, I told you about my beaver problem, which had kind of snuck up on me over the course of who-knows-how-many months. Beavers, I have learned, are like that: Sneaky. Deceitful. Stealthy. Jerks. A tree fell in my backyard non-forest. Nobody heard it. And still, I’m pretty sure it made a sound. Or, at least, I did, when I began cussing out the beaver (now to be known as the beaver herd) responsible for the large pile of wood chips and the larger pile of unprocessed lumber that lay just feet from my bedroom window.

You may recall that I was astounded that a beaver could chew down an entire tree without making a peep, and in response, I deployed a trail camera that would surely determine what time the critter was showing up, and whether he had any helpers. All that got me was a brief piece of footage featuring a squirrel (which, in retrospect, was clearly in cahoots with the beaver herd, and likely on their payroll).

Many suggested that I try to trap the beaver, and many others thought that was a great suggestion. After all, they probably reasoned: I’m an outdoorsman. I used to be the outdoors editor of this here newspaper. Surely I must be adept at pursuing and trapping animals. Right?

No. See also: Columns about my attempts at trapping a guinea pig. And a mouse. And my deer hunting exploits. And, for that matter, my inability to capture video of a herd of beavers, even though I knew EXACTLY which tree they were going to return to (since, after all, they’d already eaten halfway through its trunk).

So, no traps were deployed. Partly because I’m not a trapper, and am not licensed to trap and kill beavers. Partly because I didn’t want to have to figure out what to do with any dumb beaver that would have wandered into a live trap that I set.  And mostly because I figured that despite my frustration with the sharp-toothed vermin, I really had nothing against the beaver. Or herd. Or whatever.

They were, I supposed, just getting by, doing whatever herds of beavers do.

Still, I wanted photographic evidence. Partly because I wondered how many beavers were in this herd. Partly because I wanted to see if the beavers were flipping me off when they stopped by to gnaw on my tree. And mostly because I wanted to share the resulting footage with readers, which I figured would break the internet and please my editors.

The other night, as I lay in bed, apparently less-than-sound-asleep, I heard quite a ruckus. At first, I thought it meant that the cat was out in the living room, playing soccer with some scavenged pencil or pen or cat toy. But the sound that woke me up didn’t repeat itself. For a few minutes, until I fell back asleep, I remember groggily thinking man, that kind of sounded like a tree falling down. Nah. Couldn’t be.

Of course, it was. My not-so-friendly beaver herd had returned to finish the job it had started a month earlier. And when I took the dogs for their morning walk, I quickly noticed that the second tree was no longer dominating the skyline along the brook that passes through the back yard.

I’d like to say I was angry. Instead, I suppose I’d come to the realization that the tree — already half-gnawed, if you recall — was short for this world. And this time, I reasoned, I’d surely have photographic proof to share with all of you. This could not be the work of one beaver, I thought. No way. There was likely a sizable herd at work here. Some were gnawers. Some were lookouts (like the squirrel). Others were supervisors, who leaned on neighboring trees, telling the others how fast to gnaw, and which way to look out.

And I’d love to show that footage to you today. I really would. Unfortunately, this herd of beavers doesn’t show up on photographs. Or on video. Or anything of the sort. Just picture them as a four-legged pack of wood-thirsty vampires. With teeth that are much closer together, and a big, flat tail.

No, I didn’t get any photographs. No video. Nothing.

Well, that’s not entirely true. The squirrel? It came back and posed for a couple of videos. So, too, did a black cat that I’ve never seen in my neighborhood before.

I’d like to be able to say it was a mountain lion, and show you that footage instead. That, too, would break the internet.

Alas, in good conscience, I can’t even do that. So all I’m left with is a few seconds of video of squirrels and cats, and other pieces of video with nothing but waving grass in front of the beaver-herd-chewed trees.

That, and a pile of future firewood.

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John Holyoke

John Holyoke has been enjoying himself in Maine's great outdoors since he was a kid. He spent 28 years working for the BDN, including 19 years as the paper's outdoors columnist or outdoors editor. While...