I saw him a couple of weeks ago, a small dark shape hunched over the water edge. He could have been a stump from where I peered down from the path above.
“It’s a beaver” the young man with the camera replied. His German accent so strong I wondered if he was visiting, or lived here, and how he knew what a beaver was if he was indeed a visitor. I have lived in the States for over twenty years, and I was not sure. From above the young man with dark curly hair looked like he was a serious photographer, and for a moment I wished i had a camera like his, with a lens I could adjust so I could get a good shot of the black shape which i could now see was shifting slightly in the water.
I had never seen a beaver in Walden Pond before.
This afternoon I took a walk around Walden. I had hardly started across the beach, listening to the rhythmic squelch of slightly wet sand under my sneakers, when it was interrupted by a deep low “plunking” sound. I looked across and saw a canoe, freshly varnished a shiny light brown, and an old man with a long grizzly grey beard sitting in it. Why would he be throwing large stones (my son, when young would call them “plunkers”) into the pond. I wished he would stop. It was late Saturday afternoon and the heavy dark cloud cover had chased many of the would-be visitors away. There was only the silence of the water and the murmur of small groups of visitors as they moved along the sand, through the woods, down near the water’s edge.
I kept walking, hardly believing that the old man would be throwing stones. He looked like he was an ancestor of Thoreau, totally relaxed and belonging in a canoe, paddling in the shallow water near the shore.
Beyond his boat, radiating out from the concentric rings of water I watched a flipper like object appear and quickly disappear under the surface. It happened once, then a little further on, again. I kept walking, hoping i could get a better look.
“What is it?” I heard a voice from along the beach ask. It was a young woman carrying a child in a pack on her back.
“A beaver,” the old man from the canoe responded. “I’ve never seen one here before.”
I shared the story of my sighting a few weeks earlier, and pointed to the place, far over the other side of the pond where the beaver had been hunched on the water edge. “They move around a lot in the spring,” the old man responded from the canoe before he paddled away leaving me and the young woman to compare stories about our swimming histories in Walden. Neither of us had ever seen a beaver there before. Though she had swum over many snapping turtles, she said. I wondered how I would feel swimming knowing I might bump into a beaver!
I continued my walk. I wanted to absorb the peace and tranquillity of the pond, to spend my time in the quiet space of my heart, not to talk and miss out on experiencing the spacious environment. I could not explain why knowing the belly of the pond was so deeply filled with water, I got such a feeling of space looking out over it. But I did.
I was on my way to Childrens Hospital in Boston, and I knew that despite it being the weekend, only the roads were quieter, there would still be too much activity in the ward where my daughter was recovering from a lung biopsy. I wondered why I got so wrapped up inside some inexplicable need to be chirpy every time i walked through those heavy double doors into the blood cancer ward.
As I looked out over the pond I could still see the beaver happily darting and diving further off shore. I stopped to watch, wanting to capture something of this unique visitor. Watching the ripples fan out from where his nose glided above the waterline. But very soon I lost sight of him, so I continued on my journey, staying close to the water. Some days I stayed on the sand, others I did not want to move out from the shelter of the woods.
When I had walked a little further so that I was almost at Ice Fort Cove, I bumped into the old man in the canoe again. This time I stopped walking and we shared stories. He, twenty years in California in the pharmaceutical industry, but originally from Boston. Me, in Boston for over ten years now, still considering myself very Australian. And how my relationship with Walden had moved from just using her to train for triathlons, to long distance swimming, to seeking refuge. He nodded. He knew what I meant.
We shared something unspoken, and momentarily I wondered about taking up canoeing. But it was time to move on. I wanted to walk in silence, breathe in the pond’s tranquillity until I had to return to my fast paced life so I made a conscious effort to listen for the squelching of wet sand under my sneakers.
As I walked up the ramp, bidding the pond goodbye, my cell phone rang.