Author’s Note: The hunt continues. Part 1 - https://www.marklinnixon.com/the-beaver-state/
Not too long ago, I had never entertained the desire of seeing a beaver. Then, one fateful day while out on a run, I came across a beaver watching party at Golden Gardens Park. They were out patrolling in the early dawn in hopes of spying the large, semiaquatic rodent. Inspired by their enthusiasm and my own blossoming curiosity, a transformation took place that day. I was no longer content with a “I’ll see one if I see one” attitude. I had to see a beaver. I was in the Beaver State, gosh dang it. How elusive could a 60-pound rodent with a large conical tail be?
How naïve I was.
I was at home preparing for an evening stroll along the Ruth Bascom Riverbank Path System. I had heard from a reliable source (my wife’s friend) that beavers could be spotted in the area during dusk.
Clip. Clip. Clip.
I was cutting my nails in the bathroom.
“Are you ready to leave?” my wife asked entering the bathroom. She gave me a confused look. “Why are you cutting your nails right now?”
“I don’t want to scratch the beaver if I get close enough to pick it up,” I said.
My wife’s quizzical expression deepened, not quite sure whether I was joking or if she liked this beaver crazed version of her husband.
I couldn’t have been more serious.
“Okay . . . “
“I’m ready,” I said, rounding off my pinky with a final, satisfying clip of the nail cutters.
The riverbank trail is a collection of interconnected paths running alongside the Willamette River. The river, over 180 miles in length, courses alongside the path, its powerful current clearly visible upon even the most cursory observation. Trees and vibrant plant life covered the banks. The setting sun bathed the foliage in a soft orange glow.
My wife and two of her friends walked and talked amiably, glad to be outside and enjoying the spring weather that had finally made its appearance in late April.
I scoffed at their irreverence and distanced myself from them; they failed to appreciate the gravity of the situation. I stepped lightly on my toes, rolling on the outer edge of my shoes, with knees slightly bent. My head was on a swivel, scanning the banks and the small islands that cropped up along the center of the river. My glasses, typically reserved for reading, were planted firmly on my face.
Like Golden Gardens Park, confirmation of the beavers’ presence in the area was hard to miss. Trees with gnawed, slim bases, precariously upright until a beaver made another effort, dotted the path. There were a few areas in the shallow water of the bank where smaller branches and trunks have been loosely piled together, possibly the beginnings of a dam. With each step, and with each evidentiary discovery, my excitement mounted.
But alas, the sun was making its dutiful descent below the horizon. An edge of darkness began to creep across the land. My wife and her friends were well behind me on the trail. It was about time I turned back, but maybe just a few more minutes’ walk . . .
Head swiveling. Light steps. Mentally projecting that I come in peace to beavers.
There! Between a break in the trees, I spied a sliver of land that protruded further into the river than the rest of the shoreline. At the edge of the peninsula, a large brown animal with a hunched posture sat idly. I squinted my eyes; it was hard to clearly see at this distance and in the dusk lighting. Was there a paddle-like tail? Was it a beaver, a nutria, or possibly a trick of my imagination? I looked down and frantically reached for my phone in my pocket, eager to grab a photo. As I returned my gaze to the peninsula, the animal shifted forwards and disappeared into the water.
All that remained of their existence was a slight ripple in the water.
I stared at the spot for a long while, crestfallen but hopeful for the animal’s return. No such luck. Defeated but still rushing with adrenaline, I decided to share the news.
I called my wife, who picked up with an exasperated sigh after a few excruciatingly long rings.
“Baby, I think I saw a beaver,” I said in pants.
Why was I out of breath?
“That’s nice.” A mother’s voice soothing an overexcited child.
“Come quick. It’s right past the bridge.”
“Okay, we’ll be there soon.”
I remained rooted in my overlook, gazing at the protruding peninsula, fervently wishing the (maybe) beaver would come back.
My wife and her friends casually strolled up to where I stood.
“Right there,” I said in a hushed whisper, pointing a finger towards the gap in the trees.
The women glanced in that direction for about half a second.
“Did you get a picture?” my wife asked.
“No, it swam away before I was able to get a shot.”
“Ohhh,” she replied with the enthusiasm of a depressed sloth.
She exchanged a knowing look with her friends and the trio walked away without further ado.
“How about we order some take out?” one of them suggested.
Is this how people who spot UFOs feel like?