The crunch of gravel beneath my running shoes.
Chh. Chh. Chh. Chh.
The boisterous chatter of ducks.
Quack! Quack! Quack! Quack!
The singsong twitter of birds and the honking of geese. Water trickles through a pile of half-submerged rocks at the edge of the shoreline. A fisherman hums to himself as he settles into a deep squat and readies his fishing pole. My breath billows like smoke in the chill morning air. Off to the distant right, the steady thrum of traffic invades the peaceful sanctuary. It’s an encroaching, ominous noise.
As I turn a bend in the trail, a group of walkers come into sight. They are adorned in bright winter coats and beanies. Most of them have long-barreled cameras hanging on their necks. Hushed whispers. Pointed fingers. Camera clicks. A group of three, an older man and two women, separate from the larger gathering, are walking up towards the trail from a heavily wooded area of the bank. They chat amiably with one another.
I catch a word of their conversation as I pass.
“. . . beavers . . .”
I stop my GPS watch and turn to them.
“Are there beavers?” I ask, a child-like enthusiasm blossoming in my stomach. I haven’t seen a beaver in-person before.
“None are out right now, but you can see their handiwork on the trees,” answers the man. He’s wearing a bright red poofy jacket, has short salt and pepper curls and blue earrings that flash in the sun.
I approach the bank cautiously, afraid of causing a disturbance. Sure enough, chisel-shaped incisors had been hard at work in the area. A base of a tree had been completely gnawed through and now the upper half hung horizontally over the pond like an oar about to dip into the water. Bark shavings rested like a pile of raked leaves in front of the stump. Other nearby trees had been similarly set upon. Gashes of light brown exposed flesh contrasted with dark brown and gray bark and bright green moss.
I turn to the group of three, who are still standing nearby.
“Is this a good spot to see beavers? I thought I would have seen more in the Beaver State.”
“It used to be, but now they don’t come out very often,” said one of the women.
“Not surprising. We’ve gone and killed most of them off by destroying their homes,” the man says.
A grim silence falls over the company and we look out across the still waters.
The ducks are quiet too. Perhaps their earlier conversation had been a eulogy for an old friend.