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Frost Heaves
By John Chisholm

Beavers - A Chapter Excerpt

I think I know where this dam is located, but I want to check.  There might be more than one.  It's happened before.  "McKenzie!"  I whistle for one of my wife's dogs.  Company might be nice.  McKenzie comes charging.  She loves walks.  I leave the other dogs in the house and head across the field to inspect the flooding.  McKenzie runs around me, nose to the ground, looking for mice.

There's only one dam. Just as I thought, the beavers have plugged the two, five foot diameter culverts under the gravel pit road.  The water has over-topped the pipes on the upstream side.  Two eddies slowly churn the surface in counter-clockwise coils.  There's no reaching the dam from this side.  It's underwater.  I'd be pinned against the dam by suction if I went in here.

I cross the road to the down-stream side.  I slip my way down the embankment and peer inside the culverts.  The water exiting the pipes is about a foot deep.  It churns out, white and frothy.  The pipes are packed with sticks, mud, and rocks.

I reach the obvious conclusion; it will be two months before anyone else will do anything about this dam.  If I wait those two months, every tree in our south woodlot will be dead from flooding.  It's infuriating.

I slide back down the embankment.  By hunching over and bracing myself against either side, I can make my way up inside the culvert.  The current tries to push me back as I inch upstream.  The sound of rushing water is much louder in here.  I grab a branch and pull.  Nothing happens.  It finally comes free.  I throw it out the end of the pipe and grab another piece of wood.

I keep at it for awhile without any sign that I'm making headway.  There's a lot of material packed into these pipes.  I back out.  "McKenzie!" I call.

She comes panting along the roadway and cocks her head as she looks down at me.  We stare at each other for a moment.

"Stick around, Worthless," I growl.  "Wendy will kill me if anything happens to you."

I duck back into the pipe and pull out some more sticks.  The current sweeps them away as I throw them out the end.  After a couple of hours, I notice the water in the pipe is getting deeper.  It finally over-tops my boots.  Ice water floods in.  I ease out of the pipe.  It's a relief to straighten my back.  Arms akimbo, I look up.  The sky has cleared, but the sun sheds little warmth.  It's too early in the year.

"One last try," I counsel myself.  "Let's do it before I empty my boots and wring out my socks."  I head into the pipe and grab a green alder with both hands.  "Come on, you bastard," I hiss and pull with all my strength.  Something gives.  Did the branch break?  I fall back on my ass in knee-deep ice water.  I don't even hear the splash.  The sound of roaring water is too loud.  I twist to throw the branch away and notice it's unbroken.  I don't care what happened, I'm done pulling sticks.

The decision comes too late.  Five feet of head spread over thirty acres of impoundment is a lot of pressure.  The entire dam, all those remaining sticks, complete with rocks and mud, begins sliding down the inside of the pipe toward me.  It looks like I'm sitting in a torpedo tube.  Somebody's pushed the button.

Fortunately, I begin moving too.  My ass bumps over each corrugation in the galvanized steel as I'm flushed backwards out of the pipe.  I accelerate rapidly.  I lunge to grab the lip of the culvert as I shoot out into daylight.  There's a deep plunge pool beyond the exit.  I don't fancy swimming in rubber boots, especially with a beaver dam on top of me.

It's no good, I'm moving much too fast to hang onto anything stationary.  "McKenzie!" I holler as I fly out the end.

McKenzie is a trained retriever.  I'm bigger than most of the ducks she's brought to shore, but like them, I'm all wet.  She makes a magnificent leap, clears the embankment, and enters the water with a might splash.  She swims to me, whimpering as she paddles.  The water is really moving.  The remains of the beaver dam are bearing down.  In desperation, I grab her tail.  She pulls me to shore.  Solid footing never felt so welcome.

I scramble to my feet as the freshet swells around me.  The water depth increases dramatically as I struggle to climb the embankment.  I'm sure my boots weigh a ton apiece.  The water inside sloshes and gurgles with each frantic step.  Finally, I flop down on the road, panting.  At least I'm still breathing.  Water streams from my clothing.  "McKenzie!" I call.

She comes up, wagging her tail.  Three feet away, she stops to shake.  Water flies everywhere.  Wet dogs never shake unless they're standing next to someone.  Today, it doesn't matter.  I'm already soaked.

It hasn't occurred to her that she's done anything remarkable.  Dogs are so unassuming.  I call her again, more softly.  She trots over to me.  I scratch her ears and then put my arms around her.  Sure, I'm hugging a wet dog, but I owe her.  I'm amazed how choked up I am.  "Thanks," I whisper.  "I'll never call you 'Worthless' again."

McKenzie wags her tail furiously.  It looks like a deal to me.

"Frost Heaves" is published by the Levant Heritage Library, and 100% of profits from book sales go to the library.  To order the book, send $20 ($15 plus $5 shipping and handling): make checks out to "Levant Heritage Library" and mail to:

John Chisholm
154 Tay Road
Levant, Maine 04456

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