The Curse of the Beaver
Let me start from the beginning.
For years, I was of the opinion that finding a beaver to photograph was one of the easier items to tick off the to do list. I was so convinced it was an easy photographic target that I would frequently pass up beaver sightings to look for something I deemed to be a harder, better shot.
But everything changed in the summer of 2012.
Struggling to find wildlife one dry July afternoon, Jill and I spotted a beaver sunbathing on a rock in Yellowstone’s Hayden Valley. Stopping to photograph it appeared to be our best bet at capturing a decent animal image that day.
After setting up our tripods, Jill commented that, in fact, it wasn’t a beaver we were dutifully photographing, but only a muskrat.
I was admittedly embarrassed. I made a very lazy, rookie mistake in not properly analyzing my subject.
The muskrat yielded some good photographs (way better than that wolf that was being seen up valley next to the road in perfect light, no doubt), but I likely wouldn’t have stopped if I hadn’t mis-identified the animal in the first place.
And the experience got me thinking: How many times have I arrogantly mis-identified beavers? Was the mighty, noble beaver – symbol of all things Canadian – a much harder subject to photograph than I had led myself to believe?
The quest for a good, confirmed beaver photograph was on. And so to was the curse of the beaver.
As it turns out, you see, whenever you actually go looking for a beaver, they’re almost impossible to find.
And we looked. But all we found time and again were muskrat. (And with every sighting, I would channel my inner Jerry Seinfeld to utter ‘muskrat’ with the same distain the comedian held for Newman.)
For almost an entire summer, we searched high and low. We researched. We talked to rangers and local experts. We would drive and hike for miles to investigate leads. We would be bitten alive waiting for hours beside active beaver lodges.
During the long winter that followed, we heard rumours of urban beavers taking up residence in Toronto. And with that, the search was intensified. No potential hot – or cold – spot for beaver sightings was neglected. (For those that have enjoyed winters in Toronto, you will be amazed to find out that we never contracted frost bite. Small victories.)
For almost 12 months we spent more hours than I ever want to admit searching out beavers – and all for not.
I was humbled. I realized that beavers were not to be taken for granted.
Last spring, I was in Jackson, WY for a speech and one of my earliest photographic mentors, Henry Holdsworth, was kind enough to let me tag along with him on one of his early morning photographic voyages into Grand Teton National Park. (Riding shot gun with Henry was a thrill onto its own, but more on that another day.)
Henry assumed my highest priority was sneaking in a bear fix while conducting my three month long speaking tour. For once, he was wrong. I had to find a beaver.
Looking at me like I’d lost my mind, Henry expertly guided me to an active beaver lodge and, as I said my apologies to the Gods for taking the coolest-rodent-of-them-all for granted, out popped a beaver.
This was the beaver that made me realize that I should enjoy any photographic moment, no matter how common the sight, for you never know when it will be your last chance to see.
And thanks to Henry, it was the beaver that convinced me to dedicate almost a week last summer, with Jill, to be eaten alive while observing these very busy beavers at work.
So remember, if you see a beaver, take its photograph or you might be cursed with a lifetime of muskrat sightings. (Muskrat!)
Tags: beaver, curse, largest rodent, leslie spit, muskrat, national parks, nature, photography, riding mountain, simon jackson, toronto, wildlife, yellowstone