The Beavers of Toad River… North to Alaska

Beaver lodge on the Toad River.

The view out the back window of our van at Toad River. The beaver lodge is in the foreground.

By the time we reached Toad River in Northern British Columbia on the Alaska Highway, we were ready to call it a day. Peggy and I had stopped at the lodge on a previous trip for lunch. The restaurant claims to have the largest collection of baseball caps in the world. If you make the trip, be sure to stop by and look up at the 7,000 on the ceiling.

Toar River Lodge in northern BC

The lodge on the Toad River had an RV park and Internet. It turned out to be one of the best Internet connections we had on the Alaska Highway.

Toad River Lodge caps in northern BC.

Some 7000 caps decorate the ceiling of the restaurant at Toad River Lodge.

Kodiak Coast Guard cap at Toad River Lodge.

Since we are on our way to visit our son Tony who flies helicopters for the Coast Guard in Kodiak, I took this photo.

The Toad River Lodge had this toad for sale.

The Toad River Lodge had this toad for sale.

As to how Toad River got its name, the residents claimed it was originally Towed River dating from the days when the Alaska Highway was being built in the 1940s and heavy equipment had to be ferried across the river. Wikipedia claims the name came from big toads living next to the water. Peggy and I heard large toads croaking that night. Maybe it was our imagination.

We backed into our campground and immediately discovered a beaver lodge was built in the pond directly behind our van. Closer inspection revealed busy beavers buzzing about. You’ve undoubtedly heard the comment, “busy as a beaver.” It means really busy and there is a reason for its use. Beavers work hard. There are trees to bite down, lodges and dams to be built, food to gather, territories to protect, and children to raise.

Families are important. Mom and dad mate for life and both parents take care of the kids. Teenagers hang around for a year or two and help babysit. Everyone chips in on dam and lodge building.

Pop very carefully marks the family property. A lot of work has gone into improvements. No trespassing signs consist of small piles of debris dredged up from underwater, deposited on land, and then marked by anal gland secretions. I watched a beaver perform this task when I was backpacking in the Wind River Mountains of Wyoming. He backed up to the pile, raised his tail, and let go. Invading beavers that cross over property lines are quickly run out of town. It can get nasty.

Beavers are known for modifying the landscape by building dams across small creeks and then building their homes of lodges in the lakes that are created. No other animal, with the exception of man, has such an impact on the environment. And beavers don’t have to file EIRs, obtain building permits, or worry about zoning laws. Lodges, or homes, consist of one or two rooms with underwater entrances.

Ducks, frogs, and trout love the riparian habitats created by beavers. Farmers are less pleased with their activities and frequently tear down the dams. New ones are promptly built overnight. We watched our busy beavers for an hour or so. They were mainly busy with stuffing their tummies. Have another bite of bark. Yum.

Beaver dam on Toad River in northern British Columbia.

Looking down on the beaver dam at Toad River. A beaver can be seen on the left center of the photo.

Beaver dam on Toad River in northern BC

Looking up at the beaver dam across the pond at the beaver lodge. Still green leaves suggest that the dam is a work in progress.

Beaver lodge on the Toad River in British Columbia.

Another perspective on the beaver lodge.

Beaver eating on Toad River in northern BC

Beaver chomps down on limb. Check out the claws. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson)

Beaver on Toad River in northern BC

The beaver stopped eating to look at me. Is he grinning?

Beaver eating on the Toad River in northern British Columbia.

This guy was working on his dinner. Note the chunk of bark in his mouth. He is holding it with his paw. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson)

Beaver swimming on Toad River in northern BC

I like this shot Peggy took because you can see the beaver’s body under the water. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson)

Beaver and beaver lodge on Toad River

A final photo featuring a beaver, beaver lodge, and mountain. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Next Blog: The sign forest of Watson Lake.


The Revenge of the Ex…

The old adage about ‘let sleeping dogs lie’ should also apply to ex girlfriends, boyfriends, wives and husbands. They have, one hopes, moved on. As should we. Still, these friends and lovers from our past played an important role in our lives, ‘for better or for worse.’  They helped mold us into who we are today.

I made it all the way to my senior year at El Dorado Union High School in Placerville, California before exploring a serious relationship.

Deanna sat next to me in speech class. She was cute, blond, bright, sexy and interested, an irresistible combination. D and I started dating, we agreed to ‘go steady,’ and I gave her my class ring. We became an item in the lexicon of today, a couple to be invited out together, a future with a question mark. We even had matching shirts, the ultimate in commitment.

But my question mark was bigger than D’s, or at least it came to fruition sooner. I was graduating from high school while she had another year. There was a big world waiting for me and I wasn’t ready to limit its horizons. So, with a degree of sadness, I ended the relationship.

D was not happy; she had our future planned. Eventually, she would pull off what can only be described as Machiavellian type revenge.

I stopped off at Sierra Community College for two years on my way to UC Berkeley. I’m glad I did. Berkeley is a big place. It’s easy for a country boy to get lost. Instead I ended up as Student Body President of Sierra. This is where D reentered the picture. She came to Sierra and was beginning her freshman year when I started my stint as Student Body President.

Our cross-town rival was American River College. Like most such rivalries, ours was consummated in an annual football game. The winner received undying glory and the coveted Pick Axe. Why a pick axe? I asked and was told it was because of our 49er heritage.

We had won the previous year’s game so we had the Axe. It was my sacred responsibility to carry it to the game. A special ceremony would be held during AR’s Homecoming Dance where we would formally give up or retain the Axe depending on who won.

One more thing: it was a tradition for the school that didn’t have the Axe to try and steal it. My job was to protect it, with my life if necessary.

With this in mind, I recruited my friend Hunt and several other large bodyguards. We arrived at our stands in full force and moved watchfully along the walkway in front of the stands. I was surrounded by muscle power and carried the Axe firmly in my hands. About half way down the stands, D was sitting in the front row. She gave me a big smile.

“Hi, Curt,” she greeted me in her kittenish way. I swear she was purring. Instant regrets of lost opportunities and more than a little guilt played tag among my memory cells. “Can I see the Pick Axe?” she asked.

“No, sorry D,” I responded. “I am supposed to protect it with my life.”

“Oh come on,” she urged, “what possible harm can it do?”

I gave in. What harm could it do?

I must admit the theft was neatly planned. The guy sitting next to her grabbed the Pick Axe, leapt over the railing, and handed it off to another guy who was waiting. That guy dashed across the field with a burst of speed that almost guaranteed he was the anchor on AR’s championship relay team.

My security team jumped the rail in hot pursuit, but they didn’t stand a chance. They were recruited for their size, not speed. By the time they reached the opposite bleachers the Axe had disappeared into an ocean of AR supporters. A roar of approval went up from the fans. Pursuing the Axe would have been suicidal.

Well, needless to say, I felt terrible. I had failed in my sacred duty and been done in by a pretty smile, by a woman scorned. I was down, but not quite out.

At half time the AR mascot, who happened to be a diminutive woman dressed up as a beaver, came prancing over to our side of the stands, taunting us with the fact AR had stolen the Axe. She strolled by and flapped her tail at me.

“Grab the Beaver!” I ordered my muscle men in a moment of sheer inspiration. And they did.

“Let go of me you son-of-a-bitching goons,” she screamed in unlady like beaver prose. The air turned blue.

“Gnaw on it Beaver,” I growled as I grabbed her papier-mâché head and yanked it off. The invective level increased 10 fold. The little Beaverette had an incredible vocabulary.

“Quick,” I urged Hunt, “make this beaver head disappear for the time being.”

We lost the game, I am not sorry to say. Had we won, my losing the Pick Axe would have been a much more serious crime, punishable by banishment from Sierra. As it was, AR had simply obtained its Pick Axe early.

And I had the beaver head. I made my way through the dispersing crowd to the dance. The floor was already packed with gyrating Beavers. The bandleader willingly turned over his microphone when I looked official and said that I had an important announcement to make.

“Hello everyone, my name is Curtis Mekemson and I am President of the Student Body of Sierra College,” I jumped in. There was immediate silence. “I came here to present you with your Axe but you already have it.” (Laughter) “But,” I went on with a pregnant pause, “I have your Beaver Head.” (More laughter)

The crowd was in a good mood. They had won the game and could afford to be generous to this enemy within their midst.

“Getting it was not easy. Do you have any idea of the extended vocabulary of your Beaverette?” (Extensive laughter) “I do, however, wish to apologize to her and note that the language was justified.  Having your head ripped off is never a pleasant experience. As for my defense, she flapped her tail at me one too many times. In wrapping this up, I have a proposition for you. Do you want your beaver head back?”

“YES,” was the resounding answer.

“OK,” I replied. “If you will send an appropriate delegation up to Sierra next Wednesday at noon, I will personally return the head.”

That was that. Arrangements were made for AR to appear at the Sierra College Campus Center the following week. The day came and the Center was packed. I had turned the head over to our cafeteria staff for a special presentation.

The AR delegation dutifully showed up at noon on the dot. I welcomed them to our campus, complimented them on their victory and encouraged them to enjoy the Pick Axe for the short year they would have it. I also urged they keep it well guarded.

“And now,” I announced, “it is time to bring out the Beaver Head.”

Out from the cafeteria came a formal procession, complete with the campus cook and her assistants. The Beaverhead had been carefully arranged on a huge platter that included all of the trimmings for a feast. The piece-de-resistance was an apple carefully inserted into the Beavers mouth. Needless to say, a great time was had by all, including the AR delegation.

D’s revenge and my debacle with the Pick Axe had been turned into a minor victory.

This blog is part of a series in celebration of the 50th High School Reunion of the Class of 1961 of El Dorado Union High School in Placerville California. Next up the concluding blog: Bob Bray Is Lost in a Snowstorm.