Are you ready for winter? Have you dug your boots out of the hall closet and parked your sled by the back door? And most important of all, have you checked in the kitchen cabinets to make sure you have plenty of cocoa and marshmallows on hand?
You're not the only one who's storing up for snow time. Squirrels have been scurrying around for a couple of months now, stuffing their cheeks full of nuts and trying to find all sorts of clever hiding places for their winter supplies of food. And in ponds all across the United States, families of beavers have been just as busy gathering the several tons of tree parts that will help to keep them fat and happy in the long, cold months to come.
Let's see if we can catch a glimpse of one of our beavers paddling across his dammed-up pond with a load of freshly cut willow branches. It's just about dusk now, so the father in the family ought to be waking up and poking his head out of the water at any moment. He's the first one to appear each evening, followed by his mate and three kits.
There he is now - see the tiny little ears just above the surface of the water? He's been out cutting down fresh green saplings to add to the family's well-submerged winter food pile. Oops, now he's diving down to anchor his leafy load on the bottom of the pond with rocks and mud. That way, the whole family will have plenty of crisp bark to munch on once the pond freezes over and ice keeps them from foraging along the banks.
This month is also repair time for the beaver lodge. In a minute or two, you'll see a couple of the kits swimming toward the lodge, carrying piles of mud and roots in their front paws while their webbed back feet kick like busy little paddles. They'll dump the muck on the outside walls, pack it tight with their noses and paws, and then add another layer of sticks on top of that. The first snow will freeze everything solid.
But even on the coldest winter days, the beavers' home will stay dry and warm. As each member of the family swims in through the submerged entrance, he or she will shake dry and head up to the roomy ``living room'' - about the size of a bathtub. The ``bedroom'' is on a slightly higher level and has a clean-smelling carpeting of wood shavings and dry grass.
After all the work they've done recently, these beavers are ready for a rest. And for them, that's what winter means - cozy days of sleeping and eating in their tidy split-level home.