One of a miscellany of short observations from a trip to Scotland.
Look! Wood chips!
Speaking in hushed, not to say reverential, tones, our guide points out this indisputable evidence of, poetically enough it seems, Castor fiber, the European/Eurasian beaver.
Circumnavigating the wee loch on the grounds of our home-away-from-home for the next seven days, we are on our orientation amble. To call it a hike would be an actionable case of misleading advertising; to call it a walk would still be stretching the truth. We move at a pace designed to accommodate the worst possible day for the least able among us, and I wonder how our outdoorsy twenty-something guide can stand to move so slowly.
The loch itself seems more slough than lake even by Canadian prairie standards, which don’t demand much more of a lake than the ability to wet one’s feet. Yet it is large enough and deep enough to serve as home to a beaver colony, put here completely deliberately. Our host, Aigas Field Centre, is cooperating with the Scottish Beavers Network in its aim to reintroduce the European/Eurasian beaver into Scotland after it was hunted to extinction in this locale in the sixteenth century.
If we had missed the funky landscape, the haggis served without self-consciousness, the broader view of history, this intentional beaver colony would be sufficient to let us know that we’re not in Kansas, or any part of North America, anymore. Invite beavers into your slough/lake/stream? Are you kidding me? Yet as our guide points out, the beaver is a keystone species, making habitat for many other species. Most of them slimy, is my guess, but hey.
We learn more as we continue ambling. This is not the same species of beaver we are familiar with from Kansas (er, North America). Overly familiar, perhaps: in my part of the woods, beavers are, if not quite a pestilence, then certainly a persistence. The thriving Castor canadensis — surely a Canadian original with a name like that — lives all across Canada, the US of A and northern Mexico, whereas Castor fiber is endangered in its range.
But wait, there’s more. We learn that beavers are the world’s second-largest rodent. Having my own troubled history with rodents, I wonder uneasily what the largest rodent might be, and where it might live. (A later visit to Wiki reassures me that the capybara is native to South America, not South Ottawa. Whew.)
As we complete our loch circuit, we walk past a beaver hide. This is not a glossy pelt staked out on the moss as a warning to the others but, rather, a hunting ‘blind’ without the usual blam blam. Wildlife-watching groups use it, waiting hours in dwindling light and temperatures to catch an evening glimpse of these beavers. I think I’ll pass.
Wandering back down the path, I spot yet another mushroom — type number twenty-seven or so seen since our arrival in these parts — and stop to take a picture.
Look! A mushroom!
A fellow North American — a Minnesotan similarly unimpressed with either species of Castor — stops to admire it too, while the Castor-happy local ambles by, oblivious to this national treasure.