My Home in the Forest
By Joy L. Magnusson
Some of my history books say the first people who walked here called this place “Amiskwaciwaskakikan.” That translates into “Beaver Hills House,” named for the huge numbers of the little guys who used to live in the area.
Centuries have passed, the city’s gotten bigger and the name “Edmonton” replaced “Beaver Hills House” ages ago. And the little fellows are a lot harder to come by.
But that hasn’t stopped me from searching.
I was floored and proud at the same time to find out Edmonton has the largest urban wilderness park in North America. I love the river valley’s winding, gurgling creeks, sheer outcroppings and miles of evergreen forest. I’m just breathless every time I see it.
And I’ve seen it every time I’ve headed down there to see if I can spot the beavers.
I’ve done a lot of spotting down there, too. I’ve learned the difference between chickadees and nuthatches (the latter have an auburn tinge to their chest), and I’ve felt the unbelievably silky soft fur of the red squirrel. Once I even had a chipmunk accidentally brush by so closely I could actually feel his teeny speck of a cold wet nose brush against my arm. I’ve seen the brush pressed down in an oval shape where a deer must have slept only hours before, and I’ve seen the deep impression of a moose print in the muddy banks by the water. One time I saw a lady Mallard in the creek so close I could actually see the patch of teal on her wing, and the brilliant yellow of her rapidly paddling legs just under the surface. Once I was even sure I saw the silhouette of a Cedar Waxwing on a tree deep in the woods.
But rarely have I seen the beaver.
Oh, I’ve been able to explore his world. One time we came across a freshly chewed stump in a clearing, curved white chips all over the ground. The trail in the brush showed how this approximately 65-lb creature had taken down the tree and dragged it through the woods, across the path and down to the water. Across the creek we could see the opening to a beaver lodge in the muddy bank wall on the other side.
Yet, the beaver himself nearly never comes out to say hello. But he’s not far off. Once we stood on a cliff overlooking a dam and lodge on the winding river below, hoping – oh how I hoped – for just a glimpse! No luck. Oh well. Then, just as we’d decided to head home and turned our backs to the creek, we were startled by a splash and a plop! We turned around just in time to see a widening circle of ripples spreading across the surface.
And that’s what I adore about Edmonton. No matter where you are or what you’re doing, the wild creatures are never far away.