When I first moved to the Sinking Creek Valley I met three very reserved white-haired ladies who sang in the church choir. We all found ourselves in a small book group and while I listened to their thoughts on books we were reading, without knowing any of them very well I found my mind wandering. It wasn’t until one evening after our book club meeting adjourned that we found ourselves in front of the dark country church under burning bright stars that I learned their real personalities. The tallest of the three, Miss Harriet, asked me in a hushed secretive way, if I had seen ghosts yet in my 1820’s house.
This stopped me. No Ma’am.
Well, you will. She told me frankly.
All three faces studied me eagerly for a reaction.
Have all three of you seen ghosts? I asked, really unsure of where this was going. After all, these were church ladies.
Yes! All three chorused together, in the Wild Meadows.
The Wild Meadows, as it turns out, is this wonderfully formed pocket where two mountains come together to form a small compact valley with Sinking Creek wandering through its middle. Tall oaks, sycamores, hickories, flowering Sourwoods and other hardwood trees rise high to keep the space shady and dark.
Perfect spot for haints. Miss Harriet said. The other two ladies nodded eagerly.
Apparently these three elderly souls had spent their childhood years wandering after dark in this valley. The story goes the trees hold the ghosts. Ghosts of Civil War soldiers still dodging the home guard, ghosts of broken-hearted lovers still searching for their lost mates, ghosts of small children lost in the wood with nothing but a fiddle.
They claim you can hear that fiddle’s sad tune on full moons.
These three ladies stood before me holding arms like school girls and excitedly told me tale after tale of their ghost encounters in the Wild Meadows.
But today, the Wild Meadows have a new inhabitant. Beavers.
With encroaching upstream development and the perfect mix of trees and flowing creek, they have come in numbers. Beavers are phenomenal. As the second largest rodent in the world, it has sharp ever-growing front teeth and an equally sharp intellect. Beavers cleverly take down and engineer trees and mud into water-tight dams - all at night! The damming serves several purposes. First it allows water in a stream to back up into a pond, which the beavers then canal outward to reach more trees. Second it serves as a giant off-the-grid refrigerator. Beavers pull all the leafy tops off of the trees to the bottom of the dam to be stored and preserved in cold water. All winter they then have a food source.
Beavers don’t live in their dam, instead they build a cozy lodge close by. Living as a monogamous couple each matriarch and patriarch live in a single lodge with yearling and new offspring. These lodges amazingly have entry halls to keep the inner sanctum dry!
The largest beaver dam is 850m, so now we feel we need to measure our huge winding dam that cuts the Wild Meadows in half.
So when I sit and look at the new watery environment they have made in the Wild Meadows, I feel a bit empathetic to this incredibly industrious creature. Next to mankind, beavers are obviously the most manipulative of its environment. I take the canoe and paddle over what used to be fields and paths and I see geese and trout, soft-shell turtles lined up like pearls on damp logs and smooth winding snakes making patterns on the still surface. I hear the water falling through the dam and I hear calls of redwing black birds and a shy blue heron blending in the undergrowth.
Tying up the canoe on a newly gnawed pointed stump that was once a shady elm I heard a new cry and looked skyward.
A great B-52 of a bird flying low looking for fish.
Then the thought struck me.
What of the trees?
The lovely graceful woods that holds the ghosts of soldiers and squeals of young girls? What of the legendary haints so infused in these woods? Are they released now to roam? Or are they too standing in awe of nature’s ever-relentless power? Are the scared giggles of girls from years passed heard every time a tree falls at a beavers insistence?
This is something to ponder.
And the question is, what do you do, as steward of the land, about this huge population that has so industrially changed the historic Wild Meadows?
Step back and let nature go full speed? Or apply a hand and change the course of the flow?