A meadow sounds like a nice place to take a walk, but I’ve learned that beaver meadows challenge the pedestrian. Beaver ponds look level but the pond bottom isn't. What I call the Big Pond was once a 5 acre pond. Now it's a meadow and it's easy to see that it’s not a walk in the park.
Indeed there is an oval of very shallow water quite appreciated by frogs.
When beaver ponds drain they are ready for the plow. Beavers rib their ponds with channels and holes, and they don’t remove the stumps of the trees they cut. So walking through a beaver meadow can be up and down with a stumble or two. However that roly-poly seems to vary the vegetation that naturally reclaims a drained beaver pond.
I took the two photos above on July 25, five months to Christmas. I usually think summer reaches its maximum by July 25, but meadows don’t. The goldenrod is not out in full force. On August 4, as thunderstorms moved to the north of the Big Pond meadow, the goldenrods began to make a showing.
Four months before Christmas, August 25, the goldenrods made a show:
And there was more. The goldenrods offered the yellow blooms, but the tall weed that lent a yellow sheen to everything was the most virulent crop of pilewort that I have ever seen.
Pilewort is the flower that never blooms. What looks like its buds simply puffs out in fuzzy seeds. (And yes, something in the plant is used to treat those piles.)
Usually it is confined to the dam for the very good reason that when the beavers were here, the dam held back acres of water. Here is what the Big Pond looked like in late August 10 years ago.
A beaver pond reflects the beauty of all around it and conceals a rich underwater world, but there’s a lot to be said for the delicate colors in the beaver meadows this August.
Behind the yellow of the goldenrods and pileworts were the exhausted crowns of blue vervain. In July I found a potent blue line of flowers
A month later the stalks were willing but the flowers were shot.
The bright pink flowers of the knotweed, usually confined to the dam and shallow waters of the pond, took up the slack.
Knotweeds are usually side shows, but this year pink was marching over the meadow.
There were no knotweeds along the dam, I assume because the dam did not back up any water this summer and just slowly dried out. The goldenrods, pileworts and vervains flourished there.
And as always there was the cutting grass. That grass had ended my wearing short pants on a summer hike. But this year it seemed about half its usual size. I could walk easily below the dam.
Those who argue that every beaver pond is a miracle of diversity will look askance at any assertion that there’s as much life in a beaver meadow. This is the third summer of a meadow where the Boundary Pond on our land once flourished. The first summer when the old pond was first drying out was typically colorful with bur-marigolds blooming in September where the ground just dried out.
The second summer was dry after a winter in which for the first time in 5 years that the valley wasn‘t flooded. The bur-marigolds were huddled along the remaining narrow channel of water.
This year there is a mix of goldenrods and bonesets engulfing the swamp milkweeds.
The boneset really took over
One morning I had finished sawing up a dead ash tree on the shady side of the valley and decided to go straight through the boneset in the middle of the valley to get over to the sunny side and saw down another dead ash tree. On my way, I bumped into a tiny tree frog up on one of the higher leaves of a boneset plant almost as tall as I am.
At first I thought it was a spring peeper because it was so tiny.
But on closer look, I didn’t see the X on the back that usually marks the peeper and the little thing had the shape of the gray tree frog.
It seems some tree frogs get their start on tall weeds, in this case high in a meadow, higher than the pond water ever reached. Of course bees are busy in many of the blossoms. On September 1, I got some video of the late season pollinators and even sneaked up on a grasshopper.
One summer I’ll have to try to see the progression of blooms through the bee’s senses. Is it relief or alarm when it drops down from the intricate bloomscape of the goldenrods and is almost swallowed by the bur marigolds?
Meanwhile most of the colors at the Big Pond meadow dulled, to the disappointment of Leslie,
but where the bottom had been wet enough the bur-marigolds made their bold September entrance.
In that same moist area the red knotweed still had some life.
Thus ends a beautiful summer for meadows.