I picture the scene from a distance. Imagine what it would look like to someone happening upon this spectacle in the middle of nowhere. A flat grey day, a white open field, the three of us running full out, two black dogs and a human in a bright red jacket, arms flailing, voice yelling incoherently.
It is a big space. The mountain with its rows of different tree species, ribbons woven across its face, stands like a protective wall on one side of the field of marsh grasses emerging from the snow as winter wanes, a field we discovered this year is actually made up of numerous beaver ponds. Mounded dens of pointed, weathered sticks dot the landscape. We have walked here most of the season, striking out across the frozen field that is puddled and marshy the rest of the year, full of waist high grasses and little islands of clumped together trees.
On the coldest days we followed the meandering channel cut through the snow-covered grasses, a frozen river connecting one beaver pond to another. We climbed the snowy banks to get around dams of haphazard sticks with whittled ends jammed together expertly, and left criss-crossing footprints on the untouched white expanses of wind-blown snow on the ponds as though we were the only living things for miles.
But I wondered about those beavers. Tried to imagine them in their cozy lodges, hidden away from the harsh winds beneath layers of sticks and mud and insulating snow. I wondered if they knew we were there, especially when Murdoch ventured close and occasionally stood atop the hilled dens like some conquering army of one.
A lot of the snow has melted from the field on this grey day, the grasses that were crushed beneath the weight of it lie flat in large sweeping swirls as if a torrent of water has rushed through. It is spongy under foot and so we walk on one of the still-frozen ponds. Along the edge a muddy dam emerges and in spots the snow has melted and the ice has begun to thin and re-freeze. Beneath the clouded sky the frozen pond is an expanse of various shades of grey.
I am not watching the dogs when Murdoch bolts. I see the snappy movement from the corner of my eye and I turn as my stomach drops, his name forming on my lips. He is already in full flight and ahead of him a brown shape lumbers awkwardly across the ice. I am running before I can even think, shouting his name, uselessly yelling “no!” and “come!” and Molly, who has started to skip along nearby because I am running, suddenly sees the beaver, shifts gears and is gone, looping around to the animal’s right as Murdoch loops around to the left. They are gaining on it as I fall further behind.
I have visions of a bloody massacre, unsure of who might emerge the victor. Beavers have very sharp teeth and can be vicious when threatened. But I think Murdoch can be too. I continue to run as the space between Murdoch and the beaver closes. The air is consumed by a thick smell of urine. I will the beaver to escape.
It is in this moment I picture the scene, the ridiculousness of it; the panicking beaver, humping as fast as he can across the ice, the two dogs in serious pursuit, and the human, completely ignored running behind, uselessly yelling.
The beaver makes it to a clump of scrub trees growing out of the ice and dives into a hole, a dark space made of sticks and mud. Murdoch is right on its tail and is just about down the hole behind it. He is frantically digging at the ice when I catch up. Molly is running in agitated circles.
“Leave it!” I snarl at them, grabbing Murdoch’s collar and hauling him away. “Idiots!” I say. “That beaver could have ripped you both to shreds.”
But they are giddy and distracted, their brains still in the chase and I have to circle around them, herd them towards the tree line at the base of the mountain, away from the beaver dens and the pungent smell hanging heavily over everything and the drama.
Slowly, grudgingly, they come back to the moment. Murdoch picks up another scent and follows it into the woods, Molly canters in circles looking for a stick for me to throw, and we continue our walk as I replay the chase in my mind. Later, I think if the dogs had organized themselves, gone in with a plan, not been taken by surprise, they probably could have caught that beaver.
And then what?