Denali Dispatch

It is our pleasure to present Denali Dispatch, a journal of the goings-on at Camp Denali.


Written by members of our staff, Denali Dispatch is an opportunity to peek into life in Denali: notable events, wildlife sightings, conservation topics, recipes from our kitchen, and insights into the guest experience at Camp Denali. Denali Dispatch will carry on through the winter, when we hope to share stories of snowy ski adventures, deep cold, and the events of a small Alaskan community.

Weathering the Storm: Lessons from a Beaver

March 20, 2020

by Jeff Anderson

With COVID-19 dominating the news cycle, and impacting our lives in unprecedented ways, it can be challenging to stay positive and think about anything beyond the scope and scale of this pandemic. Many of us are holed up at home with our families for the unforeseeable future, and doing all we can to keep our loved ones safe and sane. This is new territory, and although I'm not an epidemiologist or public health specialist, I humbly offer some tips from an iconic species of the subarctic - the North American Beaver.

Beavers use engineering, ingenuity, and hard work to change their surroundings more so than any other animal besides humans. Not only that, but beavers actually increase diversity by creating great habitats for amphibians, insects, and birds. Through the spring, summer, and fall, they work nights constructing dams and crafting lodges. They gather food and cache it for the winter in the deep, cold ponds created by their dams. It's a lot of work.

With the onset of winter, beaver families (up to 12 under one roof!) are mostly confined to their small lodges. There are two tiny "rooms" - one for drip-drying and eating, and one for sleeping. As the dark Alaskan winter begins in earnest, the lake ice freezes and effectively quarantines the beavers until spring. (Sound familiar?)

The Alaskan winter is long and full of terrors - plummeting temperatures, little food resources, and hungry predators such as wolverines and wolves that would love to catch a beaver outside of its ice, mud, and stick fortress. (Side note - beavers add mud to their lodge roofs in fall so when winter comes, the mud freezes and provides an impenetrable barrier to would-be marauders.)

Beavers have evolved to minimize the time they spend outside of their lodges during winter. Although they make routine runs to the "fridge" of stored sticks, for the most part, their winters are spent in the lodge - sleeping, eating, and biding their time until the vibrant days of spring return. Scroll to the the 7-minute mark of this video to get an amazing glimpse of life inside a beaver lodge...or treat yourself to a mini vacation from Coronavirus coverage, and luxuriate in all 9 minutes of David Attenborough waxing poetic about the life of beavers.

We can learn a lot from the beavers - their hardiness through the winter is inspiring; their foresight in planning for lean times is admirable; and their ability to live for months with their entire family cooped up in a big pile of sticks and mud is downright hard-to-believe. That being said, even the beaver knows when enough is enough. On sunny winter days, you can sometimes see a lone beaver away from the lodge, away from the ice...walking by themselves. (Maybe taking a little self-care time?)

Social distancing, self-quarantining...none of it's easy, and we don't know when it will end. All I know is that spring is on the horizon, the ice on Alaskan ponds will melt, and the beavers will emerge and enrich our lives while making their tiny piece of Earth a little better for all those that share it.

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