Summary: The Cartwrights have to work to devise a plan to outsmart some crafty beavers who are causing mayhem on the Ponderosa.
Rating: K / Word Count: 1843
Written for the 2021 UFO challenge.
Little Joe was quick to rein in his horse to a halt along the trail on his way into town. He had just used this road yesterday and it was as dry as the desert in the middle of summer. Now, it was an absolute muddy mess.
There had been no rain in the past month let alone the last two days, so the reason why it had turned into a muddy pit was a complete mystery.
“What do you think of that, Cooch?” The horse shook his head as if it was just as confused as his owner.
Dismounting, Joe took a closer look at the area. This part of the trail was located next to a shallow stream. It never caused an issue for the Cartwrights in the past, even in rainy years. The road was just high enough and there was just enough elevation change to keep the stream from flooding the main road. So what was different this time?
Peering downstream, Joe could barely make out a little brown mound rising up from the ground. Stepping into the mud and closer to the unknown feature, he could now see that the mound wasn’t just made of mud, but sticks of all sizes held together with the mud. Joe let out a sigh as he realized the culprit of the flooded stream and the muddy trail.
The resident beavers had decided this was the perfect place to build their lodge this year.
With water and mud beginning to seep into his boots, Joe knew he couldn’t just leave the lodge there especially considering that this was the main road into town. It would be an unnecessary hassle to have to use the secondary road all summer just because of some beavers. No, his father would never approve of having to alter their travel plans for a family of beavers, no matter how cute they might be.
Several minutes later, Joe had the entire lodge disassembled, logs strewn all over the forest floor once again. Confident that the stream was flowing freely once again, he made his way back to Cochise before returning to the ranch house to get new boots and some dry clothes.
Stepping into the house, Joe was greeted by Ben and Hoss who were in Ben’s office working over some plans for their next project. They both looked up from the paper they were reading as they heard Joe enter the house.
“I see you’re back early. You couldn’t have made it to town and back already.”
While all Joe wanted to do was head upstairs to get some new clothes and not make small talk right now, he knew his father expected an explanation for why he was home so soon. “No. I ran into a minor setback.”
“Care to tell us what held you up?”
Joe heaved a sigh knowing that his father wouldn’t be happy to hear what he came across. “I ran into some mud. That little stream that runs along the trail into town was flooded. It was odd since we haven’t had rain for at least a month. After I looked around, I found the reason. Beavers.”
“Beavers?” His eyebrows shot up in disbelief and confusion, hoping his youngest would explain further.
“Apparently they decided that was a good place to build their home this year. In the process, though, it flooded the main road into town.”
Only now did Ben notice all the caked-on mud clinging to his son’s boots and lower pants. “You look awful. Please tell me it isn’t still flooded.”
Joe shook his head. “As you can see from my clothes, I waded through the muddy mess and took apart the entire lodge, log by log. The water started flowing again, but the road will likely still be tricky to travel on for another day. I’m sure the destruction of the rodent’s home will send the message to them to build somewhere else.”
“You better hope it’s enough of a deterrent. There are plenty of other streams and ponds on the Ponderosa for them to build an adequate home.”
“Right. If you don’t mind now, I’d like to go change into some clean clothes.” After receiving a nod from Ben, Joe headed towards the stairs with Ben and Hoss returning their attention to the paper they were examining before Joe came into the house.
A little over a week passed without incident and Ben was just beginning to think the ordeal with the beavers was over. The road finally dried out and access to the road became available once again allowing all memories of the beavers to slowly fade.
Unfortunately, Ben had to make another trip to town, this time by himself. As he approached the troublesome area, he noticed the dirt on the trail gradually changing from a light brown color to a darker brown, a clear indication that the soil was moist. As he stopped just around the bend in the trail, he failed to hear the quiet gurgle of the stream. He didn’t even have to see it to know what had happened: that beaver lodge was back.
Rounding the corner, Ben came face to face with a broad, muddy area, the trail not even distinguishable. And there in the distance, was the blasted beaver lodge.
It took all of 15 seconds for him to go from being amused at these crafty rodents to anger at having to slog through the mud and being delayed in his important trip into town. Not sure what else to do, he settled on exactly what Joe did not two weeks prior; tore down the lodge and made sure the water started flowing again.
Unable to continue into town due to wet boots, muddy clothes, and his growing fury at the whole incident, Ben headed back to the house to change and cool his temper down.
“Oh no. This ain’t good.” Joe paused in the stall he was cleaning in the barn to glance in the direction that Hoss was looking out the little barn window. He grimaced as he saw his father riding into the yard, half covered in mud.
As Ben entered the barn, Hoss attempted to strike up a conversation with him. “You’re home early Pa.”
Ben’s temper had yet to be reined in and the only response he could give was to shoot a glare in his son’s direction. It was Hoss’ turn to wince as he got the brunt of his father’s fierce gaze.
“I- I see ya met our beaver friends.”
“Friends? They are far from friends! Their little home flooded that main road to town again costing us precious time and energy that we could be using towards something else. Out of all the trails on the Ponderosa, they had to choose the main road. If the lodge was built on any one of the dozens of other trails, it would have been at least bearable. Here, they are a nuisance and they have to go!”
Joe had moved from his comforting spot behind Hoss and tried to diffuse the situation. “Why don’t you calm down, Pa? I saw what they can do and I’m sure it’s not as bad as your making it out to be.”
“Calm down!? I most certainly will not calm down until those irritating creatures are gone! Do you see me? We cannot have THIS happen every time we want to go to town. I can promise you if I find another lodge in that location, I’m blowing the entire thing to pieces! At least then we might be able to sell the pelts and make some money off this whole incident.”
While Hoss could woefully tolerate having the beaver’s home moved, he would not sit idly by and have them exterminated so easily. “Hey! You can’t do that! They’re innocent and cute little critters. They don’t know any better. They’re only tryin’ to live off the land like we are.”
Ben’s bellows had caught Adam’s attention who had been out by the corral. The rising tone had beckoned him to move closer to the barn to see what was causing all the commotion. He had been silently lurking by the entrance for the second half of this conversation, but he feared if he held his tongue any longer, a second Civil War would erupt right inside the barn.
Before Ben could respond to Hoss, he was interrupted by Adam. “Now hold on there Pa. I know you don’t like the… well…. the animals, but maybe killing them isn’t the answer.” Adam glanced over at Hoss who gave a satisfying nod of approval to his older brother before he continued. “As you know, I learned quite a bit about new inventions and architect designs while in college. One that I think might work in this situation is a sort of hollow flume, which is basically like a hollow log. I think we could easily design one of those. Since the beavers are so intent on making their home in that exact location, we could place the flume there. If it’s buried a little the water could still flow through it even when the beavers build a lodge on top of it. As long as the water is flowing, the stream shouldn’t overflow and there won’t be any mud.”
Ben stood rooted to his spot in silence for a long moment before he spoke. “You know, that just might work. The result can’t be any worse than it is right now. If it works like you say it should, it’ll be a win-win situation. The beavers get their home and we get our dry trail into town.” Nods of agreement were exchanged by all.
“Since we’re all in agreement, I’ll get to work on the construction right away then. It’s the only plan we got right now, so it better work.”
Over the next week, Adam worked diligently on making the covered flume. When it was complete, all four of them felt responsible to help him install it.
Standing back, Adam eyed the wooden feature carefully. “I think that should be good enough. I don’t think it’ll move, even in the heaviest downpours.” They had all worked to dig a little trench in the middle of the stream so the covered flume would be partly buried. Then some larger rocks were rolled into place along the sides to help stabilize the entire thing and to keep it from shifting.
“I guess now we just have to see if works according to the plan.”
“Now we wait.”
The wait didn’t take long. After about five days another lodge had been built in that spot on the stream and much to everyone’s relief, there was no flood and more importantly, no mud in sight. While the beavers were content, the Cartwrights were cautiously ecstatic. They hoped the beavers didn’t wise up to the entire plan in the future. For now, though, they could relax as they won this battle over those cunning little beavers.
A/N: This story was based on a similar incident at the nature center I volunteered at several years ago. Some beavers kept building a lodge causing a stream to flood the hiking trail. The naturalists tried everything from disassembling it entirely to moving the lodge completely to another location, but the beavers were determined to build the lodge in that one spot. Fed up and out of options, the naturalists put a plastic PVC pipe down so when the lodge was built, water could still flow under it. The beavers were none the wiser on what happened. They were just happy their home stopped being torn down!
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