It came from above by Alison Alderton
The wild river tumbled and fell over the rocks at Höljerud sending up a fine mist to refresh the towering spires of purple lupin blooms bordering the banks. The dippers dipped, flew a short distance before settling to bob and dip again whilst an iridescent turquoise coloured kingfisher darted by, fast and low to the water. The scene was never still, totally different to the lateral canal cut overlooking the river where we had spent the night on our barge Lily. Here things were quiet and still, there was only the slightest sound of water over rapids to be heard. Now, it was early morning and we somewhat reluctantly prepared to leave the nature reserve and all the beauty it had bestowed upon us. Beagle Maksi, having already enjoyed a walk, had his lifejacket on and was sitting in Lily’s wheelhouse eager to see where we were heading next.
We met the lock keeper as previously arranged. He had the lock gates open for us so Roger guided Lily into the chamber with its jagged walls, the result of being blasted through a rocky outcrop, and timber uprights which to me resembled giant toothpicks. With Lily safely roped in we were soon passing the time of day with the lock keeper.
Being at the bow and directly in front of the leaking lock gates I was unable to hear the conversation so once we started gently and slowly rising, I found myself becoming engrossed in the tiny maidenhair ferns protruding from the lock wall and trying my best not to let the ropes rub on them. The various species of ferns which make lock walls their home never cease to amaze me. They not only endure a vertical existence in frequent submersion of cold river water but thrive on it. Suddenly, there were raised voices. I looked up to see the lock keeper pointing towards the front of the lock. Concerned the rope I was controlling had become snagged, I checked but could not see a problem. Looking back, Roger had climbed onto the rails surrounding Lily’s back deck and was also pointing but I could not see anything, only the uneven lock wall and the sky above me.
It was obvious that something was wrong. Hoping to gain a better view, I took a few steps along the deck then gazed up, my eyesight following the hand pointing that everyone was earnestly making and, as I did so, a huge beaver leapt off the side of the lock! The silhouette of its body temporarily blocked out the light and I found myself plunged into darkness as it brushed by my head and landed with an enormous thud on Lily’s roof. The noise was unbelievable; the whole boat seemed to shudder, lurch downwards and tip to port then quickly righted itself but the drama did not stop there.
The beaver had landed partly on the gangplank stored on the roof. This acted as a springboard catapulting the beaver’s rear end into a somersault, over the roof edge causing the poor creature to thud down onto the side deck which was just wide enough to accommodate its chunky body. Maksi, with his grandstand view, had gone into overdrive, squeaking hysterically at the extraordinary scene being played out in front of him. I was afraid Maksi would try to leap out of the open window but before I could think of going to him the beaver began scrabbling its way towards me. I quickly backed up, jumped onto the gas locker, the rope holding Lily safely against the lock chamber wall still taught in my grasp. The poor beaver was terrified and must have hurt himself but did not seem to want any human intervention only an escape route. Stopping near me, the beaver somehow managed to turn in the tight space and run back down the deck with its large, flat, tail slapping against the steelwork of Lily’s deck. This caused Maksi to erupt into a fit of barking and in fear, the beaver launched itself over the side and splashed into the water.
I could not believe what I had witnessed but these thoughts soon turned to concern for the beaver. It was swimming around the boat as the lock filled obviously hurt or at the very least, well and truly shaken. Eventually, the beaver settled alongside Lily huddled tightly between her steelwork and the lock wall but I was fearful that the poor creature would get squashed. It looked as if the beaver had damaged a front claw, I could see it hanging back at an awkward angle and silently prayed it was not a broken toe, foot or worse.
Suddenly the beaver disappeared. “I can’t see him,” I yelled to whoever was listening. By now the lock was full. “I think we will haul Lily out just in case the beaver has dived down and is sitting on her skeg.” The skeg is a rearward extension of the keel intended to protect the propeller and support the rudder. On Lily, this is a substantial plate plenty large enough for our beaver to sit on but not a good place with a churning propeller! Roger was peering into the water, just as concerned as I.
“Don’t worry, I’ll keep an eye on him.” said the lock keeper but that was not good enough for us. We wanted to check that the beaver was not badly hurt and whether there was anything we could do to help.
Roger and I slowly bow hauled Lily’s heavy mass through the open lock gates and moored her at the landing stage. By now, Maksi had calmed down but he remained in the wheelhouse as we checked all around Lily. The water was clear, yet retained its orange tint from the high iron content found in this area of Dalsland, making the flat platform that formed the skeg easy to make out. It did not look as if Mr Beaver had taken up residence as feared so we walked back to the lock where the keeper was peering into the depths. “I’ve seen them sit on the rocks behind the upright timbers,” I told him and sure enough, after a few moments of searching these areas, we found the beaver, sitting just below the water surface on a protruding rock. He gazed up at us with his large black reflective eyes, he looked quite calm but of course, none of us could tell if he was badly hurt.
As there was no more we could do, we somewhat reluctantly continued our journey. Beavers are large mammals and there is no way we could have retrieved him from the lock to check on his well-being without endangering ourselves. The lock keeper assured us he would leave the gates open so the beaver could swim out and in the meantime keep checking on him. He, like us, was completely astounded by what had happened, had never seen anything like it before and we were all sure that none of us would ever again witness such a close encounter of the furred kind!