On this continent, the full moon of November is traditionally known as the Beaver Moon – a nod to one of the craftiest woodworkers in the North Woods. During this time of year, these semi-aquatic rodents (Castor canadensis) are hard at work stocking up on food supplies for winter. Their time is limited, because once the ponds and lakes freeze over there are no more opportunities to bring in fresh limbs.
Beavers don’t eat wood – they eat the cambium layer of trees and branches, just beneath the bark. That’s where all the calories are. To stockpile for winter, they take down trees, buck them to length, trim branches to usable sizes, and sink these in the mud at the bottom of the pond near their lodge. Try to picture the process of felling a tree with, essentially, a couple ¼" chisels. You can imagine how strong a beaver’s jaw is.
Those incisors are big, and they grow fast. A beaver’s teeth can grow 48" per year (!), so they need to chew on things constantly to allow wear to keep the growth in check. The front of a beaver’s incisors is made of iron-rich enamel, which is why they often appear orange. The iron makes them extremely hard and strong. The back of each tooth is softer dentin, meaning that the incisors are self-sharpening as they wear. Indigenous peoples utilized these teeth to make woodworking tools, including the precursor to the steel crooked knife (or mokotagen).
These creatures alter their surroundings in radical ways, creating new habitat for fish and waterfowl as they construct their dams and lodges. Beaver ponds often eventually become meadows, which might someday be reclaimed by the forest… unless a new family of beavers moves in to reclaim the territory. It is a cycle as old as the hills.
We hope you all get to celebrate with friends and family today, and join us tomorrow in opting out of the mad consumer rush by working creatively in your shop. Give thanks!