It was frozen-toe, mid-February, north-country cold, under a cloudless sky, sun glinting off fresh snow. We were tromping out onto a wetland frozen nine inches deep. It felt like how the fur trade began, someplace long ago, far away.
Bill Mackowski, in his 60th year of trapping, mostly around northern Maine, pointed out some alder branches sticking through the ice. Beavers start collecting poplar after the first cold snap, he explained, then pile on inedible alder to weigh down the poplar below the ice, where they eat it throughout the winter. He hacked through the ice with a metal pole, then passed it to me to try. “Feel how hard the bottom is on the run?” Beaten down by beaver traffic, he said.
Breaking through the ice in another spot, Mackowski said, “Did you hear those air bubbles?” He widened the hole and began hauling up until a peculiar steel device broke the murky surface. It was a trap, snapped tight around the neck of an enormous beaver. Those air bubbles, a moment locked in ice, were its final breath.