Mysteries abound in the Beaver Islands

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A Hairy Woodpecker wriggles into its nest to feed its brood

A Hairy Woodpecker wriggles into its nest to feed its brood. Photo by Jeff Wood.

A map of Sportsman Island in the Mississippi River south of campus The abandoned Sportsman Island bridge just north of  the St. Cloud Country Club Children's merry-go-round on Sportsman Island A Hairy Woodpecker wriggles into its nest to feed its brood 

ST. CLOUD, Minn. -- The Beaver Islands are Central Minnesota's islands of mystery.

The 30-plus Mississippi River islands adjacent to the St. Cloud State University campus ask far more questions than they answer.

A loud splash startles a visitor, leaving only widening circular ripples on the water. Was that a smallmouth bass? A beaver? Something else?

Trees take on freakish shapes, fed by plentiful water and nutrients and tortured by floodwaters, wind, erosion and decay. How does that willow grow flat on its side, with its crown dangling in the current? How old is a basswood with eight trunks at its base, each trunk as massive as any seen in a St. Cloud city park?

Why is that spotted bird circling around me, coming ever closer? Now on foot, now flying awkwardly, it is crowding me like salesperson pursuing a quota. Peet-weet! Peet-weet! Peet-weet!

Swoosh! A black-and-white woodpecker with green grubs in its beak lands on a maple, then wriggles its way into a round hole in the trunk. How many hatchlings inside? How many insects do they eat each day? 

A long line of massive posts project from the water along the west bank of an interior island. The posts are severely weathered and rotted at the top. A pier from the past? Who sunk these posts and why? 

Out on Sportsman Island, near the St. Cloud Country Club, traces of days gone by beg to be explained: A rusted automobile resting upside-down in a meadow, a children's merry-go-round, a metal building resisting the encroachment of vines, bushes and trees.

On the stony lee end of an island, a pile of shucked mussels a suggests a satisfying meal. But which animal? Mink? Muskrat? Otter?  

In an age where answers are found with a few clicks on the Internet, the Beaver Islands are provocative, unsettling.

Explored on foot or by boat, the islands challenge the senses and stir the imagination.


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