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  • Writer's pictureDonna Brown

Beavers, Ukrainian demonstration & more

Beavers are tricky creatures. I have lived near a lake for four decades and I have never seen a beaver. Years ago, we canoed through the lake back into the tributary and cedar swamp and saw in the distance a beaver lodge. Perhaps our loud paddling scared them off. Since then, I have never seen any evidence of beavers.

Several days ago I decided to forgo my usual woods walk down familiar sugar sand trails and instead ventured to the far side of the lake. As I walked along the path leading up to the dam, I heard a crackling sound and noticed a six-foot stem of wild grass moving, and there was no wind. The surrounding reeds were perfectly still, and I knew a small animal in the water was either eating the roots or cutting it for his house. I peered over the edge of the embankment and caught a glimpse of a muskrat before it dipped under the water not even leaving a trace of a ripple. I walk the lake weekly and had never seen a muskrat.

As I crossed the dam, I noticed an unusual number of small saplings ringing the intake area but didn’t give them much thought. Once reaching the other side where there is an abandoned environmental school, I marveled at how nature had overgrown the once sandy beach. In the early 1980s I would hear Camden city kids splashing and squealing over the delight of being outdoors.

As I walked along the bank, I saw new growths of red buds on the swamp maples ready to burst and dandelions about to bloom. I saw a trail of racoon prints in the sand traveling down to the edge of the cedar water. Then I saw something I have never seen; multiple young maples had been chewed off and were missing. Bark chips were everywhere, and one long trunk was lying on the ground with notches chewed along at three-foot intervals. The wood had distinctive tooth marks and the cuts were fresh. I assume the beavers stopped their work when they heard me. I hadn’t heard a splash or a rustle in the brush, but they were gone. Soon I hope to get out the old canoe and look for their lodge.

• • • • •

A photo from the Ukrainian demonstration in February. (Courtesy Photo)

On February 29 my son and I traveled to Philadelphia. The Russians had just begun their barbaric attack on Ukraine, and we witnessed a large demonstration of Ukrainian immigrants in front of Independence Hall. Little girls were wearing native dresses and carried sunflowers, while old women had colorful babushkas wrapped around their heads and shoulders. Young women wore flowers in their hair and old men wiped away tears. All their eyes were the same, full of despair but hope. In the last two weeks the United States has let those people and their homeland down. We should be ashamed.

Politics can be difficult whether you are the participant or the observer, and I have promised myself that this column would no longer be a place where I pontificate, whine or preach. So much for that resolution. I am incensed by the lack of compassion from the news pundits for the Ukrainian people as they make excuse after excuse for the President and Vice President.

I am sorry, but Kamala Harris’ joking with the Polish president and appearing to defer to the Romanian president was the last straw for me. She is inept and feckless. Her knowledge is about as thick as a smear of Windex on a piece of glass. News hosts and “The View” members keep telling me that I am fed up with the Vice President because she is a woman and a person of color. No, it is because she doesn’t do her homework. It is because she thinks a smile and a joke will carry her through. It may have done so in her career until now, but no longer.

• • • • •

There is nothing like the feeling a retired librarian gets when she is given one more chance to read to a group of kids. I had the fortune to read to my granddaughter Ellie’s first grade class last week at the ECEC school. I brought in a book entitled, Bug Zoo, with illustrations by Andy Harkness.

Ellie sat next to me at the front of the room, but I just couldn’t sit down. Principal Nick DeRosa’s instructions echoed through my mind, “Circulate, Circulate!” And circulate I did. Ellie called me back to the chair because that was where the adult readers had to sit, but old habits die hard.

Mrs. Merlino’s class was phenomenal. They were enthusiastic and extremely well behaved. They answered questions and shared bug stories until my time was up. The classroom was beautifully decorated, and the children’s thank you was genuine. As we walked to the car Ellie told me it was the best day ever, and she was right.

Donna Brown is a former Hammonton Middle School librarian and a columnist for The Gazette. To reach Donna Brown, send an email to


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