In Search of Muskrat
The Assistant Creator of the World
by Bob and Jorja Feldman
From the July, 2014 issue
Did you know that Muskrat once had a flat, broad tail? That tail was much admired by Beaver, who asked to borrow it in order to try it out. Muskrat agreed and lent Beaver the tail. Beaver must have really liked it, because he never returned it.
This tale of a tail comes to us from Native American lore, which has much to say about these water-loving rodents (our own name for them is a Native-American-English mashup). Perhaps the most important legend concerns Muskrat's role in the creation of the world.
As told by the Potawatomi, in the beginning the world was covered with water. A man floated in a canoe and cried, for he could find no land. Muskrat swam up and explained that there was plenty of land--right beneath them. He dove down deep and brought up some earth, then dove down again and brought up some more.
Muskrat then enlisted the animal chiefs of the waters to bring up still more earth, which the man used to create the world. The man marked out where he wanted rivers to go, and Muskrat dug the channels.
Muskrats still love the water. With keen eyes and abundant patience, you can find them in many places around Ann Arbor.
"I almost always see a muskrat when I canoe or kayak the Huron River, in the places where the water is slower," emails county parks naturalist Faye Stoner--for instance, near the Foster Rd. Bridge, "typically near one shore or the other." At Parker Mill County Park, she adds, walkers on the Hoyt Post Trail may "see a muskrat swimming in Fleming Creek, or in the river there, where Fleming Creek flows into the Huron." They're especially fond of cattails, which serve them both as a food and a construction material for their homes. Muskrats build stick lodges or houses--the roofs of which are sometimes used as penthouses by nesting trumpeter swans.
Allison Morris of the Leslie Science & Nature Center recommends Dolph Park,
reachable from Wagner or Jackson roads, as "a safe place to see [muskrats] busy working ... Another spot is the wetlands at the intersection of Scio Church and Parker Rd. [where our photo was taken], and on the pond on the east side of Parker just south of the Scio Church and Parker intersection. There is very limited parking, and muskrats are not guaranteed, but those are good spots."
Muskrats really like wetlands, whether natural or man-made. Stoner has seen one on Jackson Rd. by the Quality 16 theaters, and back in 2005 the Observer reported sightings in a detention pond near the Target store on Ann Arbor-Saline Road.
In the winter, look for muskrats climbing out onto ice shelves when the river is partially frozen. They may bring up a snack or meal from down below or just sit and relax, enjoying the sun.
Summer drought, stormy weather, habitat destruction, trapping for fur--they're all worrisome. But we believe the Assistant Creator of the World will survive.
[Originally published in July, 2014.]