A long winter’s nap

by Rebecca Bricker on December 13, 2012

Florence has been soaked with chilly rains that have flooded streets and shops during the past several weeks. The Arno River is swollen with mud and debris, and tangled tree limbs are caught on the bridge supports. Recently, I saw an entire tree in the river.

A mucky island has formed around a support of the bridge near my apartment – Ponte Amerigo Vespucci, named after the Florentine explorer of the New World.

I often walk to the middle of the bridge to watch the river tumble over a fall on the upstream side. The view is dramatic, with the dome of Santa Maria del Carmine on the south bank and the Ponte Vecchio in the distance.

With all the rain, the water now churns over the fall. But the river’s flow is partially impeded by a beach of silt that now juts out from what was once the riverbank, about 100 meters downstream. The beach diverts water back upstream, toward the falls.

I was standing on the bridge at twilight recently when I saw something move on the mucky island surrounding the bridge support below me. It was the size of a small dog and had a very long tail. I later learned his Italian name – topo muschiato. A muskrat.


I watched him slip into the river. He took to the water like a duck. But suddenly, the current grabbed him. He was caught in an eddy.

It was all he could do to keep his head above water. The current dragged him upstream toward the falls. I ran across the bridge, fearing the worst. As he neared the falls, the water threw him back toward the mucky island.

He crawled out of the river onto the island, looking a bit bedraggled. Poor baby. He nosed around the muck a bit and then ambled among the ducks.

To my dismay, he waded into the shallow water at the tip of the island and the current grabbed him again. This time, it shot him like a stone out of a slingshot across to the pebbly riverbank above the beach. And before he could get out of the water, the eddy spun him again, toward the waterfall.

Maybe this is what this little fellow does for fun. But I was an exhausted wreck after he finally clambered back onto the mucky island for the second time.

“Crawl under a log and go to bed, you silly thing,” I shouted from the bridge. But it was a windy night. I don’t think he heard me.

For the next few days, I went to the bridge looking for him. Part of me didn’t want to find him, for fear he hadn’t survived that night.

I was looking at the garbage in the river when I noticed something by a pile of twigs that had washed up on a concrete spillway below a retaining wall.

I zoomed in with my camera. There was a furry face near that pile of twigs.






Oh no, I thought.


I was transfixed, looking through the lens – willing him to open his eyes. He didn’t move. I could feel my heart sinking into the muddy water below me.

And then…his whiskers twitched and he yawned. A big sleepy yawn.

I nearly dropped my camera into the Arno. “You’re okay!” I shouted.

I think he heard me this time. He opened his eyes partway – but it was such an effort.

He went back to sleep, his little mouth in an “O.” I think he was snoring.





I stood for a while on the bridge, happily watching him take his well-deserved long winter’s nap.













If you look carefully at the top photo, you’ll see him in the bottom left corner of the triangular slab, next to the wall.




Peg Ross December 13, 2012 at 8:46 am

So sweet–thanks for caring about the little creatures, Becky. And your pictures are stunning!

Rebecca Bricker December 13, 2012 at 9:32 am

Isn’t he darling? I’m dealing with a serious case of MUSKRAT LOVE. πŸ˜‰

For those who don’t know this wonderful Captain & Tennille song, check out this YouTube link: http://bit.ly/xumib (I love Tennille’s recounting of Henry Kissinger’s reaction to their performance of this song, in the East Room of the White House, for Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip’s 1976 bicentennial visit.)

Kathy December 13, 2012 at 12:33 pm

Wonderful pictures and storytelling of your walk along the Arno. Aren’t the small creatures beautiful in their joy of play amongst the garbage and refuse?
You have done it again Becky, as I see the sun in your pictures and yet feel the chill of early winter.
Going now to You Tube for tripping down the time line. Love the historic slant…
Grazie bella.

Rebecca Bricker December 13, 2012 at 12:45 pm

Always loved Tennille and the Capt. – she’s so sweet and funny in that video!

Nora December 13, 2012 at 1:46 pm

Hmmmm, do I sense a new children’s book from you? Maybe “The Muskrat’s Christmas” would be a good title. Phil could do your illustrations. I’m liking this idea . . .

Rebecca Bricker December 13, 2012 at 1:54 pm

You’ve got ESP, Nora. Will alert Phil! πŸ˜‰

Thom December 13, 2012 at 4:01 pm

Another great Christmas story. I think I will stop shy of Muskrat love, and definitely steer clear of the Captain and Tennile.

Rebecca Bricker December 14, 2012 at 12:45 am

You’re missing out, T. Not only does Tennille do a funny impersonation of Henry, but it’s interesting to see how the Capt. produces the muskrat sounds on his keyboards…as one frisky muskrat acts up. πŸ˜‰ Definitely worth watching – c’mon it’s only 4 minutes of your life that you’ll never get back.

Jackie Lamothe December 17, 2012 at 6:36 am

This so made me smile, Rebecca. The shots are terrific, too.

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