Sunday, December 20, 2009
I OTTER Be Thankful
A few days ago, I was "driving to town," as we say around here. That means going to Bath, which is fifteen miles north. During the winter, it's where we have to go for all supplies, food or a restaurant meal as everything in Phippsburg is closed. I was on a mundane mission to a medical appointment and then to loiter around at a pharmacy for a prescription. Christmas is upon us, but I had done very little shopping. My mind has been elsewhere. While driving in a dismal funk, I turned on the radio. I was really annoyed to hear Christmas music. I knew I had to drag myself out of this mood eventually, but I was so deep in my personal wallow that I didn't know what could wrench me off my glowering mark. I have very little to complain about in my life, honestly. But that fact sometimes just makes me feel even more petulant and bitchy, like a child that won't let go of a toy it doesn't want to play with, but only possess. I was feeling very sorry for myself, "It's mine and you can't have it, so leave me alone" my toddler brain grumped to myself. Then, I saw them! Three River Otters were cavorting on the ice of Center Pond. I wheeled the car around deftly executing a smooth u-ee. I watched them for a minute and saw that they were jumping into the water then back on the ice repeatedly. The seconds they were under the water would give me the chance to get closer for better shots. I began to move down the embankment each time they submerged. Tangled raspberry canes pulled my clothes and raked my skin; burdocks adhered to my pants as I creeped toward the ice edge. Positioning myself, I held stock still, camera aloft, waiting. It was eight degrees with a ten mile per hour wind. The below zero wind chill quickly turned my cheeks, lips and fingers numb. I wanted to get closer. "I wonder how thick this ice is......." I mused, looking at my feet on the edge. Peering through my view finder, I saw that the otters were making their way along the ice line as they fished and frolicked and were progressing in my direction! Great luck as the ice was way too thin to support my rolly-polly middle aged self. They came to within about 100 feet of me. My heart was racing I was so excited! I had never seen otters before and that I was getting to photograph them was almost too much to bear! Then, one got up onto the ice. It looked directly at me and vocalized repeatedly, a rasping, throaty cat's hiss. Its whiskers were enormous and so were its teeth. My delight shifted to anxiety as, hissing, it advanced toward me. At about four feet long, it was big, big enough to take me down if it wanted to. I looked away from the view finder to see where the others were. Looking like dogs, they were swimming around and peering over the edge of the ice at me. If the curious one decided to run at me, I was at a real disadvantage for escape having clambered down the brushy embankment to the ice edge. These members of the weasel family are fast on land and can run at 15mph. River Otters are solitary unless a mother is with her young. This was probably mom up on the ice investigating me while her youngsters were swimming. They have big teeth for eating aquatic organisms, fish, mollusks, crayfish and the like. Otters have a high metabolic rate so have to eat a lot every day. They will stay in an area as long as they can get food and where there is open water. I will continue to look for them at Center Pond as there is a race of open water where a stream comes in all winter. Their presence speaks to the health of our pond as otters will leave a polluted area. In the wild, they live about 10 years, so they could be with us for years to come. I can tell you that there's nothing like a little otter to get you off your pity pot if you are feeling sorry for yourself. I know I "otter" be more thankful for the richness of my life than I sometimes am.