Monday, September 13, 2010

Otter Delight



So there I was, paddling my kayak around a mist-covered lake in northern Wisconsin one recent morning, thinking about times in my life when I've been grateful to have my trusty binoculars close at hand. (I couldn't remember any time when I've regretted bringing binoculars along; but there have been occasions that I cursed myself for NOT having them.) As I glided silently along the lake's edge, I smiled as I recalled a birthday morning three years ago when, through my second-floor window, I noticed a sleek, dark animal skirting the half-acre prairie in front of my house. Everything about the visitor was unfamiliar: its gait, its color, its size. I leapt up and grabbed my binoculars. The identity was quick and sure: an otter. I was astounded--there are no large bodies of water near my home, just a creek or two. My friend Tonie who specializes in wildlife diseases assured me this sighting is not unusual in southern Wisconsin. For me though, it was a first; and a birthday gift like no other.

Paddling on, morning sunlight revealed a log that reached well into the water. Suddenly a snuffling, snorting sound interrupted my thoughts and the serene silence of the misty lake. My eyes found the source of the sound: an otter. Before I could grasp the serendipity of the event, the otter swam toward my kayak. I stopped paddling. About 12 feet from me, it stopped, popped up vertically in the water as if on tiptoe, gave me a good look, and then sank straight down and out of sight. I looked down into the deep green water, then side to side. I waited. Several seconds later, the otter surfaced about 30 yards away in the opposite direction and approached again, snuffling. Now the snuffle was followed by a low hum. I watched, smiling. Despite my surprise, I was accutely aware of the gift of this encounter. My curious, comical friend continued this behavior time after time, as if playing a game with me. This went on for 20 minutes. It would approach, pop up, drop or dive down, and leave me guessing where it would appear next. Snuffle, hum. I was giddy.

Then a flicker of movement on the shore by the log caught my eye, and I lifted my binoculars. Another otter, perhaps? Otter pups? No. I focused on a good-sized Largemouth Bass, which, judging by its condition, was my friend's breakfast. The intrepid fish, despite missing most of the tail end of its body, was making its way back into the lake. At that moment I realized what my arrival had interrupted. I lowered my binoculars and began to paddle, slowly backing away. The otter followed me. I giggled. Finally, it returned to the shore, deftly lifted the dying fish out of the water and on to the log, and laid it down as it had undoubtedly done so many times before. The otter turned its head to look at me. I continued my retreat and watched from a distance as the morning meal resumed; then I turned and paddled, leaving nothing but a ripple, but taking another memory of an otter to cherish.

Nina Cheney
Eagle Optics Staff
Binoculars: Bring them. See what they bring you.

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