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The Way of the Otter

By Julie Simon.

Daniel firmly grips his paddle and pulls hard against the water. He watches as the paddle tip dives below the surface, then leaves behind a tiny whirlpool as the paddle rises above the water. The kayak glides forward. He peers into the tall cattails arching above the sides of the kayak and scans for mud chutes. A light breeze wafts his hair back from his eyes. But he cannot see the banks at all in the dim dawn light.

They paddle on and soon emerge from the cattails and reeds of the marsh channel, into a small open stream. The sun climbs and glows up over the horizon. Now Daniel can see muddy, grassy chutes among the roots and bushes covering the banks of the stream.

"Mom, over there," he whispers, pointing to some marshy grasses across from the second chute. "We can wait over there. If we're quiet, they won't notice us."

They slowly paddle the kayak to the spot Daniel has suggested, backing it in so they can look out at the chute, undetected among the grasses. Then they wait—quiet and watchful—breathing in the moist air. Daniel is prepared to wait the whole morning—or longer—if need be. He is an experienced otter spotter.

But he does not have to wait long today. Three river otters amble along the bank. They have long, slender, brown, fur-covered bodies, with long narrow tails, and cute faces with long whiskers. One is much bigger than the other two. A mom and her two pups are out looking for breakfast. They slide down the mud chute into the stream unaware that they are being watched. Daniel is excited but he stays quiet, hardly breathing with delight.

The otters dive underwater looking for small fish, clams, and crayfish. They each find a meal and climb up the bank to enjoy it. Then the otters slide back down the chute and dive for more food. One of the pups must be full. He quickly emerges from under the water with a rock instead of a fish, flips onto his back, and tosses the rock between his front paws. He looks like he is juggling.

Daniel can barely keep back his giggles. But he is hoping for even more fun. Sure enough, after the other pup eats her fill of fish, she joins her brother juggling two rocks while floating on her back. Then her brother decides it's time to play slide and chase. He dashes up the bank and slides down the chute on his stomach. He lands in the stream with a swoosh, then dives and swims up beside his sister. She rolls and drops her rock. The two pups splash and roll across the stream. They chase each other up the bank and down the mud slide over and over again.

Eventually, Momma Otter finishes her breakfast too. She joins the pups in the slide and chase game. They are three otters rolling and splashing and frolicking their way along the stream.

Finally Daniel can no longer contain his laughter. He giggles through his fingers. The otters stop and look over at the reeds where Daniel and his mom are hidden. Then they scramble up the bank and disappear into the shrubs. Daniel sighs a tired, contented sigh. Now he will go have his own breakfast. He has seen the play of the otter.

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Last updated on Friday, May 17, 2013.

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