Monday, January 14, 2013

AN OTTER'S TALE



The star lighted night sky illuminated the shoreline as they swam toward the hole in the river bank that leads to their den. 

It has been five hours since they returned from hunting and entered their den to lie on the leaf and grass lined ledge above the water line they used for sleeping.  It is December and the nights are cold as is the water but, the chill goes un-noticed.  The soft water proof fur that covers their supple bodies protects them from the icy cold waters of winter as well as the heat of summer. 

They were both a year old and on their own.  Eventually he and his sister would separate and go their own ways, but for now they were happy in each other’s company.

His eyelids opened as he awakened from a deep slumber.  A low growl emitted from him as his mouth opened wide, agape in an early morning yawn and closed quickly, the movement ending in little smacking sounds as his mouth opened and closed rapidly signifying the end of the yawn.  He stood on his short legs and stretched lengthwise, his back sagging and then rising back up to its normal position as he relaxed.   His eyes glanced at his sister who was lying on her stomach with eyes partially opened.  Life was good.  The previous nights hunting was successful and tummies were full.  The lake was shy two catfish and ten crayfish this morning.

Although he couldn't see the light of morning – he knew the sun was up.  Maybe it was the sound of the boats that passed by in the early hours.  They came and went almost every day.  He didn't understand them but tolerated their noise and always remained out of sight when they came near.  This was his water and his home and he shared the river with the boats that have been here ever since he could remember.  He never learned to trust them though.  The sound of a boat came very near and suddenly stopped.  This had never happened before.  His sister quickly got to her feet and they both stared at the circular hole that lead to their sleeping den as if some unexpected visitor might enter.  The noisy boat sound started after a spell and they listened to it as the irritating commotion became distant until it was no longer audible.   They moved to the back of the den and laid down side by side keeping vigil on the entrance to their little loft.  The den had another entrance that emerged in the tangle of green briars that grew on the top of the river bank but rarely utilized.  They preferred to exit through the hole in the river bank and slide down the gently sloping mud slide on their stomachs and into the water.  This was great fun and was the instigator of frolic that would last for their entire tenure in the water.

After a long period of time they moved to the opening that leads to the water and he took the initiative and plunged through onto the mud slide and slipped silently into the water head first.  His sister joined him immediately and together they swam away from their den entrance under water as swiftly as they could.  Together they swerved and curved in a direction that would lead them to the middle of the main river channel.  Their bodies moved left and right, side by side, up and down, following a predetermined route that they routinely traveled daily.  Their strong tails propelled them ahead aided by webbed feet powered by strong, short legs – their supple bodies bending and flexing effortlessly.   Up to the surface in unison they went, thrusting their heads through for a breath of air and back down to the depths to enjoy the weightlessness of their bodies as they moved through their water environment.  They would stay submerged and swimming for up to eight minutes before surfacing for another breath of air and a “look around.”  They delighted in floating on the surface, enjoying their buoyancy and the ability to move effortlessly in any direction they wished at a whim.  Their bodies would undulate and twist making them resemble small sea serpents, especially when they would raise their tails out of the water.  They were masters of their element, free and wild – unfettered by any chains of responsibility except those required for survival.  They were creatures of nature simply enjoying life.

Together they dove for the bottom of the river.  A cat fish scurried out from under a large rock with an undercut beneath it.  Little sister gave chase and quickly caught the fish.  Hunger was not the motivation for pursuit but, joyous play was.  She passed the fish and instantly turned back toward it causing the catfish to veer to the right.   Her brother descended and swam directly above the fish keeping no more than an inch distance above its back.  He suddenly propelled himself forward and swam past and away in a wide arch only to circle and return on a course that would lead to a head on collision with the catfish.  At the last split second he arched his back and diverted his direction ninety degrees straight up, narrowly missing the fish.   What great fun this was!  He and his sister joined once again and swam side by side only inches below the surface, creating swirls and tiny waves on the water’s mirror finish. 

They swam for hours until they experienced the call for sleep and preparation of their bodies for the hunting that would follow after dark.  Brother and sister turned from mid channel and headed back underwater toward their den, investigating the little nuances and oddities here and there along the route back.  They swam almost against the bottom of the river as they approached the riverbank and the hole in the wall that lead to safety and comfort.   She held back an otter length from her brother as only one body could fit through the opening in the wall at a time.  Upon reaching the vertical muddy wall of the shoreline, he planted his feet on the bottom in preparation for the powerful upward thrust that would propel him up and onto the mud slide that would shoot him through the hole to the den. 

He planted his feet and thrust upward toward the surface.  A terrible pain shot through his right leg.  Something was holding him under water.  He screamed and air bubbles emitting from his mouth.  What was this?  What was wrong?  He could not pull free.  The pain was excruciating!  He twisted his body where he could see his feet, ready to fight the foe who had grasped him from behind but, he saw no one there to fight.  His sister circled around him and began to panic at her brother’s plight.  She was making constant squeaking sounds to urge her brother to proceed to the den entrance.  Something was holding onto his leg – something very strong and he felt the sensations of panic and terror.  He would need to breath very soon and his body was being held underwater in a vice like grip he could not break.  He pulled with all his might to no avail.  He tried swimming in every direction imaginable and nothing was working.  Twisting his body around - he placed his powerful jaws around the menace that held his leg and bit down hard.  It had no effect.   His lungs were bursting as he fought the urge to breathe deeply.  Finally, with eyes wide in terror, his mouth opened and he inhaled – the water that he loved filled his lungs and his body thrashed momentarily and finally went limp.  His struggle was over.   He stayed suspended as if in animation as his sister swam around and over him in a panic until she, herself, had to rise to the surface for the breath of life.

 She continued on to the river bank and up the mud slide through the den hole and onto the little leaf covered loft.  Chilled and alone she closed her eyes and drifted off into an uneasy sleep.  Tomorrow would be another day.

The above story was terribly difficult for me to write.  I started it and would leave it for long periods of time, not wanting to think about the struggle of the little, innocent character in the story.  If you could watch otters play and swim as I do - you would understand my feelings toward them.   I finally got through it and I think it reflects my attitude toward trapping.  Trapping is a despicable way to kill animals.  Yes - I said kill.  I realize the term harvest is the socially acceptable term to use but, animals are not planted to grow into a harvest-able crop.   I have always tried to see everyone's position when it comes to outdoor activities in the wilds but, I can not condone the act of capturing critters in traps.  Steel traps offer a horrible death and create terror in the captive animal while it lingers in agony until death ends its struggles.  There is no way to justify this so called "sport."  An otter is a beautiful, wild creature perfectly adapted to its habitat and when inhabiting back country rivers, is not a threat to man or property and has earned the right to be "just left alone" and not sought out to be cruelly trapped, skinned and tossed onto the land fill as they currently are.  When will the human element learn to appreciate, watch, learn, wonder and admire the beauty and be good stewards of wild things instead of constantly trying to crucify them?  Traps to animals act the same as improvised explosive devises (IUD's) do to soldiers.   (Road side bombs.)  There is little defense against them.