For some reason, I turned left today instead of right as I headed out to take the kids to school.  It's a little longer that way, but we go by the wildlife refuge and I felt like seeing nature.  We came around a curve, and there a hundred yards ahead was a river otter humping across the road.  By the time we got there, he had disappeared, but the ripples of his passage were still spreading.

When I was in fourth grade, I wrote my first "research" paper on otters.  The teacher was fairly sexist and favored the little girls, especially the Catholic ones.  We each had to do a paper on some kind of animal.  I was sick the day the animals were given out.  The girls got all the good ones--lions and tigers and horses.  The boys got skunks and weasels.  By the time I got back to school, only the dregs were left.  I was told I would do my report on otters.  No choice.

I'd never even heard of  otters, much less seen them.  But I dutifully did the library thing and half copied paragraphs from the encyclopedias into the report.  Several reports spoke of otters being playful.  That seemed to improbable to me I almost didn't put it into the report.  How could an animal be playful.  The only playful animals I knew were dogs who chased sticks and cats who chased their tail.  This wasn't really playful, it was just stupid to my fourth-grade mind.  By the time the report was done, I knew a fair amount about otters.

It was probably 30 years before I actually saw one, at a museum in Arizona that must be 1000 miles from any place otters could live.  All of a sudden, I understood playful.  They swooped and dove and pushed each other into the water and you couldn't watch them without a big grin.  I must have stood there for half and hour while my kids got more and more fidgety and finally unleashed their big guns, the one phrase a parent cannot ignore: "I have to go to the bathroom!".

In California, sea otters were common enough.  You would see them lying on their backs, looking like the original laid back dudes.  On a cruise to Alaska, an otter paralleled the ship, lying on his back with a crab on his belly, eating it with gusto like he didn't have a care in the world.  The Monterey Bay Aquarium gave me additional half hours with their playful spirits.

When I studied the Enneagram, there was nearly universal agreement that seven, my type, was most related to the otter in the animal kingdom.  In recent years, I have wondered at my choice of otter in fourth grade.  Was it fate?

And so today, in a new state, after a perfect snowfall (late at night, 1 inch, roads clear and dry by morning but everything else dazzling) I'm nudged to turn left, not right, and see an otter.  Eson told his biology teacher, who was very impressed.  "It's rare to see river otters.  They are very shy."

I was very impressed, too.  At odd times all day I would break out into a grin for "no reason at all".  The ripples of his passage are still spreading. 

Thank you for reading.

Copyright © 2002 Pete Stevens. All rights reserved.