Story last updated at 6/24/2009 - 10:46 am
I live in close proximity to river otters, otherwise known as land otters. They live along the shores of the saltwater here in Southeast Alaska and appear to be making a pretty good living. From my beachfront cabin, I routinely watch them munching a plentiful supply of dungeness and rock crab, along with lots of fish - especially those yummy (not) sculpin. Personally, I'd stick with the crab.
What a deal being able to swim around at your leisure in this frigid water! With a fur coat like that, I guess sleeping in a hole in the ground must be downright cozy. And here I was feeling sorry for them.
It's true they were here first, before we cleared this isolated real estate to build a cabin. They were not accustomed to having two legged neighbors, but it has apparently not cramped their style very much, since they travel up into the woods quite near the cabin on both sides and often enjoy their lunch in front of the greenhouse.
The local otters have a series of paths that lead from the beach up through the woods and they move among them, following small creeks up the mountainside. Why, just today I walked up a back trail and noted that otters had preceded me through the mud. They had scrambled up past 500 feet and disappeared into the dense brush looking for that perfect Holiday Inn of a rootwad.
I've seen their tracks every winter up there and the many glorious, criss-crossing snow slides they've left in evidence of their fun times. I don't claim to be an authority on otters - I just know what I see, having lived alongside them for five years now.
Out in the bay, I like watching them catch a ride on a piece of drifting ice or contentedly choking down a flounder, tilting their heads skyward to further facilitate swallowing the crunchy morsels. They are sometimes perched on a rock far out in the water, a temporary island that slowly grows smaller and smaller as the incoming tide creeps up around it. What do they care? They just swim off to wherever they please.
On my kayak paddles, I might see families with one or both adults. The pups often follow mom around, sticking close, and when left alone out in the water while she fishes, chirp incessantly until I just wish they would knock it off! You would think Mother Nature would have programmed them to be more quiet and invisible. One time a harbor seal came along and chased the whole bunch of them back up into the trees. Why - I don't know!
If, when rounding a corner on a paddle, I surprise a family close to shore, they will immediately evacuate the premises and haul out into the woods in their humpback manner, all the while huffing, hissing and spitting their considerable indignation. One adult will wait offshore until everyone is safe before joining them, also noisily indicating its final opinion on the matter. I always feel a little bad for having disturbed them and so am torn between feeling grateful to share their private world and guilty for invading their space.
Their antics are fun to observe even as they make themselves at home on my small, anchored barge (obviously put there for them), dining casually with the eagles standing right next to them, waiting in line for some leftovers. I had to draw the line, though, at their request for beach umbrellas.
So I'm hoping the otters stay around here. All in all, they seem like good neighbors - unless they are the ones chewing on my skiff haul-out lines.
Carla Petersen is a remote-living freelance artist and writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.