Every Morning 'Otter' Be Like This

Our morning began in fog. My boys stood shrouded in mist while they waited for the school bus at the end of our driveway. After I heard the bus roll to a stop, then pull away, I whistled for the dog who had reluctantly let her charges go. She emerged from the mist, but above us the veil scarcely hid the sky. I knew where a spectacular view awaited, so I turned my back on morning chores, put the dog in the car, and headed uphill, above the foggy valley, to the place where I had once lived.

After two miles and 200 vertical feet, my car broke through the clouds. Now I could see the dirt road until it disappeared around a bend. One more mile and 200 feet higher, we emerged from the woods. Below us lay a blanket of white as dense as a field of snow. Though I had seen this phenomenon many times, I shivered. Despite sounding trite, only the word "awesome" can begin to describe this view. Rounded peaks poked through cotton-batting clouds, catching the early sun on their east sides, sending shadows across the tops of the clouds to the west.

This was New Hampshire at its best. What could be better than this?

I turned to park in a friend's driveway, eager to get back to the view. There stood Ann, her back to me, with binoculars fixed on a small pond. What had she spied? Quietly I opened the car door, leaving the dog to gaze longingly at her favorite frog pond. Had my noisy entrance sent wild animals into hiding? As I cautiously approached, I spotted ripples fanning across the mirrored surface. Something bigger than a frog was making waves. We stood still and strained to see through the brush at the pond's edge. "Otters," whispered Ann. "Listen. You can hear them crunching on crayfish."

I listened, but heard nothing. Then came a soft cluck-chirp sound - like a bunch of lazy hens chatting about the morning. Soon three otters, finished with their morning talk, swam into view, pushing rings of water across the surface. They dove, leaving trails of bubbles, and resurfaced with fresh servings of crayfish. This time I could hear them crunching. Ann wondered what had become of the fourth otter. Napping? A predator's lunch? Spying on us?

Quietly we moved toward the pond, feeling unobtrusive as we watched the trio swim, dive, and snack. Finally a fourth appeared. Was this their mother who figured we were no longer a threat?

Ann told me of a male otter that had once visited the pond. When the otter spied her, he froze. "Perhaps," said Ann, "he was hoping to look like a floating log." Then she added, "And a painted turtle, out for a swim, also froze - maybe a soda can?" We laughed under our breaths and moved to the shoreline. One otter, perhaps curious, stared at us and swam to within 25 feet. I also wanted a closer look, but the swarms of midges that nibbled my ears and neck prevented me from holding the binoculars steady.

Either full of crayfish or tired of our company, the four otters disappeared into the tangle of weeds on the opposite bank. As we turned to go, I noticed Ann's dark silhouette cut from the bright morning sun. To the otters we must have been as inconspicuous as two looming statues. But they had not seemed to mind.

Could this morning get any better?

AS my dog and I headed to the road to escape the pond's midges, three figures - one tall and two very short - appeared over a rise. For the third time that morning my heart stopped a beat. Another friend, and her newly adopted twins who had just arrived from the west coast of Africa, strolled toward us. I had vowed to give the family a few days to settle in. But here they were. Part of me wanted to run forward, bubbling with greetings and questions. Instead, I proceeded slowly; just watching the trio was enough food for thought. Besides, I had an eager dog to keep under control.

Enthusiastic greetings came not from me and my dog, but from Ann's rambunctious German shepherd, which bounded toward the twins. This oversized pup - which to the kids probably looked like an attacking wolf - sent them flying into Mom's arms. Finally, with dogs under control, the children climbed down. The boy ventured forth, flying his plastic plane above the dirt road and my dog. His sister clutched her doll with one hand and her new mom with the other. After a short visit I waved goodbye, and they headed back to their more-familiar surroundings at the end of the road.

This above-the-cloud morning, with rippling water and otters and children from across the ocean, will remain with me forever. Could it get any better than this?

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