sea otter on back

Sea Otter

sea otter on backAt the water’s edge, sitting on rounded and sharpened pebbles, I looked across the crystalline glassy water. That’s when I saw a bump, a brown head gliding slowly towards me on the smooth dark waters. A sea otter. Not a small river otter, but a single, solo sea otter. No sightings here for years. The sea otter habitat is north, not here on this smaller island in the San Juans. But I saw him. I saw the sunlight on his wake.

He bobbed on the luminous watery expanse, head in, dove down, head surfaced, turned, I could see his whiskers reflecting water. I wanted to get closer, carefully, and moved my foot on the pebble beach, the crunch of rock on rock and hoped that I wouldn’t scare him off. He twisted, dove again, a somersault, and now was heading towards me. I sat by the water, holding my breath. Mesmerized.

He rolled in the water, agile, flexible. He submerged resurfaced, flipped onto his back, his fur so dense. The luxurious layers of hairs that keep him warm in the frigid waters. Is that why sea otters were hunted to near extinction? The sea otter who was at the brink of annihilation skinned for his pelt. He just rolled around, and looked me in the eyes. Then he used his supple skeletal frame to glide in the waters, and focused eye to eye, dark on dark, depths into depths.

He came in to the shore then, maybe five feet from me, to a basalt rock jutting out of the sea. He pulled himself up onto the outcropping and arched his back. I could see a silver tipped face, I could see matted wet fur. I was hypnotized and watched and watched him roll around with his loose skin until he dove and left. He was big, at least four feet with silver gray hairs on his face. He undulated up and down not with the waves but with his pliant body, rolling in his loose skin, where he even has a pouch under his arms to keep a rock to break open the clams, or a bit of food.

He looked me in the eye and then turned on his back to wiggle in the dark waters. His big back feet and tail paddled and navigated him out to sea, out of the cove. I was left with a gift—a rare sighting. A talisman of good luck.

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