Below our homesite, the lake is quite shallow (2 to 3 ft deep) and full of lily pads, which essentially precludes docking a boat or pontoon. That is fine with Mel and me; we would like to keep the shoreline undeveloped. However, I thought it would be nice to have a footpath from the house down to the shoreline. All this path required was moving a deadfall or two and trimming a few low-hanging branches.
One day in June, while working on this project, I came across a strange scene. In an area about the size of a dining room table adjacent to the waterline, all the grass had been flattened. My first thought was that a bear had been lounging around, maybe gnawing on a dead fish. As I looked closer I found scat, but it didn’t look like something that came out of the backside of a bear. The stools were smaller than standard bear poop and were full of bits of shell and fish scales.
Ok, maybe not a bear, but a racoon, I thought. But why would racoons flatten all this grass? As I pondered this I glanced up the slope and noticed more grass flattened and what looked like an anthill that had been leveled. Again, it could have been a bear searching for some 6-legged appetizers. But there were no claw marks indicating digging. Instead, the dirt looked smoothed out, like something had been sliding on it. That’s when I got excited – this could be river otter sign.
Otters are my favorite animal. If I had to choose an animal form for the next life, it would be the otter. My kids know I have a thing for otters; Emily even sculpted one out of soapstone for me.
The first time I saw otters in the wild I was deer hunting with my dad, about 20 years ago. I was standing on the edge of a clear cut, waiting for Dad to work his way across. The sun had set, so it was nearing the end of the hunting day. While watching Dad pick his way across the stumps and brush, I heard splashing behind me. There, in a pond about 75 yards away, were two otters playing. They were silhouetted in the orange dusk. Dad and I watched them for several minutes until it finally grew too dark to see them and then we headed back to camp. This is a favorite memory for me.
We have seen muskrats and beavers swimming along our shoreline, and even had a tree cut down in our yard by a beaver, but we had never seen otters. How cool would it be to have otters living next door? Having a bear in the neighborhood would be less cool. If they are otters, we would be lucky to actually see them. Although they are playful and seem gregarious, they are quite shy.
Maybe one of my thoughtful children will get me one of those trail cameras for Christmas…