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Otters just want to have fun

They turned up here a few years after we moved to Salvage from the mainland, to live year-round. When we were still summer people, we were finding it harder and harder to return to Quebec every September.

BY PETER PICKERSGILL

They turned up here a few years after we moved to Salvage from the mainland, to live year-round. When we were still summer people, we were finding it harder and harder to return to Quebec every September.

One year we stretched our stay until Christmas. It was during that three-month bonus I saw my first otter in Salvage.

It was just at sundown one evening in October as I emerged from the woods, and began walking downhill to the saltwater pond. Reaching the bottom of the heavily treed ridge that separates Net Point from the rock-enclosed grassy area surrounding the harbour, I walked at sea level along the pond’s edge.

As I began to climb the gentle slope from the shore, following the curve of the picket fence enclosing the graveyard, the dying sun burst through a narrow gap between the top of Cow Head and a ribbon of dark cloud just above.

There is something about the sunsets of autumn. The low angle of the light possesses a warmth of colour from the red end of the spectrum.

It’s as though ‘The Great Designer’ is treating us to a final after-taste of summer, before unleashing the icy winds and long nights into which we are about to plunge.

The slice of orange-red light threw long shadows across the pond, projecting my outsize silhouette onto the screen of spruce lining the far shore. I lifted my arm and its shadow reached up past the treetops.

I felt a childlike thrill. I lifted my other arm. Wow.

Then I waved both arms and began to jump up and down. It was amazing.

My shadow was so huge I felt like Goliath. I paused and looked around, wanting to be sure there were no witnesses. There was one.

Cutting a long orange V in the surface of the dark pond, something was headed my way. As it got closer, the otter slowed and lifted its head out of the water to check me out.

It made a sound that in a human might have been a snort of disapproval, but in an otter was probably just exhaling water forcefully from its nose.

It was only later I learned I was lucky enough to have had my goofy behaviour observed by likely the most sympathetic witness in the animal kingdom. That’s because otters are the gurus of goofy. If there are comic shenanigans otters haven’t performed, that’s because they haven’t been invented yet.

The proof was last week. Lisa called up from the kitchen. There was an otter by the wharf.

I hurried downstairs and joined her at the window. There was an otter for sure, but something about it wasn’t right; it seemed to have a bump on its back. Then it looked like it had two tails.

As it emerged from the water and climbed the concrete slipway across the road from where we watched, it became clear what was going on.

It was not one, but two otters, and they were engaged in a goofy otter version of what is a very intimate act. It went on for 45 minutes.

They don’t show this stuff on the nature channels.

After a minute or so she broke free and disappeared behind a house with buddy in hot pursuit. They re-emerged and then dodged off to hide in the discreet shadows underneath our speedboat on its trailer.

They came out from that hiding place, went back in again, came out, then hid away again. The pace seemed to calm down a bit, when the plot thickened.

Up the federal slipway came another, noticeably larger and obviously male otter, sniffing the air and clearly looking for a good time. In a couple of minutes, he discovered the loving couple under the speedboat.

Who knew how this love triangle would play out?

In a moment they were off again, all three this time, racing in a line up a steep rocky hill and disappearing over the top, a hundred feet above the water.

Lisa and I looked at one another. What now?

They re-appeared, all three in a line, sliding down the steep slope on their bellies in the snow, like a line of children on toboggans. No sooner did they reach the bottom than they raced back to the top and slid down again.

I told you otters were goofy.

After 45 minutes, the three of them disappeared over the crest of the hill and we saw nothing for a little while. Then the large male appeared at the summit, slid slowly and I imagined sadly, down to the water’s edge, dived in and swam away.

The happy couple did not re-appear. With any luck we will see two or three new kits later in the spring, and the ongoing goofiness will continue.

pickersgill@mac.com

Organizations: Net Point

Geographic location: Quebec, Cow Head

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