I wrote this page in 2002 for my mother for Mother's Day - and decided to post it again today on Mother's Day 2011.  Reading it again really causes me to miss Cambria. ~ RB

The Baby Otter

A Mother's Day Story 

The place where I walk by the ocean, is locally called the East West Ranch.  When I first moved to Cambria back in late 1989, it had been a ranch that went bankrupt.  It is something like 600 acres, and sits between two of the main residential sections of the town (the east and west sections) - on the ocean side of Highway 1.  Back then, it was posted with no trespassing signs, but there were spaces in the fence to climb over and get through - so the effect was that the signs protected the owners from liability but people could walk on the ranch as they pleased.

I love this ranch space.  When I was living in a place near the back edge of it in 1990, I would go for walks on the ranch all of the time.  Near where I would enter the ranch, I could cross a small stream and come to a meadow in the woods.  In the meadow was a mound - and it felt like sacred space to me.  I would commune with the meadow and then walk up the hill through the woods.  Coming out of the woods I could see the ocean and then walk down the hill to the bluffs overlooking the ocean.  Along the part of the ocean that the ranch runs along there is no beach.  There are bluffs with rocks and tidal pools below.

It brought me great pleasure and serenity to walk through my meadow and up the hill - or though a passageway through the trees that came out in a different part of the ranch.  There was a place just after this passageway, where a tree stood alone.  A tree that was bent over almost double, creating what looked like kind of a portal.  I would visualize that being a portal to other dimensions or to the future where dreams would come true.

As I would walk through the woods, I would see deer.  Deer in the Medicine Cards are about gentleness.  Whenever I see a deer, I take it as a direct reminder from my Higher Power to be gentle with myself. I get to see lots of deer around here - to help me remember gentleness.  (My present landlady doesn't like it that they come into her garden at night and eat the flowers - but I think it is cool.)  As I came out on top of the hill where I could see the ocean, I would sometimes see whales.  A whale - again in the Medicine Cards - is the record keeper, the keeper of ancient knowledge. 

At some later point, when I was living in Taos for the second time, the ranch got sold to a developer who had plans for a big housing project.

One of the nice things about Cambria is that there is a water shortage here.  It is nice in my opinion, because it means that development is severely limited.  If it weren't there would be thousands more people living here already.

Sometime after the developer bought the ranch, some idiot went riding his bicycle at night on the ranch and fell and hurt himself.  Then he sued.  I call him an idiot because it wasn't a smart thing to do - but more because I felt victimized by his actions.  Because of that law suit - which of course came to nothing - the access to the ranch was severely limited.   Only access by people who signed a liability waiver on a trail by the ocean was allowed.  I couldn't go back to my meadow any more.

The developer tried every means in his disposal to get permission for his development, but the community rallied to try to save the open space.  The developer didn't help his cause much when he made public pronouncements like saying that concrete was better for the land than cattle were.

Last year, the community - with the help of some National save the spaces kind of organizations - was able to buy the ranch.  Hopefully, this will mean in the future that the meadow will be available again.

Anyway, I go for walks on this ranch.  The last couple of months I have been going for two walks a day every time my schedule allows - something I have been able to do five or six times a week lately - getting the extra exercise and good for the soul.

There were lots of whales migrating this year - the mother and calf count was way up, good news.  The migration is over now but there are still whales to be seen occasionally year round.  What has been really spectacular lately is the wild flowers.  We are starting the dry season now, so they are just starting to wilt, but they have been gorgeous.

Wild flowers that are light blue, royal blue and violet ones that surprised me by also blooming with with white flowers, yellow ones, yellow and gold, yellow and white, totally gold ones, pale purple, dark purple, white with purple tinges, some orange ones, and various types of white ones.  There were patches where the royal blue and violet ones were like a sea with a little yellow or gold or purple amidst them - and other places where the yellow ones were predominate with other colors interspersed.  It was a majorly cool wild flower season this year. 

I love the winter time here because it is not only the rainy season but also the whale migration time.  (And there is no snow. ;-) 

But I love walking on the ranch year round.  Some days I get to see deer and whales, some days dolphins, there are often seals around - sometimes leaping out of the water repeatedly diving in what appears to be a feeding frenzy when there are schools of fishing swimming through. (A bit farther up the coast - off Moonstone Beach which was across the road from the motel you stayed in - there are baby seals on the rocks with their mothers now.)  On occasion I spot one of the huge elephant seal bulls that weigh 2000 pounds swimming by - they look like sea monsters.  I also get to see Mr. Geeky Gawk who has been hanging out on the ranch lately.  Mr. Geeky Gawk is a blue heron that I have dubbed with that title because of the herky jerky way that he moves (she ?). 

One of the animals that I see regularly on my walks year round, are otters.  They are so cool.  Floating on their backs, using their little hands to pound with rocks to break open shell fish.  The local fishermen hate them because one of their favorite foods is abalone.  I saw a sign on a pick up truck in Morro Bay (about 20 miles south, with a local fishing industry) that said "Otter - the other white meat."

They are usually in evidence in the mornings, afternoons and evenings - but not around noon time.  Otters need to eat a quarter of their body weight every day - so they spend a lot of time eating.  It seems to me that they take a break at noon time.  Their work is eating, so they do it in the mornings, afternoons, and evenings - and take a break at noon.  That is the way I imagine it anyway. ;-)

Otters seem to be playful and full of Joy. 

 
I saw something for the first time not long ago.  I noticed two otters swim to each other and seem to kiss (the incurable romantic in me.)  But then I noticed that one of them was quite small.  There is some kind of University research project going on here, that involves some of the otters having been fitted with collars with radio transmitters.  Occasionally, there are people out on the ranch with some equipment that helps them pick up the signals and study the otters.  A guy was out doing that on the evening I saw the otters kissing, so I asked him if the otter mothers feed their babies mouth to mouth.  He said that they did, from about 2 months to 6 months.  That they both nurse them and feed them while they are learning to hunt.

Otters really are cool.  They dive down and get shell fish and a small rock.  Then they come back to the surface, and while floating on their backs, they use the rock to break open the shell.  So, they are floating along hammering on shells.  The guy said it takes the babies a while to get the hang of it - they dive and all, but come up with some pretty weird things.  Reminded me of when Abe was visiting last summer, and we went for a trip in a glass bottom boat in Morro Bay.  There was an otter that the guide said had been orphaned when small.  He said that watching him learn to hunt was quite amusing - including one day when he brought up a rock that was so big it sank him when he set it on his stomach.
 
A couple of weeks ago, I when I went for my second walk  I saw whales after having seen dolphins in the morning.   Whales and dolphins in the same day is a real special treat.  There were also lots of otters - including at least 3 mother and baby combos.  One of the babies was pounding away for all it's might, and making all kinds of noise.  Normally, it is not possible to hear the pounding the otters do, but this baby otter seemed to be trying to break a rock with a rock - and was really clanging away at it. ;-)

Hearing that baby otter clanging away was the first time that I had heard an otter make noise until last week when I got to hear one yelling. 

I was about 3/4 ways through my mile and a half walk when suddenly I heard this noise.  At first I thought it was a sea gull squawking directly over my head - but I must not have thought that too strongly because I didn't even look up.  Instead I looked down, over the edge of the bluff to the ocean.  There was an otter yelling.  Making this loud squawking sound.  It quickly became apparent to me that it was a mother otter who had lost sight of her baby.   She was pushing herself as far up out of the water as possible, looking around wildly - yelling at the top of her lungs.

You could see her anxiety and that panic was setting in as she desperately tried to spot the baby.  I saw the baby surface maybe 30 yards away on the other side of some rocks that blocked the mothers view.  The baby seemed to be having a great old time - and was oblivious to the mothers calls.  I wanted to yell to the mother, "there he/she is!"  but I knew she couldn't hear me with the crashing of the waves - and wouldn't understand anyway.

Otters have this amazing ease as they float on their backs in the crashing waves.  They just keep bobbing up over the waves without ever being carried along with them.  The baby otter was only about 2 feet from some large rocks where the waves were crashing and sending up spray, but just kept bobbing up over the next wave.  They do this without any seeming effort.

The baby dove down once again and when it resurfaced it seemed to hear the mother.  I couldn't hear if the baby called in return, or if they just spotted each other - but they started swimming towards each other rapidly.  They came together and went into kind of a rolling hug in the waves, rolling over and  over again.  A happy ending. ;-)

When the mothers are nursing the babies, the pups ride on their stomachs.  This makes the mother sink lower in the water.  One I saw a couple of days ago was riding so low in the water that it seemed that only the tip of her nose was above the surface occasionally - it had to be hard for her to breathe. 

The sacrifices that mothers make for their babies!  I guess there probably isn't much difference in the instincts between mothers of most species.  At least, it certainly seems that mother otters have a lot in common with human mothers.  A good thing certainly.

Happy Mother's Day 

from your eldest pup.

(Who has caused you a moment of anxiety now and again. ;-)

I Love You Mother ~ R


 
 
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