I don’t know what drew me in, but six year old Katherine was determined to make a Skipper Sea Otter her own. We were at Bailey’s General Store on Sanibel Island, and the Easter money I’d been gifted was burning a hole in my pocket. $19.99 feels like a LOT of money for the early 90s, for a stuffed animal, for a child to buy themself. I already had a few million stuffed animals to play with. But THIS one was coming home with me.
No one really fought me, it was vacation after all. I proudly bought Skipper Sea Otter, renaming him Oliver aka Olly the Otter, like it was my purpose on this earth. Maybe it was my purpose on this earth. Olly would be my go-to man for decades.
But it wasn't until recently when I was sharing otter gifs and watching otter videos on instagram - this is when I pause to first thank everyone who continues to tag me in otter things (NEVER STOP) and second encourage everyone to work this into their daily feel good practice - that I realized that these creatures mean a lot more than just a playful spirit and an adorable face.
Otter health - of both river otters (which we have in lakes, rivers, streams) and sea otters - is an important indication of the overall health of the ecosystem, the health of the water. If there are too many or too few otters, other species are impacted - the balance of many other creatures and process becomes upset. And not just a little bit - since otters are a keystone species, their population disproportionately affects their environment.
We are part of that environment. Inland-dwelling otters help both keep drinking water healthy for humans and rely on humans to ensure they have access to these waters. If otters are not present, the species preyed on by otters overgrow and the balance is upset, and on.
In the sea, in areas where otters are present, kelp forests (wildly important to the health of coastal waters) are happy and healthy. When otters are not, the urchins (which the otters eat) go nuts and eat all the kelp, and the ecosystem has a breakdown. When the otters are there, and balance is achieved, the forests thrive. It’s sort of this perfect representation of “you take care of me and I'll take care of you” when you see the otter wrapped up in or floating in that same sea kelp - something it does to make sure that it’s grounded to an area and doesn’t float out to sea. COME ON, so cute.
There feels like so much more we can learn from these critters - resourcefulness, playfulness, detachment from place, ferocity, grace, resilience. If you know you have all you’ll need wherever you go, because you both have a few key tools with you (like otters and the rocks/tools they keep with them) and you also trust you’ll find what you require as you go, what is there to cling to? You’re always safe and supported to explore, move, be your truest expression of yourself.
But what feels so important at a time like right now, is the sense of importance of respecting every piece of the puzzle. All creatures - from the apex to the things we can’t see and the waters that support it all - are critical. As John Muir said (would it even be an earth day blog post without a Muir quote?) “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.” When we look at our pandemic world, can we expect that we, the species sitting atop the food chain, will not be upset as we let the “little things” beneath us struggle? We could list off a lot of things, but let’s keep it simple and start withwater.
Whenever I take those online “spirit animal” quizzes, I always hope for otter energy, but I’ve been told my actual spirit animal is a manatee. GO FIGURE. Quite the difference between otters and manatees, but I find it so interesting that they’re both animals that I first created connections to as a little imaginative soul on family trips in Sanibel/Captiva. And last year when I was there with my family in those exact same places, my connection to these energies and my love for this planet went into some sort of overdrive. Moons, suns, dolphins swimming around me, with me. Every time I walked the beach, something miraculous happened. I realized that’s the same case on other “vacations” which then caused me to realize, I think that’s how it’s always been and I think that’s how it could be everywhere I go. It just takes me (maybe you, too) a departure from everyday grind to slow down enough to realize just how much this planet is trying to communicate with us. It takes us realizing that those imaginative, open spirits are still WHO WE ARE behind the constant stressors and urgencies of HUMAN life on earth. Maybe that’s what this pandemic is about, a forced pause to take the time to ask questions and listen and look for answers. Let nature do the talking. Respect the answers. Act accordingly.
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