"One day I was
on that dike where we got stuck," Erickson said. "I'd picked up signals
from a pair of otters and waited, hoping to see them. They came into the open
and began catching frogs and crayfish, eating them like peanuts. Seeing them
was satisfying, a lot of fun for me. I imagine it would have been for anyone.
But so is this fish head, because it means there are otters in here again.
Somehow, that upgrades this marsh and makes me like it more."
I grew up near the
Limberlost, a once great swamp that lay across parts of southern Michigan and
northern Indiana and was memorialized in the romantic novels of Gene Stratton
Porter. Though I spent a lot of time in it as a boy, I certainly didn't consort
regularly with otters. Beyond the family that used the big mud slide, I met
otters briefly on only two occasions. Therefore what I miss now, there being no
more otters in that neighborhood, isn't actually seeing otters but the
possibility of doing so. Because of this lack, I like those parts less than I
once did and find them somehow degraded.
All of which leads
to some back and forth about how such feelings can be simply described and
named. Perhaps it is that so meager a sign of otter presence as a gnawed carp
head makes wetlands seem wholesome in a very literal sense. Conversely, a lake,
river or swamp that once had otters and still could but does not, seems
As to the
why-bothers and so-whats: If they make it in Missouri, the otters will be a
value added—romantic, historical, esthetic, intellectual—for a not
inconsiderable group of us. Works such as restoring otters celebrate our
humanity; trapping otters and wearing otter skins do not. There are obviously
some who do not give a tinker's damn about whether there are ever again otters
along the Grand River, but then the poor are always with us.