Date: 6/18/20 6:57 am
From: Ted Levin <tedlevin1966...>
Subject: [VTBIRD] June 18, 2020: Coyote Hollow, Thetford Center
5:09 a.m. 50 degrees, wind N 0 mph. Sky: a light wash of pink in the south
that congeals on several long, wispy clouds, their edges trimmed with
chromatic brilliance; blue everywhere else. Across the wetlands: light
descends the softwoods, a curtain lifting in reverse. I look for
red-shouldered hawks; see none. A sparse, low-hanging mist across the
wetlands, a thin exhalation. . . breath on a cool morning. Mist rolls over
the pond, also thin, going nowhere. Above the north side of Robinson Hill,
the Lake Fairlee side, a loon yodels; a haunting, quavering call that makes
the entire valley seem a notch wilder. A full-body experience . . . I feel
it in my bones.

A parula warbler sings in the pines; a pair of agitated woodpeckers chase
each, one begging; the other seemingly annoyed. It's breakfast time. (I've
been that situation, too.) In the alders, yellowthroat, a pair caterpillars
clamped in his bill, speaks with a full mouth, *pic, pic, pic.* Plucks a
third off an alder leaf; reminds me of an Atlantic puffin with a bill full
of capelin.

Activity on the rim of the pond. Diggings. A tail drag in the sand. Did the
snapping turtle finally lay eggs? Then, a splash followed by a bubble wake.
Mid-pond, the neat oval body of a painted turtle transmogrifies into the
neat oval head of a river otter. Nostrils flaring. Tail sculls. Black beady
eyes fixed on me. Dogs, as excited as I am, snort when they inhale; noses
combing the shoreline. Tiny ears. Blunt face. Densely furred. A penchant
for play. Back and forth, always hanging mid-pond. Dives. Rises. Dives,
again. Just passing through, the otter; not too much here to eat. Schools
of minnows? Shoals of bullfrog tadpoles? A feast for me, if not for the
otter. An unexpected encounter, an enchanting moment full of grace.

A flicker drums on a metal fence post. A sapsucker issues a message,
woodpecker Morse Code. Then, birds recede into the background, begin to
vanish; eclipsed by the otter, only the second I've seen in the pond in
twenty-three years. A fat tadpole gulps air. Otter dives. Rises, crown and
arched tail break the surface . . . an antediluvian throwback. A couple of
gin-and-tonics and, like a Penn and Teller trick, I could turn an otter
into an ichthyosaur. Otters. Vanishes into the dark water.

Many years ago, I was given a copy of the 1977 Animal Control Agent's
Report for the Hanover, New Hampshire. Listed last, below nine hundred
sixty-one complaints—including one gerbil bite and two runaway
jackasses—was a note that read, *Investigated a report of an otter chasing
a mailman*. An unglued mail carrier had taken refuge in someone's home
after being chased down the street by an otter. The Hanover post office
offered no comment. E. B. White did, though. When my friend Sandra sent the
report to *The New Yorker*, White responded in print, *Maybe that's what
the Postal Service needs.*

How can an animal three-feet long and more than twenty pounds hide in a
small pond with a mostly mowed shoreline? Hoping for another viewing, I
linger. No luck. The dogs take home another in a catalog of unusual
odors. I take home good fortune. An otherworldly gift on a late June
morning and all I did to receive it was get out of bed early and walk down
the road.
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