I heard the cries loud and clear above the roar of rushing water. I was out on an island in The River, photographing tadpoles in a nursery pool, and the caterwauling seemed to be coming from every point of the compass. I climbed to highest point on the little island to get a better look. What did I see? A female river otter was bounding sinuously along the far shore, her nose lifting rhythmically as if searching the air for a familiar scent. Suddenly, she dove into the swift current and began to swim upriver.
Then I saw the reason for her headlong rush. Two young otters clung uncertainly to a midstream rock. I didn’t know how they’d managed to swim out there, but that wasn’t important. They had. And now they didn’t know how they were going to get back. I’d heard their cries for help. So had their mother. And help was on the way:
She bounded up onto the rock, shaking herself till water flew in every direction. Her kids’ mood lifted immediately. Now they wanted to play. But Mom was having none of that.
She butted the kids unceremoniously into the water, dove in after them, and guided them back to the shore, using her long, muscular body to keep her two charges from being swept over the falls just downriver. In no time at all, everyone was back on land:
But Mom wasn’t going to let her wayward offspring off the hook so easily. She head-butted them straight up the rocky slope. When they rebelled, she grabbed the protesting delinquents by the scruffs of their necks and dragged them still higher, before depositing them in a cluster of blueberry bushes where two better behaved siblings waited patiently. Then she gathered up her brood, and all five loped along the bank of a small stream, heading home to a den hidden in the forest. There, a stern lecture doubtlessly awaited them—to be followed, I’m sure, by a welcome nap.