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December 21. 2013 7:18PM

John Harrigan's Woods, water & Wildlife: There really oughta be more otters in NH

WHERE ARE the otters? I rarely watch TV, but a recent episode dealt with the Earth's 13 known species of otters, several of which are in trouble, and noted that otters cannot see to fish in silted and/or polluted water.

This prompts the question of how they survive in the spring, when the freshets carry millions of tons of silt to be deposited in estuaries and river deltas that we see today. Perhaps they find cleaner brooks and streams close to home, where they prepare to have their litters.

One bright spring day, just north of Littleton, I spotted a dark object on a shelf of ice on the Ammonoosuc. I pulled over to watch an otter eat its lunch while I ate mine. It was eating what looked to me to be a sucker, slower than a trout and easier to catch, biting pieces off as if it were a piece of celery, which, oddly enough, I had in my lunch-box.

Whenever we're traveling along rivers, we look for otter tracks between one pool to another, the shelf of ice being where otters rest and eat. Each year I'm seeing fewer tracks. This past Friday we traveled along stretches of the Upper Connecticut and Ammonoosuc rivers, and looked carefully at snow-covered ice shelves between open water, and saw nary an otter or sign.

Readers?

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Years ago, I was hunting the northern part of Deadwater, after it had snowed quite a bit, and came upon two otter slides down a high bank and into the stream. The tracks clearly showed that they'd made several trips, up and down. Otters are one of the few species we know of to know how to have such fun.

It made me think of ravens, which teach their young to fly by playing games of tag high in the sky, then tumbling with folded wings almost seemingly to crash into terra firma, but pull out at the last minute to do it again, and fox kits and coyote pups, which play similar games on the padded-earth doorsteps of their dens.

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"Notes to Self" tend to make a pile. In there somewhere I found a reminder to write something about Blondie and Minnie Meserve, and how it somehow tied in with Christmas.

Blondie and Minnie were a woods-loving, camp-going couple as comfortable with each other and their lifestyles as a cohabitated shoe. Several times during my pre-teens I rode with them into their camp. It was a ramshackle affair, all that was left of the famed Felton Camps on the spine of high country that separates, but also gives rise to, the West Branch of Cedar Stream and the East Branch of Deadwater, although that last is anything but dead.

Blondie, a telephone company veteran pole-climber, was deaf as a post. He and Minnie yelled at each other while he maneuvered their old Buick around rocks and stumps on the road into camp. I sat in the back seat leaning over into the front while they shouted about whether to zig or zag while also occasionally reaching into a duffle bag between them for "refreshment," which they shared with me -- except for the liquid component, about which I, at that tender age, could only surmise.

Later, in my teens, when I was living with my second set of parents at Clarksville Pond (the families, fast World War II friends, traded me back and forth like a mule), most days I was doing odd chores around Rudy's Cabins, but once in a while, if I had most of a day off, I'd put a small pack on and hump (old term for move right along with a load) down through Henry Ricker's pasture and over the ridge to the old Scott Opening, and then down cross-lots to Deadwater, and then up the East Branch to the watershed divide and Blondie's and Minnie's camp, carefully planning my arrival for sometime well before lunch.

Never did I give a thought about what they were having or whether there was enough and neither did they. "Hi Bub," Blondie would say blandly, as if they knew I was coming, and he and I played cribbage while Minnie threw various utensils, stove covers and maybe edible objects around, joining us for a couple of three-handed games before the grub was rustled to the table.

How I loved and savored the cribbage, the camp, the talk and the aroma and familiarity and feel of the place. "You'd better get going, Bub," Blondie eventually said, and I set off at a trot for Clarksville Pond. I can still see Blondie and Minnie standing there outside their little camp as I took off for home in time to help with supper and next-day lunches for the paying guests.

It is a sweet memory, almost as sweet as my grandmother White playing Christmas carols on the piano, all of us crowded around her singing away in three-part harmony, the kind of sweet thing that you think will go on forever, but it is all gone as swiftly as the waters of Deadwater, save heart and soul.

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John Harrigan's address is Box 39, Colebrook 03576. Email him at campguyhooligan@gmail.com


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