When Once Is As Good As a Feast

A brief encounter with the otter kind

Deborah Barchi
2 min readJun 16, 2021


Photo by Ryan Grewell on Unsplash

One of my favorite walks takes me along a narrow country road. The paved but pitted road bisects protected woodland, with numerous small streams and hidden ponds.

For years this quiet walk has been a source of inspiration for my nature poems and short essays. But one day especially stands out in my mind.

The one and only time I saw a family of otters.

I have a special place in my heart for otters. I have always said that if ever I get to come back as another animal, I want it to be as a river otter.

I love their sleekness, playfulness, sociability, and daring. I don’t particularly shine in any of these areas in my own life, but I like to think as an otter I might mend my awkward ways.

But back to the encounter.

I was about halfway down the road, just where it started to dip down a hill, when I froze in my tracks. About fifty feet in front of me a mother otter and her baby were scampering across the road.

Spotting me, the mother urged her baby along with a series of imperative squeaks. The pair swiftly dove into the woodland on my right.

I had barely released my suspended breath when out of the woods to my left came anxious cries. Out popped the head of another baby otter, in search of his missing mother and sibling.

Tumbling onto the road, searching frantically for his family, the baby otter spotted me. Even in the midst of his fear, curiosity got the upper hand, as it so often does with the very young and the very innocent.

How must I have looked to him? Like a scruffy tree with a divided trunk, planted in the middle of the road? Or an unknown creature with no tail, but with two large eyes following his every move?

Puzzled, he took a tentative step in my direction.

Just then a most decisive, motherly squeal burst forth. The little otter’s mother was scolding him in no uncertain terms.

Stop dillydallying with strangers and come to momma now!

Relieved to find his mother but also — did I imagine it? — perhaps a little reluctant to cut short his adventure, the baby scrambled away, rejoined his family, and disappeared into the woods.

I stood there dazed and delighted. It took a while for my pulse and my breathing to return to normal.

And my spirits? They soared then, and they soar now, every time I remember my brief encounter with that little family.

I never saw the otters again. But I don’t need to. In this case the joyful memory of a sweet, unexpected moment is strong enough to last for a lifetime.



Deborah Barchi

Deborah Barchi has recently retired from her career as a librarian and now has time to read, explore nature, and write poetry and essays.