The lake ice was just barely holding on after a night of below freezing temperatures when I noticed my daughter, still in her PJs, transfixed on something out the back sliding door. I followed her gaze, and there they were– three slick brown creatures, slipping and sliding, jumping in and out of the water, scampering across the ice that would hold their weight. We see beavers regularly out on the lake, but these weren’t beavers. Every once in awhile someone sees something and says, “hey, I think that might be an otter!” but we’re never sure, to the point of them being dubbed the “mythical beasts of the lake”. Do they exist? Did we just imagine them? What IS that animal down there that seems way more playful than a muskrat?
As a election day looms during a pandemic that shows no signs of letting up after a wildfire season that included the biggest blaze in Colorado’s history, it’s tempting to keep refreshing your news tabs and tweet and comment and scroll until your eyes bug out. What could go wrong next? There’s a lot swirling around out there. Much of it isn’t good news. Everything wants attention and everyone wants to ensure everyone else knows they’re on the right side of history. Communities are divided and tension is high. People are both easily distracted and hyper-focused. Neighbors steal one another’s signs.
In the midst of all this, there’s much to be said for working for a cause you believe in, advocating for justice, being informed, taking a stand, and speaking up. A global community calls for all hands on deck, sails raised to catch the wind needed to propel the world toward the changes necessary for peace. There’s a lot of high wind right now, and it’s hard to know which way to steer the ship. It’s hard to keep the kind of loose yet confident grip on the wheel that keeps a vessel moving in the right direction.
Just before noticing the goings-ons down on the lake, I’d been sorting the pile of mail on the counter– plucking what we actually need to look at from ad after ad of people running for various offices, from the presidency to the local school board. Just holding political ads makes my body tense up. Something about the energy presented, the “I’m better than that other person and this is why,” triggers overwhelm and anxiety.
So, hitting pause to notice mythical beasts frolick and splash was just the antidote I needed to shift from overwhelm to awe. To loosen my grip enough to roll with the waves, as it were.
Otters, friends. Mythical beasts no more, this morning we gazed upon their playtime as the sun rose higher, slowly melting the rest of the ice. They invited me to set the heaviness of the times down.
It’s worth it to set all of the heaviness down, even if just for a moment (even if you don’t happen to have access to otter viewing), to notice the simple wonder in something that is not of the human world.
In a year full to the brim with hard things, watching some otters may seem trivial. But it’s those small things that keep me going on the days when the world seems to be, as a colleauge said the other day, “going to hell in a handbasket.” 2020 has felt a bit like being on the high seas in a gale.
Fortunately, not all parts of the world are going to hell in a handbasket- in fact, I bet if you looked outside right now, you’d find something to marvel at, something to make you say, “well, would you look at that.” Maybe it’d be a passing cloud, or a squirrel, or a slug leaving a trail in the garden. Maybe it’d be something so tiny that it would seem silly to even take notice–but do take notice. Those little things have the capacity to bouy the spirit just enough to sail on through the gale to calmer waters.
[And I mean, maybe there’ll be otters there, too, in the calm waters. That would be fun.]