Conversation with a Cute Critter (of Some Sort)

On a road trip in which I’m the passenger, I can be blind to a cool car, a tall building, or a sign the size of a barn. But if there’s a critter of any sort on the side of the road, I’ll spot it. As we were driving along the Ottawa River on our recent trip to Canada, I saw a small brown blob of fur ambling not two feet from the four-lane. “Turn around,” I told Hans. “I think I saw an otter!”

Hans turned the car around. (He knows by now that it’s better to turn around quick than to argue for miles and then end up turning around anyway.) And lucky for us, there was a small, paved area just past the critter I’d seen. He parked at the riverside lookout, and I got out with my cell phone, ready to snag a photo or video of the creature who was the size of a four-month-old cat, but with a more compact and round shape. Otters and longer and slinkier, so I knew now that it wasn’t an otter. I couldn’t get close enough to be sure whether it was a muskrat, a baby beaver, or something else.

I communicated telepathically with the creature (who of course doesn’t know or care what humans call it), and let it know that I wasn’t trying to hurt it or catch it; I just wanted to get a good picture. He looked up at me then went back to foraging in a “Yeah, I knew that” sort of way.

I tried to warn the critter that it wasn’t foraging in a safe place, just steps away from a busy highway. He ignored me. I tried to tell him that he might do better to stay out of sight of humans. His reply: “They don’t bother me…” Then he looked straight at me. “Much.”

I was reminded of a conversation I’d had with a city raccoon just a few days before, in which he told me that he minded his own business and expected humans to mind theirs. Even though it’s hard to ignore wildlife—especially when they’re super-cute—it really is the best thing for them.

So I went back to the car, not quite content with the blurry photos and videos I’d taken, but happy I’d managed to chat from a distance with… IDK… a muskrat, or a baby beaver, or some other kind of critter who didn’t much care what I called him.

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