A grandfather teaches his granddaughter of nature's delicacy with a poem about sea otters.
After entering the house, Gabby briefly stopped in Grandpa Daniels room and then started up the stairs. “Is that you,Gabby?” her mother called out from the kitchen. Gabby did not answer and continued up the steps. Minutes later, Grandpa Daniels entered the kitchen. He found Dotty at the breakfast nook reading her latest Southern Living magazine.
The daughter-in-law looked up from the magazine. “I think she went upstairs. Didn't respond when I called out her name.”
“Well, we were reading a poem about a group of sea otters and a shark scoops up a pup.”
“Clarence, that's terrible!”
“Well, it is a part of nature. I don't think you can mask it."
“She's nine years old for goodness sake!" The room fell silent. Then Dotty continued, "I could have given you a heads up on that one. When we watched Lassie Come Home and Lassie sank into the river, she ran out of the room bawling. Michael and I had to beg her to return. We got her back just in time to see Lassie pop up and safely swim to shore. Of course, then I'd never seen her so happy. Who wrote this poem?”
“I'm not sure. Maybe you're right. I could have left it out.”
“You mean not read it?”
Dotty returned to her magazine and Grandpa Daniels exited the kitchen with slumped shoulders. After plodding up the stairs, he turned left down the hallway and saw his orange and white Do Not Disturb sign on Gabby's door. He turned around and retreated to his work desk. There, Clarence reexamined the pages of the poem. He shuffled the yellow sheets back and forth and tried to decide what to do. On the corner of one of the pages, the color had changed where one of Gabby's teardrop fell. He sat motionless and considered what Dotty had said about Lassie.
Upstairs, Gabby lay back on the pillow with her eyes closed. She kept hearing her grandfather say, “Now, Biscuit, we can't always control how nature ...” But why Joey? Joey was the shyest of all and when Jed took him in the pup felt safe then. Then for some strange reason her brother's fall came to mind, but in a different way. No one challenged Jacob to jump from here to there. Instead, a limb which had been reliable for years turned unreliable and snapped and Jacob fell hard to the ground. Silently, the limb had been changing inside but no one could have known. “Now, Biscuit, we can't always control how nature ...” Then she pictured herself in ocean waters and wondered what terrible events must occur down there. A whale swallows a sea lion. A sea lion swallows baby herring. Sharks become hungry. “Now, Biscuit, we can't always control how nature ...” She fell asleep.
Two hours later, the paths of reader and listener crossed in the kitchen. Grandpa Daniels was making a peanut butter and honey sandwich when Gabby walked in. Hey, Grandpa. Hello, Biscuit. Makin' a sandwich? Yes. Can you make me one too? Of course.
“Let's take them to the pond and finish the poem,” said Gabby.
“Yes, and I'm sorry about leaving that way.”
“I understand.” He knew to say nothing more; he did not want to interrupt a granddaughter busy growing up.
An overcast sky lingered over the mild afternoon, and the trees across the pond displayed flatter colors. After finishing their sandwiches, Grandpa Daniels retrieved the yellow sheets from his pocket and prefaced the continuance of the poem with, “Remember, the other shark was just outside the kelp forest.” Gabby nodded.
now the other shark, just beyond the wall
ogled the forest with his lifeless stare
and between blades of kelp, the eyes of otters
stared out through the frightened waters
watching, waiting, anticipating
the great white swam left; the great white swam right
the great white swam off into the light
and a hundred otters drew a sigh of relief
then a hundred otters dealt with their grief
He paused and glanced at Gabby. She looked sad but ready for the poem to go on.
moving north again, Odin gave a new command:
“No more swimming beyond the wall.
Not for a second, or a minute, not at all!”
and though they'd lost time, with their steady rate
the otters soon turned right round Washington State,
and entered into the Juan de Fuca Strait,
to find themselves almost within reach
of the place where Yelden's forest once flowered
and the purple urchins lurking underneath
well, they would soon be devoured
for the otters had arrived, arrived indeed
with enormous appetites to feed
and diving beneath, in disbelief
they gazed across the desert view
in shimmering light, the ocean floor
was nothing more than a purple hue
so the otters began to do their task
neither Yelden or Odin even had to ask
they scoured the seabed for three months straight
consuming urchins at an alarming rate
and as they moved east, delighting in the feast
the kelp behind them attained its former state
so that three months after the sweep began —
Gabby raised her hand.
“What do you mean by sweep?”
“All the otters working together moving along the seafloor devouring urchins. Like one gigantic otter broom.”
so that three months after the sweep began
the vast kelp forest was whole again
an astonishing achievement for all involved
harnessing air from plant and sun — resolved
so the otters celebrated into the night
beneath the stars on rolling waves of moonlight
they swapped stories about their deeds of might
but when they realized many would soon depart
their festive mood had a change of heart
and when the day of departing arrived
Yelden thanked all who helped the cause
for without them, there would be no kelp revived
no reshaping of nature's laws
and to Odin and his family, he bid a fond farewell
and as they swam away with the others that day
Odin issued these commands:
“Grow your population; keep it strong
for the urchins will try to multiply
and infiltrate your bottom sands.“
and as Yelden heard his mentee state the case
a smile formed upon his wizardly face —
“Hey Grandpa, that's what Yelden told Odin before he left.”
“Yes. That's why Yelden smiled. Because Odin remembered what he taught him.” Gabby smiled, too, her legs swinging beneath the bench.
returning home the exact same route
turning left round Washington State
all went well as the days passed by
when one fine evening under a fire-red sky
the weary travelers encountered fate
Grandpa Daniels noticed the curiosity cross his granddaughter's face. He read each successive line slower.
having joined a circle of otters
to rest in their peaceful waters
Jedidiah looked through the fading light
and rubbed his eyes as if questioning his sight
for what he could see ... could it be?
he was missing a hand and half a tail
but everything else appeared to be well
Now Gabby looked to him with big, hopeful eyes …
and so Jedidiah said to this pup
“Joey?”, and the startled otter looked up
She threw her arms around her grandfather and hugged tight and there was silence until he said, “Want to hear what they do?”
they swam to each other and met in the middle,
and danced in a circle as if hearing a fiddle
Gabby began to chant, “Joooey! ... Joooey! ... Joooey!” The grandfather joined in and when he stopped, she stopped.
then Joey told the tale for the hundredth time
how the mouth had slackened just a bit
and in that split second, he knew this was it
his chance to escape the great white's jaws
he bolted away in the blink of an eye,
and turning upside down nature's laws,
found refuge in a crag of rocks nearby
and to the evening sky Jedidiah looked up
to Venus and Mars and the rising stars
he counted them all for the pugnacious pup —
“Why did Jed count the stars, Grandpa?”
“Well, when things work out for the best, you count your lucky stars.”
She hugged him again and said, “I can't believe Joey made it! Will he be all right with only one hand and half a tail?”
“Well, Jedidiah probably has to crack open urchins for him but, yes, I think he will have a long happy life.”
“What does pugnacious mean?”
“It means fighting to survive. All right, we're almost to the end.”
three days later the otters reached home
and a forest in slight decline
they scoured the floor until urchins were no more
ensuring their canopy to be fine
where many an evening under Pacific skies,
with red sunsets stretched out before their eyes,
the otters relaxed on the gold sublime
Gabby raised her hand a final time.
“Something that is extremely beautiful and awe-inspiring,” he answered.
the otters relaxed on the gold sublime
makers of nature; shapers of time
Odin and Miah, Joey and Jedidiah
the daughter of the otter, Jambaliah
and all the others who help ensure
the breath of our world has a chance to be pure
Then Grandpa Daniels looked at Gabby and said nothing.
“What? Is that the end?”
“Do I have your attention, young lady?” he asked, somewhat sternly.
“Do you remember two days ago on this very bench you asked me a question?”
“Um … yes … where does fresh air come from?”
“And now for the end of the poem,” the grandfather said, winking at her.
so whenever you draw the freshest of air
consider the way it ended up there
a yellow sun casts a powerful spell
over oceans that teem with life in the swell
over plants and shrubs and spring-green trees
and mighty rivers that feed mighty seas
most of all, to help you recall
remember a forest and its delicate fate
remember the Tale of the Juan de Fuca Strait
and an otter named Odin
with his mentor, the Olden
on a canopy sublime, where the hope of time
will always be golden
“Watcha think?” asked the grandfather.
“I love it, Grandpa! May I read it this time?”
“If I can ask questions.”
“You can always ask questions,” and with that she began.
Odin the Otter stretched out on the water …