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by bkies
Rated: ASR · Short Story · Nature · #2176224
A child learns from her grandfather how some heroic sea otters helped improve our climate.
Odin the Otter, King of the Forest
by Brian Kies

Chapter 1

The Tranquil Pond

Grandpa Daniels and Gabby, his nine-year-old granddaughter, sat side by side on their green wooden bench. The bench overlooked a large, tranquil pond two blocks from Gabby's home. Maple trees lined the opposite side of the pond, and gentle breezes moved red and yellow leaves across its surface. Some leaves stopped drifting after bumping into yellowish-green lily pads near the shore.
         Earlier that day, a line of thunderstorms passed through Ruby Falls leaving blue sky and exceedingly fresh air. Gabby, whose mind often came alive with questions by the pond, looked up at her grandpa and said, “Where does fresh air come from?”
         After hesitating Grandpa Daniels said, “You mean to tell me, you've never heard of Odin the Otter?”
         “Odin the Otter?”
         “Or Yelden the Olden?”
         “What are you talking about, Grandpa?” She was beginning to feel the pull of wool over her eyes. Occasionally, he would do just that.
         “Or Odin's good wife, Miah, or his son Jedidiah, or the daughter of the otter,” and, here, he paused until saying, “Jambaliah?”
         “You're making this up, right?”
         “No, I am not making it up,” he insisted. “They live in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Washington.”
          Quickly raising her hand she said, “I know where Washington is!”
         “In the far northwest, a long ways from Tennessee!”
         “So school has discovered Washington for you, but nothing of Odin?”
         “Well, maybe I shouldn't teach you about him either.”
         “No, Grandpa! I want to learn about Odin,” she said, her ankles crossed and swinging beneath the bench.
         “I see.” The grandfather paused and then asked, “Have you studied photosynthesis yet?”
         “Yes, sir.”
         Some Canada Geese flew in above the treeline, touched down on the other side of the pond, and drifted with the leaves. Gabby removed the green tie from the loaf of bread on her lap.
         “So where does our oxygen come from?” asked the grandfather.
         “From plants and trees.”
         “Very good. And what do they need to make that happen?”
         “Sunlight. What does this have to do with Odin?”
         “Odin lives in a forest.”
         The granddaughter scrunched her brow slightly. “Sea otters live in the ocean, G-Pa, not in forests. Forests are on land!”
         “No, there are forests in the ocean, too.”
         “I knew you were making this up!”
         “No, Gabby, there are forests of kelp in the ocean.”
         She looked puzzled. “What's kelp?”
         Grandpa Daniels told her all about kelp. How great columns of it grow along the Pacific coastline, thousands of gold-leafed poles that sway side by side in the cold currents. How each column begins attached to a rock on the seabed and can grow two feet in a day if it receives sunlight.
         “And what might kelp do?” he asked her.
         “Give off oxygen.”
         “Yes. A great deal of it. Very good.”
         A strong breeze rose out of the north sending ripples across the pond. The geese lifted off and disappeared over the treeline and more leaves swirled down. Low clouds began to roll in and block out the blue sky.
         “But what does this have to do with Odin?”
         “Patience, my child, patience,” said Grandpa Daniels. “Otters refer to their forest canopy as The Golden — ”
         “Otters can't talk, Grandpa!”
         “Says who?”
         “Says me!”
         “Why's that?”
         “Because they're animals,” she pointed out as a matter of fact.
         “Oh, really. What about when Bosco wants to jump on your lap, doesn't he ask first?” Bosco was the family's black and white collie.
         “Those are sounds Grandpa, not words!”
         “May I continue with the canopy?”
         “If you tell the truth. What's a canopy?”
         “It is all the treetops together in a forest.” He continued, “The kelp forest canopy consists of golden leaves, and sea otters wrap themselves in it.”
         “Why do they wrap themselves in it?”
         “Well, they sleep like babies in the sun and they don't want to drift out into the ocean! Oh, and a mother will wrap her pup in it while she hunts for food.”
         She wondered about the reliability of kelp and asked, “Does it always hold them in place?”
         “Good question. No. So guess what they do?”
         “The sea otter family will hold hands before they doze off. At least that way they remain together if they drift off.”
         “That's it. I'm done listening! Otters don't hold hands.”
         “Why, child, you cut me to the quick!” he said, sounding like the Wizard of Oz. “Now, maybe otters can't speak. Of course, I don't know how else they could refer to their canopy as The Golden. But I can assure you, Biscuit, they do hold hands.”
         “I'm not sure if I should believe you or not.”
         “Just look up sea otters in the encyclopedia at home.”
         “I will.”
         After a pause in their conversation, Gabby asked, “What does Odin look like?”
         Grandpa Daniels thought a few seconds. “Well, he is the teddy bear of the ocean so he looks a lot like Papa Bear in the little pool.”
         Gabby loved the small swimming pool her father set up in their backyard. One foot high boards framed its circular sky-blue wall, and the pool sat atop the soft sand Mr. Daniels shoveled into the square wooden frame. She often took the stuffed bear from her room to the pool, and Papa Bear's grayish-white whiskers always got wet.
         “Does Odin eat a lot?”
         “Yes, very much. About one-fourth his weight a day.”
         “How much does he weigh?”
         “Seventy-five pounds.”
         “Wow! He must eat a lot each day.”
         “He does, but it's what he eats that is important.”
         The sun dropped beneath the horizon and the temperature followed in step with the autumn evening. Low strands of cloud turned pinkish-orange.
         “Well, they like crabs, clams, and prawns, but their favorite food is the sea urchin.”
         “What's a sea urchin?”
         “He's purple and round — from the size of a tennis ball to a softball — and has spikes all over him.”
         “How can they eat something with spikes?”
         “Otters are very smart, Gabby. They use flat stones to crack open the urchins.”
         Instead of responding, she simply glared at him as if another part of the tale were being made up.
         Grandpa Daniels, reacting to the look, said, “Just read your encyclopedia!” Then he shivered. Most of the leaves had floated up against the bank on their right. “It's getting a little cold, Sweet Pea. I think we better head home.”
         “But you didn't tell me why it's important what Odin eats.”
         “You know what,” he said, standing, “I have a poem at home that will explain it all.”
         “Who wrote it?”
         “I'm not sure.”
         “What's the name of it?”
         The grandfather thought a while before answering, “Let's see ... oh, yes … Tale of the Juan de Fuca Strait!”, looking proud to have recalled the title.
         “What's the Juan de Fuca Strait?”
         “It's a body of water between Washington State and Canada and something heroic happened there.”
         “The poem will explain it all.”
         “Come on, Grandpa!”
         As they started down the gravel path for home, the grandfather realized he would have to share some of the story. “All right. A group of otters swim up the Washington coast and into the Juan de Fuca Strait to save a kelp forest. Guess who leads the way?”
         “Along with ...?”
         “Very good, young lady.”
         “Do they save the kelp forest?”
         “Sounds like we need to read this poem.”
         “Can we read it when we get home?”
         “Well, dinner will be ready and I have some paperwork to go through after supper. How 'bout we read it here in the morning.”
         “All right, Grandpa,” receptive to the idea. Gabby loved going to the pond and feeding the ducks. As they walked the rest of the way home, she told him all about outrunning Linda Birch at school on Friday. Everyone considered Linda Birch the fastest girl at St. Anne's; she could outrun many of the boys. The grandfather remained attentive as possible, nodding his head every so often. Other thoughts occupied his mind; namely, the writing of a sea poem.

Chapter 2

The Overnight Poem

In the day's fading light, Gabby and Grandpa Daniels held hands as they strolled up the sidewalk toward the house. Between the dining room's open lace curtains, Gabby's mother, Dotty, set the table with white bowls. Jacob and Aubrey, her older brother and sister, placed silverware beside the bowls. With the kitchen window slightly open, the aroma of beef stew wafted across the yard and Grandpa Daniels smiled. Inside the house foyer, Gabby's dad, Michael, took his father's light-brown jacket.
         “Gettin' a little nippy out, Pop?” he asked, hanging it on the hall coat rack.
         “Just a little. Aroma's wonderful, Dotty!”
         “Feed the ducks?” the father asked his daughter.
         “No, never came to our side,” and Gabby went into the kitchen to return the loaf of bread to its place by the toaster.
         Grandpa Daniels looked forward to supper. A good stew was his favorite meal on a chilly evening, and Dotty always made a good stew. Earlier that afternoon, she put sliced chunks of chuck roast, small new potatoes, wedges of yellow onions, and chopped carrots into the crock-pot seasoning it with salt, pepper, minced garlic, Worcestershire sauce, and a bay leaf on top. Four hours later, she dished the savory stew into a large red bowl and set it on the middle of the dining room table. Two trays of butter and fresh bread from the bakery accompanied the stew.
         “How bad we whip Vanderbilt?” Grandpa Daniels asked as they sat down to the dining room table.
         “We didn't,” said Michael. “Won 17-10. Peyton threw two interceptions.”
         “Pass the butter, please,” Aubrey said to her brother.
         Gabby scooped some stew into her bowl using the big silver spoon. “Mmm,” she said, after taking a bite.
         “Gabby, wait for Grace!” instructed her father.
         “Sorry. Daddy, I have a question.”
         “Dotty, please get the butter out sooner!” complained Michael, unable to spread it across his bread. He said this half-heartedly as he, too, had been guilty of the inconvenience. “What's that, sweetie?”
         “Grandpa says sea otters hold hands when they fall asleep. Is that true?”
         “Care for a beer, Pop?” Dotty asked, standing by the refrigerator.
         “No thanks, just water. Have some important paperwork to go through after dinner.”
         “Well, a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away,” answered her father, “Grandpa was a marine biologist, so I would trust what he says.”
         “He also said they talk to each other.” As Gabby dispensed this second piece of information, she looked to the corner of the ceiling with raised brow and a smirk on her face. She often used the expression when doubting what someone had said. The frozen smirk always amused them, but they only smiled and never laughed. They did not want to offend her.
         Looking at his father, Michael added, “And I would use good judgment in trusting everything he says.” Grandpa Daniels grinned.
         Dotty set the iced water down and sat at the opposite end of the table from her husband.
         Turning to his little sister, Jacob said, “They have the thickest fur of any creature on earth.”
         “How would you know?” asked Gabby.
         “Let's say grace,” interrupted their father.
         The family held hands and recited Bless Us Oh Lord.
         Jacob continued, “Mr. Myler said so last week.” Mr. Myler was their science teacher at St. Anne's.
         “Mr. Myler's correct,” said Grandpa Daniels. “Most warm-blooded creatures in the sea, like whales and seals, have blubber to insulate them from the cold. The sea otter only has fur but it is so thick, they can't feel the water.”
         “Stew's good, Mama,” said Jacob. Grandpa Daniels nodded in agreement.
         “Sally's mom uses onion soup mix in hers,” said Aubrey, steering the conversation away from
marine animals. “Have you ever made it that way?”
         “No, I haven't. Why, is it better than mine?”
         “I didn't mean it that way. It just has a different flavor.”
         “Maybe I'll try it next time,” said the mother, winking at her daughter.
         “Tomorrow night's good for me,” suggested Grandpa Daniels.
         “Is the Pacific water cold?” Gabby asked.
         “What's with all the otter and ocean talk?” said Aubrey.
         “Maybeee ya ought-en ta tink beyooond your Bobbseeey Twin boook sometime,” replied her sister, in exaggerated southern drawl.
         “Shut up, Gabby.”
         “Girls, enough!” said the mother.
         “What part of the Pacific?” asked Michael, dipping a slice of buttered bread into the stew. “It makes a difference.”
         “Off Washington,” said Gabby.
         “Ice-cold. You could maybe put a big toe in it.”
         “What if it was a hundred-degree day?” the daughter asked.
         “Maybe your foot, then,” said the father.
         “I don't think so,” Gabby stated.
         “Well, we can find out right now,“ said Grandpa Daniels.
         “How?” asked Gabby.
         “We'll fill the bathtub with ice and water and you can take a bath.”
         “No thank you.”
         “What's for desert, Mama?” said Jacob.
         “Apple pie.”

         After finishing her dessert, Gabby asked to be excused from the table. Grandpa Daniels knew where his granddaughter was going. In the dark shaded den, she removed the encyclopedia's S-Sn volume from the bookshelf alongside the fireplace and stretched out across the rug in front of the flickering flames. Crackling embers made the only sound in the room. The fire provided ample light for reading. She turned the pages: 'Scales' . . . 'Seeds' . . . 'Sea' . . . 'Sea Otters'. When Gabby read how the otters use flat stones to crack open urchins, she felt a small knot in her stomach. Reading further that they hold hands to fall asleep in a circle, the knot grew tighter. She got up off the floor, placed the encyclopedia back in its slot, and returned to the kitchen. Her mother stood at the sink cleaning dishes.
         “Where's Grandpa?”
         “I think in his study.”
         Grandpa Daniels lived on the other side of Ruby Falls but often spent weekends at their home — especially during football season. Michael and Dotty had converted the room at the bottom of the stairs into a bedroom-office for him. Although he officially retired from marine biology three years earlier, he was considered an expert in the field and various institutions regularly consulted with him. He used the office side of the room for that purpose.
         Gabby walked out of the kitchen and through the short corridor. A DO NOT DISTURB sign hung from the gold knob. She looked at the light beneath the door and returned to the kitchen.
         “Mama, Grandpa has a DO NOT DISTURB sign on his door. Can I still go in?”
         “Well, Grandpa mentioned he had some important paperwork to look at so maybe not right now. What is it, honey?”
         “He was right about the otters. They do hold hands to fall asleep and use rocks to crack open urchins. I feel bad about doubting him.”
         “I see. Well, I'm sure he would like to know that, but he'll appreciate it just as much in the morning.”
         “You think so?”
         “Know so.”
         “All right,” said Gabby. “Goodnight, Mama.” She kissed her mother's cheek and went upstairs for the night. It was a little early, but she loved reading under the bright light of her nightstand lamp. In that aspect, she was different from her brother and sister. When Aubrey occupied her room, she preferred listening to music and admiring herself in the mirror. Aubrey's deepest thought of the day usually involved which hairstyle to wear. As for Jacob, he loved to play video games or throw the football outside with his block buddies, rolling out as if he were Peyton Manning. For some reason, unknown to her parents, Gabby was the child who loved to learn. Michael and Dotty were thrilled with the consequences and always took full credit.
         While brushing her teeth and putting on her pajamas, Gabby kept wishing she had not doubted her grandfather. The lingering guilt finally dissipated when she resumed reading her latest Nancy Drew mystery. After a while though, her eyes grew tired. She turned off the lamp and fell into a deep sleep. Several hours later when she woke and looked at the nightstand, the red numbers showed 2:05. Gabby considered going downstairs to wake her Grandpa; she had done so two weeks earlier when thunder rattled the house overnight. Half way down the stairs, she saw the light from under the door and the sign still on its knob. “Must be some important paperwork,” she thought, returning to her room.
         Gabby woke again at 7:00 A.M. She quickly dressed and went downstairs to Grandpa Daniels room. The DO NOT DISTURB sign no longer hung from the knob. She opened the door and heard him lightly snoring from his bed against the far wall.
         “Time to get up, Grandpa.” He did not move. “Grandpa!” and she lightly poked him. He twitched. “Grandpa! Grandpa!” His eyes opened.
         “Good morning, Biscuit,” he said, struggling to focus.
         “Why you so tired?”
         “I stayed up too late.”
         “Where's the poem?
         “Now, slow down, we'll read it at the pond. How 'bout some pancakes and bacon before we go?”
         “I'll make the pancakes if you make the bacon,” said Gabby.
         “Sounds like a game plan to me.”
         Grandpa Daniels dressed in khaki pants and a blue checked flannel shirt. He struggled to tie his white tennis shoes, still feeling only half-awake. Before leaving the room, he wrote something on the top of a yellow sheet of paper, then folded it with similar sheets and put them in his pocket.
         “You want a Mickey pancake, Grandpa?” asked Gabby, as he entered the kitchen.
         “Sure.” He pulled down the cast iron skillet and set it on the gas burner.
         “Grandpa, you were right about otters holding hands and using rocks.”
         “Oh, so you looked at the encyclopedia.”
         “Yes. I'm sorry. I should have believed you!”
         “Well, I told you otters can talk.”
         He put four slices of bacon on the skillet, and the aroma instantly filled the room. Gabby placed a butter tray and syrup on the middle of the kitchen nook's table. The grandfather poured a few drops of half and half cream into his mug (a gift from Gabby with Grandpa's Mug inscribed on it) and then coffee from the automatic maker. He took a sip. When breakfast was prepared, they dished up their plates and sat down at the table.
         After grace, Gabby said, “Grandpa, I didn't know you were a marine biologist.”
         “I can't hide it. It's true.”
         “So that's how you know so much about otters!”
         He took a sip of coffee and said, “Sea otters are some of my favorite animals.”
         “Can I be a marine biologist?”
         “You can be anything you want, Biscuit.”
         “I can't wait to hear the poem. Oh … did you find out who wrote it?”
         “Darn it. I forgot to check.”

         Grandpa Daniels, with his coffee mug in hand, waited by the front door. Gabby was in the kitchen putting waters and granola bars in her knapsack. She had already put two books from her room in it. The knapsack always contained these items on their trips to the pond. When she approached her grandfather at the door, he said, “Forgetting something?”
         “Oh!” As she returned to the kitchen, he realized he had almost forgotten something, too. He set his coffee mug on the edge of the Bible stand, took his jacket off the coat hall rack, and slipped it on. He was now prepared for the cool morning. Gabby returned with the bread. They exited the front door and began their old, familiar walk.

Chapter 3

A Mentor and His Mentee

Strolling down the pebbled path in the crisp morning air, Gabby asked an innocent question that led to a lesson on the sad history of the sea otter. She was fortunate to have her grandfather there to answer; he was — how does one say it — a wealth of knowledge.
         “Do sea otter's have pretty fur, Grandpa?”
         “Yes, very pretty. Soft and warm, too. That's why it was the most popular fur in the world at one time.”
         “What do you mean?”
         “Well, tell me, how many hairs do you think you have on your head?”
         “I have no idea.”
         “Around a hundred thousand,” said Grandpa Daniels, answering his own question.
         “Wow, that many.”
         “Otters have a million per square inch.” He knew the fact would shock her.
         Grandpa Daniels continued, “That's what made their fur so valuable, and so men began to hunt them for their pelts. In the early 1800s, about three-hundred thousand otters lived in the Pacific. By 1900, that number had dwindled down to a couple of thousand.”
         “What? That's terrible. But now there are more?”
         “What stopped them from declining?”
         “Marine biologists warned governments the otters were about to go extinct. In 1911, countries agreed to an International Treaty protecting them and so now there are thousands more.”
         “What countries?” Gabby asked.
         “United States, United Kingdom, Russia, and Japan. It was the first international treaty to address wildlife preservation.”
         “It's probably why Odin and Yelden are here today.”
         “No doubt,” said Grandpa Daniels. “Sometimes men see something wrong and work together to make it right. That's one we made right.”

         As they approached the pond, ducks swam a short distance from the bench. On this weekend, Gabby could feed them bread. Grandpa Daniels had restricted its use to every couple of months or so, explaining white bread is really not good for the ducks — no nutritional value and it keeps them from eating the plants and algae that have the nutrition they need. On most of their visits she brought either corn or peas. Gabby walked to the edge of the pond, removing the green tie. Small parcels of bread began landing in the water and wherever they fell, a whirling dervish of white flapping feathers ensued.
         “Daisy's really hungry this morning, Grandpa.”
         She had a name for each duck though it sometimes was not the same duck. After using up half the bread, they walked over to the bench.
         “Odin the Otter time, Grandpa!” she said, sitting down.
         “Oh, yes,” and he pulled the folded yellow sheets from his pocket.
         “Where's the book, G-Pa?”
         “Well, I wrote it down so you can keep it. See,” and he showed her the top of the first sheet.

For Gabby

         “Thank you Grandpa!” she said, hugging him.
         “Ready for the Tale of the Juan de Fuca Strait?”
         “May I ask questions?”
         “You can always ask questions,” and with that he began.

Odin the Otter stretched out on the water
wrapped in his canopy kelp
when Yelden the Olden, popped up through the Golden
beseeching Odin for help —

         “Yes?” responding to her raised hand.
         “What does beseeching mean?”
         “It means begging for something.”
         “Like the way Aubrey asks me to help with her math homework?”
         “Yes, exactly. Let's see ... where were we?”

beseeching Odin for help
Odin knew Yelden, he knew him quite well
as a pup growing up in the bright, cold swell
Yelden had shown him the ways of their home
that very first autumn, he taught him the bottom
where the prawn and the sea urchin roam
in clear, cold waters off the coastal shore
with proficient paws, they caught 'em —

         “How far do otters go out into the ocean?”
         “They don't. They stay in the kelp forest along the coast.”
         Gabby, surprised by the answer, said, “If I was an otter, I would explore the ocean.”
         “So you wouldn't mind being swallowed by a great white shark?”
         Grandpa Daniels explained, “Sharks like otters for dinner but not kelp forests so much. The otters are safer in the forest.”
         “Why don't sharks like kelp forests?”
         “We're not exactly sure. It might be they're afraid of getting wrapped up in them, or maybe they can't attack the same way. Now, where were we?” He had to move things along, unsure of how the morning would go having stayed up half the night.
         “They caught 'em!” said the granddaughter.
         “Oh, yes, with proficient paws, they caught 'em.” He moved his finger along the yellow paper.

in clear, cold waters off the coastal shore
with proficient paws, they caught 'em
and while the two traversed the floor
he advised on the purpose of pouches —

         “Like a kangaroo pouch?”
         “Yes, but a sea otter has two.”
         “Why does it have two?”
         “Just listen.”

he advised on the purpose of pouches
urchins on one side, stones in the other
then back to the top and with help from the kelp
anchor yourself like a boat to a dock
and open the urchin with the cracking rock —

         Gabby said nothing about the cracking rock. She did ask though, “If otters use rocks, doesn't that make them really smart?”
         “Yes. In fact, Odin's especially smart.”

Odin learned fast and in no time at all
he became the equal of Yelden
so one winter day, the sky gloomy and gray
Yelden looked north and decided
Odin could lead the otters in these waters
and protect the kelp beneath them
the mentor would move on, having confided
faith in his mentee and so did bequeath him —

         “What's a mentee?”
         “A mentor is a teacher, and the mentee is his pupil.” The grandfather's answers were always clear and concise and always helped Gabby to understand. She asked what bequeath meant. To pass something on. He continued.

faith in his mentee and so did bequeath him
a forest the length of a Kansan plain
and in order for it to remain
he left Odin these commands:

“Grow your population; keep it strong
for the urchins will try to multiply
and infiltrate your bottom sands,
and devour the holdfasts that feed the kelp —”

         “Sorry to keep interrupting,” Gabby said, halfway raising her hand.
         “Quite all right.”
         “What's a holdfast?”
         “It's where the kelp attaches to the ocean floor, like roots. And how high can it grow in a day?”
         “Two feet.”
         “As long as it has?”
         “See how this poem is making you smarter.”
         His granddaughter smiled.

“and devour the holdfasts that feed the kelp
and in no time at all, without enough help
the entire forest will come undone.
And the ocean floor that formed her shape,
that launched her columns toward the sun,
will be nothing more than a desertscape.
And for all the creatures who rely on the kelp,
depend on her food and shelter for help
from the sunflower star to the great blue heron
all will be changed by the urchin barren —”

         “Urchin what?”
         “Urchin barren. When too many urchins are around, they destroy the kelp and the sea floor becomes barren, like an underwater desert. Since those spiky little critters cause it, we call it an urchin barren. Make sense?”
         “So that's why it's important the otters eat urchins.”
         “Exactly,” said Grandpa Daniels, who had waited for her to discover the answer instead of giving it earlier. From experience he understood — when done this way — a person has a better chance to retain the knowledge. “Think about it,” he continued, “if we don't acknowledge how nature interacts with itself, there can be drastic costs. Not enough sea otters and urchins devour kelp forests. If countries had not signed that agreement in 1911, we would have fewer kelp forests today. Losing a kelp forest means losing a part of our air. And think how all the marine animals who rely on it for food and shelter would be affected.”
         Again, he asked his granddaughter if it made sense. Gabby did not respond, but smiled proudly having learned something very important about nature.
         “Now, where were we?” said Grandpa Daniels, but at that moment a commotion came from behind and they turned around. Aubrey was hurrying down the trail hollering, “Jacob fell from a tree and hurt himself!” The two bolted off the bench. Aubrey had tears in her eyes, and Grandpa Daniels told her everything would be fine.
         “Is he going to the hospital?” he asked, as they hurried along the path.
         “I think I heard Mama say Dr. Galen is coming over.”
         When they entered the living room, Dr. Galen sat in a chair beside Jacob who lay face up on the couch. The young boy was awake, but very woozy. The doctor asked Dotty for another warm towel. “Hello Dr. Galen,” said Gabby, kneeling down beside his chair. Dr. Galen nodded his head. “Hey, brother.” She was going to offer advice against falling out of trees but had never seen his face so pale, and held off. Jacob responded faintly, “Hey, Scout.” Sister took hold of brother's hand.
         Grandpa Daniels and Dr. Galen had never met before. “Clarence Daniels,” said the grandfather, extending his right hand towards Dr. Galen. “John Galen, pleased to meet you,” and he shook Clarence's hand.
         Dotty walked in with the towel, and Dr. Galen laid it across Jacob's forehead.
         “So no hospital?” said Michael.
         “No,” said Dr. Galen, laying the stethoscope back in his black case. “He's had a mild concussion, but he'll be fine. No activity though the rest of today and tomorrow.”
         Jacob looked up at his mother. The next day was a school holiday and she said, “I know that's not how you want to spend your day off, but at least you won't miss any school.” Jacob continued to look at his mother as if she was the only person in the room who knew what was best.
         Grandpa Daniels walked into the kitchen to get a glass of water. He noticed Aubrey through the window pacing back and forth across the porch. When he returned to the living room, he asked, “Anyone know exactly what happened?”
         Michael answered, “Sounds like Aubrey challenged him into doing something,” and then looking at Jacob, “but that didn't mean you had to do it, Son.”
         “Michael!” Dotty said, “I don't think we need to go over this right now. Jacob needs rest.” Dr. Galen agreed.

         Everyone stayed inside the rest of the afternoon and that evening. The family always handled trauma in this manner. During a light dinner of tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches, Michael and Dotty asked Clarence to stay over since the next day was a school holiday. After the meal — Jacob had a little soup with saltine crackers and a Seven Up — the family played charades in the living room. The match was extremely close with Gabby, Aubrey and Dotty defeating Michael and Grandpa Daniels by one point. It came down to Aubrey correctly guessing a movie title on their last attempt. When Dotty read the little piece of white paper, she made her usual face that indicated it would be impossible. Then she held up four fingers, tilted her head back, and placed the back of her hand to her forehead in dramatic fashion. Aubrey hollered out Gone With The Wind and the ladies had won. Jacob watched.

Chapter 4

When Chaos Turned The Tale

The following morning, after another breakfast of Mickey pancakes and bacon, Gabby and Grandpa Daniels returned to their bench by the pond. The glass-like surface reflected wisps of white cloud. “Look at Dudley,” Gabby giggled, “he's swimming on a cloud.”
         The grandfather said, “Let's see, where did we leave off?” He would often ask her a question knowing the answer; this time he did not.
         “The urchin barren, where Yelden warns Odin about the urchins taking over. Ugh, I hate those spiky critters!”
         “Now, Gabby, we are all God's creatures.”
         “Ugh,” she repeated and shrugged.
         “To refresh our memory, let me repeat what Yelden said to Odin,” and so he began.

he left Odin these commands:
“Grow your population; keep it strong
for the urchins will try to multiply
and infiltrate your bottom sands,
and devour the holdfasts that feed the kelp,
and in no time at all, without enough help,
the entire forest will come undone.
And the ocean floor that formed her shape,
that launched her columns toward the sun,
will be nothing more than a desertscape.
And for all the creatures who rely on the kelp,
depend on her food and shelter for help
from the sunflower star to the great blue heron
all will be changed by the urchin barren.”

“Oh Captain! My Captain! with great care I'll lead.”
and saluting his friend, completely agreed
and did not refrain in their days that remained
to thank the Olden for the knowledge he gained

so one winter day, the sky gloomy and gray
Yelden the Olden swam to the north
and taking a right round Washington State
entered into the Juan de Fuca Strait
where with the experience of age,
the wisdom of a sage,
he soon led the otters in its cold, cold waters
and continued to lead for many a year
until as they say, until one day ...

Odin the Otter stretched out on the water
wrapped in his canopy kelp
when Yelden the Olden popped up through the Golden
beseeching Odin for help —

         “Hey, Grandpa, that's how it started!”
         “Yes, but now we find out what Yelden needs.”

and even though Yelden had once been his mentor
he trembled before him like a leaf in winter
for he had traveled in haste, with no time to waste
and dire news to deliver
even Odin, after learning the truth
began to shiver
“I can't believe what I'm hearing!”
“It's true,” said Yelden, “my forest is disappearing!”
“But have you no otters in your northern waters?”
“Yes, we have some; well, a few; not enough to do.”
“How many is a few, how many is not enough to do?”
“Not enough,” said Yelden, “not enough at all.
Maybe twenty, maybe thirty
and everywhere the purple urchins crawl!”
“Then go we must,” stated Odin,
“to the Strait we must go!
And as we move north, our numbers will grow
until we number a hundred or so — ”

         “Grandpa, do otters always rhyme?”
         “Oh, yes, my child, yes they do. Not once in a blue moon, or while singing a tune, but almost all the time. It's true.”
         “Then read until you are through.”
         Grandpa Daniels smiled at his granddaughter and continued.

so our dear friend Odin with his good wife, Miah,
their son, Jedidiah,
and the daughter of the otter, Jambaliah,
they departed for the Juan de Fuca Strait
when five otter friends agreed to join in
their group numbered ten —

         “I'm glad my name's not Jambaliah!”
         “Why's that?”
         “It's too long.”
         “May I continue?” said Clarence, pretending to be somewhat agitated.
         “Grandpa, you said I could ask questions.”
         “That wasn't a question.”
         “If my name was Jambaliah, would it be too long?” Silence. He continued.

like an undersea ride, they cut through the water
moving up and down, otter after otter
with Yelden out front and Odin beside him
using their feet like rudders to guide them
and after traveling five miles or so
Odin peered up through the sunlit waters
and there in a circle, saw the raft of otters
so he swam to the top along with the Olden
and after surfacing atop their Golden
Odin spoke up and several woke up
and the otters learned of their dire strait
of the help that they needed; how it could not wait
there were thirty in all
and, indeed, all agreed, the kelp must survive
but only half heeded the call
so they numbered twenty-five

now all sorts enlisted to make life anew
Wally was wisest and he made sure you knew
they were young and old, big and small
some were short; some were tall
Joey, the youngest, was shyest of all
but Jed took him in and the pup felt safe then

         “Jed seems like a very nice sea otter.”
         “Yes, he is. That's how Odin and Miah raised him. Jambaliah, too.”

now five more times along the route
it happened this way, that is to say
a large raft of otters floating about
then Odin and the Olden up through the Golden
asking for help to revive the kelp
and when their asking was over and done
they numbered a hundred and one —

         “Odin was right, Grandpa. They became a hundred.”
         “I told you he was smart!”

to swim more freely and take faster flight
Yelden suggested a new path for all
they would move out beyond the forest wall
and with no dodging left, no dodging right,
the columns of kelp around them,
the hundred otters who followed his lead
found a new speed that did astound them

for many a mile, migration went well
as well as migration can go
then everything changed, utterly changed
in seconds, chaos turned the tale

         Gabby shifted toward her grandfather to listen more intently.

Odin noticed first
the burst of bluefin tuna that day
the hapless herring hurrying away
then nothing at all in the eerie light
until drifting toward them, not one great white
but two, and Odin knew, they all needed help
so he hollered out, “Quick, back to the kelp!”
the frightened sea otters began to flee
and reaching the forest, turned to see
everyone home, except Joey —

         Gabby quickly interrupted, “Grandpa, nothing happens to Joey ... right … he makes it back, too?”
         The grandfather paused, but had to continue.

he swam with fury but the great white closed in
for their difference in speed was day and night
and as a hundred otters cheered on the pup
the great white shark scooped Joey up
and drifted off into the eerie light

         Gabby's eyes instantly teared up and she began to hit her grandfather on his shoulder while stuttering, “Why did that have to happen to Joey! Why did that happen to Joey!”
         “Now, Biscuit, we can't always control how nature ....”
         He did not complete his sentence. She had already stood and was stomping along the path for home.
         “Gabby,“ Grandpa Daniels shouted, but she neither turned or stopped walking.

         His granddaughter had so many wonderful traits, but a few, one being stubbornness, that could be challenging. If Gabby felt right about something — even though it might be wrong — she could turn stubborn as a mule. Grandpa Daniels knew he had lost her. He shifted back around and gazed at the pond, helpless as a lost child.

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