I love otters. The flippers. Their noses. The soft, dense fur. The speed and elegance with which they move through the water despite their cuddly appearance.
And so, when we dropped anchor and floated near Sitka, I convinced Mom to de-boat, as she called it, on a tender and we boarded a smaller watercraft for a pricey fee but with a guarantee that we'd see wildlife. An otter, whale or bear or we each would get $100.
And so we set off on the Sea Otter Express. Settling inside the heated cabin, we arranged ourselves with binoculars and cameras and sighed over the beauty - the shades of blue, the multitude of islands, the forest.
I smiled every time someone would gasp over a sighting - the fin of a whale or flight of an eagle or jumping of a random fish. I soon grew antsy, impatient with the barrier between the animals and my camera, and zipped my sweatshirt and climbed up the narrow steps to perch on the open deck.
There was a certain sort of wonder up there. Of whimsy. Of peace. Breathing in the air that was the perfect cool-not-cold. Feeling the wind tangle my hair as I sighed and searched the horizon for bumps on the water.
When we frowned our disappointment, he smiled and promised we'd find something alive to photograph. And we did, slowing to follow an orca as she swept across the water near the surface, emerging so we could admire her white markings that just barely broke the surface.
We watched people fish for salmon in a sheltered cove. I pondered the jellyfish - the giant gelatinous masses floating below the surface - and wrinkled my nose at them. I focused my attention on the orange starfish that rested just below the surface.
"They're very tough creatures," our guide noted. "Sometimes under water. Sometimes above. Sometimes hot in the sun. Often frozen from the cold. Subjected to salt in the ocean and fresh water from rain. They just adapt."
So I admired that resilience until we sped away in search of the treasure - the otters I'd so wanted to see.
So we did. And they didn't.
Utterly (otterly!) charmed, I took upwards of 40 pictures that are all a bit blurry. You have to want to see the otters to truly appreciate these photos. But they napped as they floated, occasionally one would grow curious and pop up to look at us. Finding us acceptable, they would return to their supine position, tucking furry chin to sleek chest and resting once again.
"It's a humpback," the guide cried a bit later and we paused in open ocean in hopes of watching it dive.
And that's when I grew queasy. The bobbing motion of the boat at odds with the gentle sway of the cruise ship to which I'd adjusted. I blinked rapidly. Focused on the horizon. Sipped some peppermint tea while sitting back inside with my 'having a lovely time/not sick at all!' mother.
But as we lingered and rode the waves up and down and up and down, I swallowed against the nausea. And when the kindly tour people offered salmon for a snack, I had to escape to the aft deck again.
"Salmon?" the guide asked as I stood there, clinging to the railing and trying to think of the otters who'd made me so happy such a short time before.
"I will throw it up all over this boat," I replied and he looked closer and told me I was a bit green. Patting the hand that clung to the railing, he promised it would pass and departed. Leaving me to give myself hiccups in an attempt not to vomit.
"I was fine," Mom offered happily when she helped me up the ramp on the dock as my head was still swimming. "I had a great time!"
I made a noise in response, found a soda and found that I rapidly felt better once the world stabilized around me.
A sea star, I am not.
But I do have otter pictures. And because I want to see that they're otters, I do. So now you can too.