What Darth Vader has to do With a Sea Otter

In the long ago days of the late 1900s, the biologists handled otters with gloves, but wore their regular clothes and didn’t cover their faces. So, the otters liked people. When they were released, they would climb into boats or onto kayaks looking for fun or food. This became a problem when the human so invaded didn’t have food or think having an otter aboard was particularly fun.

Now, otter biologists work with rescued otters wearing a big black suit that even covers their heads. Guess what they call it. Yep, the Darth Vader suit. Now, when they release otters, the otters don’t go looking for human companionship or groceries anymore.

Another thing I just learned is that about 60% of the otter population in Elkhorn Slough, a little north of Monterey, are descendants of rescued otters. How about that!

Sea Otters in the Wild

I have been given a great idea! The research I do for novels I will share on my blog. That will keep it fresh in my mind, help me sort out what I want to use, and give you some info. you may not have had before.

The protagonist in my current work in progress, Rogue Wave, is a sea otter biologist. Hence, we learn about sea otters.

Just about everyone knows they float upside down so they can break open abalone shells with rocks and eat them. In the wild, they also like sea anemones, crabs, sea urchins, octopus, turban snails, mussels, and innkeeper worms. What I didn’t know is that a sea otter pup usually prefers the same foods his or her mother likes, and otters spend eight of every 24 hours finding and eating their food.

Besides humans, otters have only one other predator, the Great White Shark. However, humans nearly did them in before otters were protected. We wanted their gorgeous, soft fur for coats. Otter fur  has two layers, the guard hair outer soft layer and the underfur. They spend a great deal of each day grooming themselves, and flipping in the water to keep buoyant from air bubbles in their fur. One square inch of their fur has between 170,000 and 1,000,000 hairs. I know some middle aged men who would die for that much hair.

Sea otters like to live in giant kelp because they feed on sea urchins that live there, and the otters wrap up in the kelp to sleep.Sea urchins destroy kelp. Otters keep the sea urchin population down and help the whole kelp forest environment. The otters tend to feed alone, or with a pup, but they rest in groups, sometimes out on the beach.

When an otter leaves the ocean, it’s called “hauling out.” California otters do this less than Alaskan otters, and females more than males. They are fast swimmers, but a little clunky on the beach because their back feet are flippers. They might remind you of Dustin Hoffman’s flipper scene in The Graduate.

Next time, I’ll tell you about what biologists are learning from aquarium otters.



   OK, the 95 theses thing is dragging me down. Maybe next summer. I wonder if Luther got depressed over his? Nevertheless, on to other topics.
   God, Bake and I have been disussing my desire to be a hero. I keep thinking maybe I should get elected to a school board, open a ranch for troubled teens or a halfway house for some other of the downtrodden masses. I mean, after all, we all want our lives to count, right?
   So God points out as I’m talking this over with Him on the way to school, that I should consider where I’m headed. He, somewhat tongue in cheek, goes on to ask if I’ve heard my little chickadees saying they’d just as soon stay at school at the end of the day. Bake chimes in with: it’s not only those who rush toward the danger in an emergency who are heroes, it’s also those who do what is needed, in a pinch, or day after day, short lunch hour after short lunch hour.
   OK, I get it already, I’ll keep teaching for three more years, and then I’ll tutor.
   To the uninitiated, that means I will awake at 5:30 thinking about the A boys in my class who need me to stand like a rock saying, “This far, and no farther.” I will pray all the 45 minutes of the trip to school because when I don’t pray, I function badly. I will always have more to do than I have time to do it in, but I will be prepared when the bell rings, no matter what, because the chickadees need me ready. I will smile and tease them on their way into the classroom because who knows what happened before they showed up at school. I will tell the little blonde to go wash her breakfast off her face before somebody sees and teases her. I will celebrate them getting into their seats ready to learn quickly and quietly. I will dispense Bandaids and erasers. I will feel heads for fevers and supply tooth boxes, but I will not deal with loose teeth. I will invite them into a colorful room full of learning devices. I will teach them 14 math standards and more English language arts standards than that in 180 days, and hope that 80% of them hang on to all of them. I will compete with tv and video games by using puppets and white boards and motions and Powerpoint and websites and partnering and everything else on God’s green earth I can think of. I will brave 100 degree yard duties and parking lot duty in which parents call me a mf for keeping their children safe. I will go to mindless meetings led by … oops, I didn’t say that. I will reward them for any positive effort they make and tell them the same thing as many times as it takes until their light bulb gones on. I will bring teddy bears and telescopes, paintings and totem poles to school so they can learn from the real thing. I will never turn down a hug, and I will search some out. I will keep them safe in games, earthquakes or against intruders. I will teach them what it means to be responsible and the multiplication tables. And I will feel joy upon joy, because God gave me this purpose.
   To my colleagues in the classroom trenches, you are, each one, a hero. Hold tight to His love, strength, truth, grace, courage and wisdom, for with Him, you can do anything, and all things are possible. You are the wind beneath their wings.

Learning with a Note to Politicians

Learning is a multi-faceted topic.
What initially caused me to think about learning was that I am a writer, and thus a life-long learner. No one can write and not have learning tag along. There’s the research, of course, but there’s also that one of the wonderfulnesses of writing is that it can always be better. Therefore, there is always more to learn, more to practice, more to experiment with. For me, it’s magical. I love it, love it, love it. I guess I self-righteously feel sorry for people who aren’t writers.  But perhaps for many there is an aspect of never-ending learning in what they do. I hope so.
 I saw a Star Trek once where people had become nothing but brains. Now I’m not suggesting that kind of single-mindedness (did you notice my pun?). I think writers and other learners have to get up off our butts once an hour and get physical with something other than our brains and fingers. If for no other reason than to create think time while we plant gardens, go for a walk or wash those darn dishes. I suggest that writing is 90% think time and 10% writing time. I bet other occupations are like that, too. What about children?
 Consider the third graders I teach. Whether they learn or not is not completely my decision. They come to me with a myriad of experiences and learning styles. I come to them with a myriad of experiences and possibilities for how to help them understand. That’s only the beginning. Each day is a brand new experience because of what happens at home. If my husband and I are in sync and I have had a great prayer time with God, I expect better outcomes. If a child smiles when I say “Good morning” on the way in the door, I anticipate a good day. On the other hand, if the old man and I have been at loggerheads or the guy in front of me on the highway wanted to go five miles under the speed limit, or there seemed to be a closed gate on the bottom of heaven, my kids may not receive from me what they are hoping to learn. If a student refuses to smile, even when I act silly, I expect that learning may have to take a back seat to caring for the hurt under the straight lips. And we haven’t even tried to learn anything yet.
Once class starts I have to consider that one student cannot learn sitting down, and another cannot learn sitting in the back, and still another cannot learn if there’s much noise.That’s only 3 of the 32. Some are advanced, some are not at grade level, and some are hanging out somewhere in the middle.  I make sure to illustrate what my mouth says because most people do not retain the spoken word as well as the seen word or picture or diagram. I play multiplication rock because music is an effective learning tool. I do phonics with puppets so they’re eyes don’t start glazing over. We start memorizing math facts with a Tarzan yell because I’m up against TV and video games. We pretend to take the California Trail in 1867 so that they will understand the sacrifices made to give them what they have. I practice checking for understanidng with their white boards and their discussions and give them equal opportunites to respond. I open my brain so I can model thinking that they can copy.And on and on. But do they learn? Most of them learn something. Some of them learn many things. Let me add that my third graders teach me as much as I teach them. Especially in years like this one when a third of the class has what we call behavior problems.  
I hate to end on a negative note. This is definitely not all I have to say on teaching third graders, except this, if politicians think they should pay teachers based on the scores from a test that doesn’t really test learning, they will find that the good teachers, the dedicated ones, who came for the kids, will find something else to do. That will be a crime of major proportions, not by the teachers, but by the politcians. We have a set of intelligent people who have settled for lower pay for the love of educating children, and now we want to say that regardless of the situation they are in, we will only pay better wages to those who have good test scores three days out of the year on a test we have to teach the children how to understand. We ignore: parental support, living conditions, prior knowledge, language issues, the discipline required to learn, the difference in learning materials available, the convoluted way the test is written, even the difference in facilities. Not good. Politicians need to come to school.