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post #1 of Old 01-05-2001 Thread Starter
Sharon Cuthbert
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A Stranger in the River

"Is that a friend or foe?" wondered Cedric.
One morning as Cedric and Sylvia were gathering clams for their breakfast, Cedric noticed the tentacle of an octopus searching in the same area. He quickly nudged Sylvia and swam to the surface as fast as his sleek body could carry him. "Did you see that?" he asked breathlessly.

"Did I see what?" she asked.

"Iíve heard about them," he responded. "But Iíve never seen one before."

"Never seen what?" Sylvia asked impatiently.

"Well, I didnít see the whole thing, but I think I saw one arm of an octopus!" Cedric told her excitedly.

"Oh, Cedric," Sylvia replied. "That was probably Ophelia. Octopuses have lived here all the time. You just havenít noticed them because theyíre shy and because they can change color to blend in with the background wherever they are."

"You mean those spooky things live right here where we do?" Cedric questioned. "Itís hard for me to believe that Iíve been living with monsters and didnít even know it."

Sylvia laughed. "Octopuses are no more monsters than we are," she said. "They wonít hurt us. Ophelia is really very nice."

"But theyíre so ugly," said Cedric. "Otters are cute and lovable. I canít imagine anything loving an octopus."

"Iím sure they love each other," Sylvia said calmly. "Talk to Ophelia. She just may be able to answer your questions about her and others like her."

"I donít know if I could be brave enough to talk to her, but I guess youíre right," Cedric replied. "Strange, isnít it, about creatures? We all love our own kind."

"Thatís right, Cedric," said Sylvia. "Thatís how it is."

"Do you think itís safe to go hunting again?" Cedric asked.

"It was always safe," Sylvia replied. "Are you still hungry?"

"Just one more clam," Cedric announced, launching himself back into the water.

A few mornings later Cedric, Sylvia, and a group of their friends were playing joyfully. Cedric got out of the water when he needed time to catch his breath and Sylvia followed. "Did you notice that there are lots more fish in the water this morning?" Cedric asked as Sylvia pushed herself out of the water and settled beside him on the ocean.

"Yes, there did seem to be more than usual. There must be something out in the ocean that has frightened them."

Cedric and Sylvia know that schooling fish can indicate a larger hungry fish nearby.
"I knew fish got frightened when they were out of water, but thatís all. What could frighten fish enough to make them leave their home waters?" asked Cedric.

"We have sharks in this area on occasion," Sylvia replied. "They are always frightening."

"Sharks?" gasped Cedric. "Iíve heard about them. They eat everything."

"Thatís the only thing I know of that we have in common with sharks. We are both carnivorousóthat means that we both eat meat," Sylvia said.

"Tell me what else you know about sharks," Cedric requested.

"Well, they really are very interesting," Sylvia replied. "Sharks have been on earth for millions of years. There were sharks and dinosaurs on earth at the same time." Sylvia paused, letting Cedric think about that.

After a few minutes Cedric said, "Thatís amazing! What else do you know about sharks?"

"I know that they have fusiform bodies," Sylvia continued. "That means that they are pointed on both ends. Their snouts are pointed and their tails are pointed. This makes their bodies able to swim very fast."

"Thatís how they can catch and eat anything they choose," Cedric declared.

"Youíre right, Cedric," replied Sylvia. "However, remember we have learned there are usually many reasons for things being the way they are. Sharks vary in size. Some are only eight to 10 inches and others may get up to 45 feet. The main reason they hunt and eat so much is that they are always hungry."

"You say Iím always hungry," Cedric replied.

Sometimes it's difficult to understand creatures who are so different from us.

"It seems that way sometimes," Sylvia said. "Sharks are always hungry because they have to keep swimming in order to breathe."

"What about when they sleep?" asked Cedric.

"They donít sleep," Sylvia replied. "They have to keep swimming so they can breathe. Iím sure they swim more slowly sometimes so they can rest, but they must always keep swimming."

"I donít understand how they can do that," said Cedric.

"I know," said Sylvia. "It is difficult to understand creatures who are so different from us."

"I just hope they donít come here," Cedric said fearfully.

"They seldom do," Sylvia replied. "However, we must remain alert, just in case."

"Thatís a great thing to tell me," moaned Cedric. "Iíll never be able to relax again."

"Oh, weíll be alright," said Sylvia. "We just have to stay alert when we know that strangers may be in our waters. Oh, another thing I know about sharks is that they are most hungry at night."

"Thatís a great relief," sighed Cedric. "At least we will be able to sleep well tonight, all safely tucked into our dens."

The next morning as they enjoyed the last bits of breakfast, Cedric remarked, " I see that we still have lots of fish in our waters."

"Youíre right, Cedric," Sylvia replied. "Oh, by the way, did you ever get up the courage to talk to Ophelia?"

"Ophelia?" Cedric questioned. "Sheís so quiet and shy that I had almost forgotten about her. But, yes, I did approach her the other day. I asked her if she was the only octopus in our area and she told me that she was. She said octopuses were territorial. She told me that means that each octopus likes to have its own space. Theyíre loners and donít live in groups like we otters and the ducks and the fish do."

"See? I told you she was nice," said Sylvia. "Iím glad you didnít find her too ugly to talk to."

"Ugly? Did I say she was ugly?" asked Cedric.

"You sure did," Sylvia responded.

"Well, I was mistaken," said Cedric. "She is different, but wouldnít life be dull if we all looked the same?"

"It sure would," said Sylvia. "Was that all she told you? Iím told that octopuses are among the most intelligent of all animals."

"I donít know about intelligent," said Cedric. "But she did tell me how their color can change so they can blend in with any background. She also told me that she could become a bright red attacking beast, if she felt threatened. I know thatís pretty hard to believe, but I donít think she is exaggerating."

"Neither do I," Sylvia responded. "Iíve never seen such a thing, but I donít doubt her for a minute. Iím happy you learned so much from Ophelia. You even learned things that are new to me."

What a dull place it would be if all creatures were the same. 

"Most important of all," said Cedric, "Ophelia taught me that we can all live comfortably and that sheís not something to be afraid of."

"Iím grateful for that," Sylvia replied. "If we have a shark in the area, thatís enough for us to fear."

They both slipped quietly back into the water, but only swam directly to their dens for a nap before lunchtime.

Later in the day, after dinner, a group of otters were playing their usual games and having a wonderful time. Suddenly a large group of fish swam quickly by and the otters looked to see what was chasing them. There in the water, approaching very quickly was a shark, its dark body going from left to right, making S-shaped ripples in the water. The otters had never seen such a thing before and stared, unable to move. As the shark approached the group, trying to choose which one would be a good supper, Ophelia, having turned a flame-colored red, surged through the water from bottom to top, coming so quickly between the otters and the approaching shark that they all went another direction. The otters swam rapidly to the shore and scooted out of the water as quickly as they possibly could and the shark was so surprised by Ophelia that he turned around and headed back out to sea.

Ophelia zooms in to save the day.

"Oh, my goodness!" gasped Sylvia. After a few minutes, when all was calm again she said, "We all truly do need to thank Ophelia for saving us from that shark."

"Iíll see if I can find her," said Cedric and he slipped into the water. He returned in a few minutes and said, "I found her," he said. "She was back in her usual place, sound asleep. I didnít want to bother her, so our thanks will just have to wait for another time."

"Thatís just like Ophelia," Sylvia remarked. "She can handle excitement, but she really prefers her quiet solitude. That means..."

"I know," Cedric interrupted. " She likes to be alone."

"Thatís right," Sylvia responded. "Letís get some sleep too. Perhaps tomorrow will be a more peaceful day."

"I sure do hope so," said Cedric. "Iíll see you for breakfast. Goodnight."

"Goodnight, Cedric," said Sylvia.

Sylvia and Cedric quietly returned to their dens for a peaceful night while the night creatures began to go about their routine activities.

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