Early in our married days, when Denise was still looking for work using her biology degree, she became an Earth Explorer.

It was a part-time job, in the summer, leading a science camp for kids with our teacher friend Terry. They got lessons, did activities, went on field trips.

So many field trips. It was great for Denise, who was relatively new to the state. While teaching the kids about all the local ecosystems, she also got to learn about all the ecosystems. And to visit them.

And then take me to visit them.This was before Off Center Ceramics, so we still had weekends free. I think she took me to every place they'd covered in a field trip that summer, with the possible exception of the Oregon Coast, which we already visited regularly. Cougar Hot Springs. Leaburg Fish Hatchery. An old-growth Douglas Fir grove in the Cascades. And the High Desert Museum, in Bend.

I don't remember much of what was in the museum. Photos from logging days, I suppose. Displays on the geography and natural history of central Oregon, I'd guess. What I remember most clearly was outdoors, on the grounds, where the animals were. There were volunteers on site from the Cascades Raptor Rehabilitation Center, with birds. I got to sketch and watercolor a Swainson's Hawk and a Barn Owl from life.

I didn't get to sketch the otters from life. They simply moved too fast.

They had a small colony of river otters in an enclosed area. Included was a water feature--creek, pond, I don't remember. What I do remember is that they'd made themselves a slide down the embankment into the water, slicked it up with mud, and were taking turns skidding down it, belly-flopping into the water, then racing back up to the top to do it again. All the while bumping and jostling for priority in line like a playground full of kindergartners who know the bell will be ringing in five minutes and are trying to pack the maximum of fun into the last few available seconds. I don't know if I've ever seen anything that beats them for sheer playfulness.

I paint my river otter, perched on a log overlooking a creek, on dinner, dessert and pie plates, tall mugs, baking dishes and whatever else they might slide onto.