The mallard scurried off the trail as I approached. Her mate, frantic to avoid their separation for even an instant, leapt into the air, flapping his wings madly to rejoin her on the other side. In his haste he narrowly missed me hurtling through the dark. Even in groups you can see the pairs, drifting along the shallows, amiably wandering among the reeds. If the female ambles across the path or separates herself from her mate during my approach, the male will take desperate action in order to close that distance before I am between them, impeding his view of her. Even though the explosion of wings always makes my heart skitter wildly for a moment, it still makes me smile as I ride away. I want to believe these feats are romantic gestures. As I cruise along the sterling river in the early dawn light, the sky turns brilliant shades of orange, yellow, and pink. A lanky heron stands on the bank, still as death, hunting for breakfast. Their eerie stillness always alerts me to their presence; a gentle nudge of consciousness, the same intuition that tells you when someone is looking at you in a room. I wonder how accurate my theory of awareness is; how many of them have I passed without even knowing how close they were? Gray phantoms, piercing eyes, and a self-possession that says I do not concern them. Something is moving ahead and I squint into the orange dawn trying to make it out; large, rotund with brown fur, milling along the grass. Drawing closer, an enormous gnarled branch comes into view being tugged towards the river by a very determined beaver. The beavers have been busy. In the last week there are three new trees down along the riverbank. Their cut trunks look like hourglasses. I swerve around her project and she barely even takes notice of my intrusion. Without hesitation she keeps heaving the branch one pull at a time towards the water. I look back at her over my shoulder and grin at her brazen perseverance. After all, this is her domain and I am just passing through. The trees are a blur of green and brown racing by. Ahead a large bird flying overhead lands clumsily in a tree on the other side of the river and somehow I know it is watching me. Immediately stiffening slightly and sitting back on my seat to squint up at it, my thoughts race. This is owl behavior and that is a prime ambush position. I slow without meaning to as I uneasily fix my gaze on the bird I approach. Nearing the tree, I suddenly realize with relief and elation that it is not an owl lying in wait ready to dive, but a bald eagle. He eyes me with indifference. I am not his prey. Or perhaps he is not hunting but instead simply enjoying the sunrise from an advantageous perch. It must be magnificent from so high above. I believe birds do this. I have seen Canadian geese on this trail watching the sun set on the horizon. In Utah, I witnessed ravens sitting on a high precipice taking in the magnificence of canyon lands. I flew by the eagle’s post, throwing him a reverent nod and salute as I pass. My breath comes in frozen clouds and the cold air makes my hands ache but the river sparkles with sunlight and the sky is a sea of brilliant color. In my head I refer to this as ‘my river’. I know every bend, every blade of grass, every tree, but as I follow its curving path to the horizon and see its surface disappear into the distance, I realize I don’t know where it begins. I do not know where this water has been or come from and just as I slip into a daydream of mountain glaciers, a curious head breaks the glassy surface and a familiar creature peers at me questioningly. I live to see otters. They are filled with a delightful and reckless curiosity and mischief that I identify with. I hastily come to a stop and watch as another head emerges to see what the fuss is about before both disappear. I follow the sleek ripples in the water to the opposite river bank and let out a cry of surprise. Six otters bask in the rising sun, joyfully rolling in the muddy grass. One tires of the sunbathing and pounces on a nearby comrade. They roll in the grass, a continuous blur of brown fur and flailing tails until falling off the river bank and into the water. I laugh out loud, drawing the attention of a passing cyclist who stops to see if I am ok. I point to the otters and he joins me in observing their play. He tells me he didn’t know there were otters in the river and is shocked when I tell him there are beavers too. We watch our playful companions for a few more minutes before glancing upward. The miles lay out ahead of me and the sun is rising higher in the sky, a reminder that this is not where I am supposed to be at this time. Clipping into my pedals and thinking of the miles I have left to go, I take off once more. A few heads pop out of the water to watch me leave, swimming alongside for a few moments as if they had been watching me too.