Wednesday, 2 November 2011


I'm trailing along the river, thinking, this is a good otter place, where's my dog? what was that Jenny said to me.. I hope she's ok in her wellies today.. when I see it. Swimming directly across the river toward the bank upon which I'm now standing, AN OTTER! Face right out of the water, going fast, a wake of ripples spreading behind.. my heart flips, and I drop down, still as moss. Then it dives, its back forming an extravagant hump in the water, curving in a graceful arc which melts into the surface. All the colours of the river, that wet fur, smooth as water and disappearing, always disappearing. Then it's gone, down into the murk, and I slip nearer. My feet sink into mud, I peer, crane my neck, scanning the water; not a thing. No bubbles, no trail.. It must have gone into an underwater holt. I can see it resurfacing beneath the bank in my mind's eye, then entering the holt, circling to find a dry spot, beginning to preen its spiky pelt.. The bank here is covered in dark, in thick roots and rafts of leaves and debris; I've no hope of seeing it again. It is doing what otters do, invisible now, perhaps watching me from somewhere, listening for my departure, eyes, ears and nostrils lying on the perfect meniscus of the water.. Otters have an almost supernatural talent when it comes to vanishing. Like Ted Hughes said, they move 'by melting.' But then, a whistle from the opposite bank. Not a whistle, but a staccato, plaintive 'peep' ... 'peep'. The sound is urgent, it goes into my head and right through my heart.. it says 'cubs'. They're not hard to spot, their ripples confusing the water's glassy surface as they circle, luring my eyes, searching for their mother, who is hiding, and unable to tell them to come.. I see one cub, but can hear others calling. I creep closer but they vanish into the water, dissolving with the watery swirls of the inexpert swimmer. Their voices mingle, and a kingfisher startles away, adding its voice to the blend. The bird's note is about the same key, but rings out for longer, its words twine around one another, as if it can throw its voice a little further. My eyes are full of river, my senses alive.. The otters' ripples continue, but now I can't see them through the trees. I can never come here without sensing their presence, but each time it happens it is a surprise, this fleeting glimpse into wildness, into this other world, the liminal place between where I am, and where I would wish to be, only ever unveiled briefly.

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