It is a myth universally acknowledged that otters evolved into the beguiling carnivores we know today. However, fresh evidence from a message found on a dead World War II carrier pigeon recovered from a chimney suggests this theory is incorrect.
Professor Sel R. Arch-Niwrad who worked at Bletchley Park was a historian and Classicist who spent much of his time decoding ancient fragments of parchments and sending these transcripts to his research assistant via carrier pigeons.
One day he came across a fragment which had been preserved within an ash tree near a river bank. This revealed the true and shocking story of the origin of otters.
In a mysterious Other Country there was a naiad called Nama (a water nymph). A favourite daughter of the river god. She liked to watch the dryads and especially the Meliai (and a rare male dryad called Meli). This was forbidden by the river God who had forbidden all in his kingdom to talk or meet with the dryads.
‘Tree and leaf mixing with spring and bubble always brings trouble,’ he liked to say. The queen of the dryads also laid down as taboo any contact for her dryads with the water people. This was in the days the dryads had been banned from drinking and having parties after 11 o’clock at night.
One day Meli was hurrying along the river-bank, a shortcut home, when he heard a faint voice crying out. ‘Help! Help!’ He saw Nemi, the water nymph caught by her hair among the roots of an overhanging tree. Despite the foreboding in his heart he knelt down to gently untangle her hair, and as he looked in her eyes he was lost. And as she looked in his eyes she was found.
For a brief summer, like the flowering of grass, their love blossomed. Lost and found in their love they did not see jealous spies among the dryads and naiads watching. One day the spies went to the river god and to the queen of the trees to betray the star-crossed pair.
Caught in one last kiss they were caught up in words of change spoken by the dryad queen and the river god.
Nemi became an otter with sharp teeth swimming as only naiads swim. Meli became an Ash tree by the river side. Even today otters will make their homes beneath the roots of Ash trees, thus proving this story true.
The jealous ones? They did not escape. The jealous dryad became a hound that could smell the scent of otters as it rested on the water. The jealous naiad became a spore on the wind, sent into exile for a thousand years…
Why was the otter made a carnivore with such sharp teeth? Were anyone brave enough to kiss an otter the curse would be broken. Some have tried and lost fingers. Why is the otter so elusive and hard to see? So that it could not be caught…
If you were to kiss an otter…you would lose some fingers.
‘The wild otter I saw would no doubt be out of the water and making tracks to its own musky holt, to curl belly upward, in a home of roots, peat and rocks. I imagine him enfolded in his fur, dreaming of water; a tight sleep-knot, enjoying the deep sleep of one who exists totally in the moment.’ ( Miriam Darlington, Otter Country, pp.40-41)
‘Up and down the banks are the complex root systems of ash trees, which otters particularly love to use as holts as they provide hidden shelter and easy access to water.’ (Otter Country, p.175)
As I read these words I imagined the roots of the ash tree making a coracle, floating the otter to sleep in its hidden shelter. So I drew this as a coracle sleep-knot.
The ash tree root
for the otter
of the wild
not going meek and mild.
I’ve been re-reading Miriam Darlington’s luminous book Otter Country: in search of the wild otter, published by Granta Books.
I noticed two phrases I hadn’t noticed first time:
‘Ash trees are most popular with otters because their roots from a complicated system of shelter below ground, and re often right by or even overhanging the water, so that the otter can slip subtly in and out.’ p.77
‘Up and down the banks are the complex root systems of ash trees, which otters particularly love to use as holts as they provide hidden shelter and easy access to the water.’ p. 175
I have been entranced by the otter following Miriam Darlington’s description of them, where it as if she has become the otter. I have been left wondering if the otter is at increased risk and threatened by the Ash tree crisis? They live together, the ash tree and the otter.
Does anyone know?