One of the lovely, yet slightly unnerving things about writing obsessively about otters is that people pretty soon start sending you little-known factoids about otters and otter-related subjects. For example, did you know that my great, great, great grandmother by marriage came from Ottery St Mary in Devon? Of course you didn’t.
Anyhoo, today’s prompt was an interesting one about imagining place, so I decided to write an imagined Ottery, using as my template one of the most famous poems by the town’s most famous son, Samuel Taylor Coleridge. (Read the original Kubla Khan here)
(The Tumbling Weir is a real thing).
In Ottery did otter-kind
A wat’ry romping-ground decree
Where through a cunning aperture
Slid the silver’d river pure
Down through the Tumbling Weir.
So culverted and dug about
The river wound both in and out
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills
Where spawned many a succulent-tasting frog
And here were fish untouched by heron’s bills
Plumply fall’n in paws of bitch and dog.
But oh! those muddy chutes that slanted
Down the green banks athwart the tender willows!
A joyous place! as playful and enchanted
As e’er beneath the Hydra’s stars was vaulted
By otter leaping in a dwindling oxbow!
And down these mudchutes, with ceaseless squeals of pleasure
As if their merriment could last forever
The otter brethren happily did slide
Amid whose swift free-spirited glide
The plashy mud did bounce like blessed rain
And all who slid cried out ‘again! again!’
And waiting at the bottom, cool as ever
Ran the deep and sacred Otter River.
Five miles meandering with mazy motion
Through wood and dale the sacred river ran
Diverted from the settlements of man
By otters navigating to the ocean.
Hark, ‘cross the waters that they float upon!
Ancestral otters prophesying fun!
There was no shadow in the land of play
Cavorting on the midway of the flow,
All that could be heard by night or day
Were the otters paddling to and fro.
It was a miracle of harmony,
A place where creatures lived so cheerfully!
An otter with a mandolin
I saw once in a waking dream
It was an Amazonian
And on its mandolin it strummed
Singing of distant Andes.
Could I revive within me
Its simplicity and song,
To such a deep delight ’twould win me,
That by digging deep and long,
I would build that romping-place
Those water-slides! That Tumbling Weir!
And all who came should be of cheer,
And all should cry, hooray! hear! hear!
This splashing lark, these waters clear!
Encircle him most utterly
And keep him close unto your hearts
For he has travelled off the charts
To bring us all to Otterly.