Apologies to Sam


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.



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