The Problem of Otterness: A Fable for the Restless

The lake marsh had become a peaceful, bounteous place; the animals no longer worried for their next meal or for their safety. Wolves barely came by anymore, and the deer only nibbled the tree leaves and tamped lovely paths to the water’s edge. Even the trees had conveniently died and their smooth bones reached like skyscrapers out of the placid waters, homes for the tree swallows.

You know what they say about ease and idleness.

Not surprisingly it was an otter who first became… dissatisfied. Or perhaps the word is disgruntled. Or confused. Or certain. Otter felt in herself a strange disquiet. Like a belly that, even stuffed, wasn’t filled.

Otter realized: I feel uncomfortable in my fur and in this thick, luxurious tail. In the pit of myself is a wrongness I can’t quite put my paw on, but it’s wrong to my core, it’s thwarting my happiness.

Otter wasn’t sure what the solution was, but the problem was clear: otterness. Otterness was the problem.

Otter lay down on a mossy rock and cried in the warm sunlight, free of predators. Into her haze a busy sound began to prod… slapping tails, gnawing teeth, and the papery crashing of a young tree, then the scraping of weight against old leaves as a trunk was dragged: the constant carpentry of beavers. Otter sat up with a start.

Inspiration struck.

A furry paw smacked a furry head. Otter ran around in circles of triumphant joy and nearly fell into the water. It was exquisite revelation. It was like pulling heaven down by a white wispy beard and grumbling a complaint in His face: You got me wrong. I’m so… beaverish. Otter looked at her fine grey fur and thick tail, despising the cuteness. Otter ran a tongue along the petite teeth, the useless teeth.

Surely there had been a mistake. Otter should know. Otter felt beaverish through and through, and Otter came up with a plan to make things right.

Some beavers were chewing on a particularly thick tree when Otter came by.

“I wouldn’t stand there if I were you,” warned a grey-haired beaver. But he’d been chomping and had a mouthful, so it sounded more like Ah woodna stan air wiff ahh eryoof and was punctuated by bits of wood spit from his mouth. How beautiful they looked to Otter, those huge, yellow, useful teeth. That should be me, thought Otter. But the beaver, being old, probably wouldn’t understand, so Otter did not share her thoughts.

The old beaver shook his head at Otter’s insistence on standing in the very path of a Buckeye tree that was mere bites away from plummeting.

The sharp crack of wood prompted the beavers to take cover. Otter stood with her eyes tightly closed, paws clasped, resolute. The tree came right at her, was going to fall directly on her, crush her.

Suddenly, from behind, a young beaver plowed into Otter, shoving her out of the way just as the trunk slammed into the ground like a gavel, throwing up a cloud of dirt and leaves and skittish ducks. Beaver and Otter tumbled end over end and were tangled in the smaller branches of the fallen colossal.

Beaver smiled his huge toothy smile. “Whew! That was close.”

Otter blinked.

Beaver asked, “You hit your head or something?”

Otter came to herself. “Gar! Now I have to start all over, thanks to you.”

“Huh?” asked Beaver.

“I want to be a beaver.”

“Beavers get out of the way when trees fall.”

“Duh, I wanted it to crush my tail flat like yours. Then I was going to pluck the hairs out.”

“Sounds painful.”

“Not as painful as being an otter.”

“Huh,” Beaver said. Huh was the perfect noncommittal when he didn’t know what to say. Then he added, “There’ll be other trees to fall on you, no worries.”

But Otter did have worries. Big trees were rarely felled, which meant waiting. Not like she was waiting for a pleasantry. This tree business was seriously frightening. And her other problem: what to do about her tine-like, ugly teeth that were only good for eating fish, not felling trees? Unjust and unfair were her dealt cards, and the more Otter thought about it, the madder she got.

Being mad is a potent motivator.

Otter convinced her beaver friend to chew on a mature tree. He had to enlist help, and it still took them almost three weeks to get through it. This time Beaver didn’t push Otter out of the way, and the tree crashed right on her tail. Otter screamed and flailed her arms. Her eyes bulged and her paws pushed ineffectually at the huge tree.

“Get it off!” she managed, though hyperventilating fiercely. In their haste to free Otter, the beavers dragged the trunk instead of rolling it, and ripped the tail clean off.

***

“You were lucky not to bleed out,” said her new friend the beaver.

Otter rolled her eyes. “Where’s my tail?”

Beaver looked uncomfortable.

“I know it fell off. I want it anyway.”

For a pregnant moment the only sound was Beaver’s nervous tail, thumping against the forest floor. Huh could not help him now, though he desperately wanted to try it.

“Huh?” Beaver asked.

“Where’s. My. TAIL?”

Beaver licked his huge teeth and took a deep breath. “I hung it on a tree… Hawk took it.”

Otter’s response to this piece of news could be heard well into the forest depths, stopping animals short, drawing ears to instant attention, tightening haunches like ready bows for flight. Such a fit no animal had ever before thrown.

But when no threat manifested, all went back to their business. Otter’s tirade so took the life out of her she fainted back into the leaf bed, comatose. Beaver kept vigil, certain Otter would die of despair. But inside Otter was counting the cost, deciding whether or not to give up. Otters don’t, you know.

Set within Otter was an unrecognizable creature who did not match the reflection in the water and who was now officially disfigured. Could it get any worse?

***

By and by Otter became a beaver. Otter insisted on being referred to as “Beaver,” which was very confusing, especially to the younger animals and transients.

“Hey, uh… You. Your… thing fell off,” buzzed a dragonfly, a recent migrant to the marsh who didn’t know the story and thought he was being helpful.

Otter glared and stomped away.  It fell to Beaver-who-saved-her to duct-tape the piece of tire to her stump whenever it fell off, which was often. Beaver also whittled her a new set of teeth when her old ones broke off or got soggy. All very inconvenient, this.

Even with all the beaver accoutrements, Otter’s insides still felt empty. But being a beaver took so much work, and there were the marsh meetings Otter called where she made passionate speeches about the problem of otterness, or gooseness, or duckness, or any number of other problems. Like hawks: they had to go. In all the work to be done, all the self-manicuring and re-training into beaverness, Otter was so distracted she didn’t have time to think.

But the movement caught on. At first the animals came to gawk at the cobbled creature who waved her paws around and defiantly cursed whatever powers be, who challenged the status quo. “Should we not all ask ourselves if we are what we want to be? Are you satisfied?” asked Otter-beaver. Most shook their heads, no.

“Well then do something about it,” thundered Otter-beaver, and she was quite the orator. Before long, animals were mutilating themselves left and right. Everyone had a problem. The sounds of the marsh evolved. Gone were the primitive whacks and slaps of work. No. Mostly there was talk, complaints, advice, how-to’s. Entrepreneurs and savvy thinkers took to collecting tire pieces and making wooden teeth, antlers, fake rabbit tails from milkweed strings. The marsh was a busy, busy place.

…a harried, frenzied place where not a lot of thinking went on, not a pollen-sized piece of true joy could be found. Just a trade: one dissatisfaction for another. Otterness for psuedo-beaverness and all the complications thereof. No doubt a real and tangible discomfort existed in Otter and in the other changeling animals– a yearning for wholeness or satisfaction, for more, for less, for peace. A real and tangible discomfort existed in Otter. And still does.

The end.

I have seen all the works which have been done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and striving after wind. What is crooked cannot be straightened and what is lacking cannot be counted.  Ecclesiastes 1:14, 15

Godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment.  For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. 1 Timothy 6:6,7

 

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One thought on “The Problem of Otterness: A Fable for the Restless

  1. I just read an article about showing and not telling. It said to tell is to inform. To show is to allow a reader to deduce – paint pictures in the reader’s mind. This piece nailed showing not telling. Kind of reminds me of Watership Down.

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