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Otterly Fabulous

Whenever I walk or take a run with my eldest son along a nature reserve near Neyland Marina in Pembrokeshire, we have to stop to listen to any little rustles.

"It's an otter" he says, his eyes bright with hope. It has always been a duck so far, although the information board at the side of the path does say that they can be seen there - at break of day rather than later in the morning with a steady stream of runners, cyclists and dog walkers about.

We thought we might be in luck when staying at an airbnb in Dorset last summer - with a stream running through the bottom of the garden.

"Otters often play here at dusk" said the caretaker, "But please don't put anything about it on social media - we don't want crowds of people scaring them away."

We crept through overgrown and slightly soggy grass at twilight each night - but never saw a whisker. The only otters we've seen are in zoos where otters were playing with a toy car dropped by a small visitor (and quickly retrieved by a member of staff) and an otter sanctuary in Cornwall. Maybe one day we'll see one in the wild. Inspired by unseen otters while in Wales, I made a linocut a year or so ago ( version above), planning to make a lampshade - I also made another I pressed into clay to make a vase, the otter design running around and meeting in a circle.

I love this poem (below) by Seamus Heaney about otters - especially the line 'the light of Tuscan wavered/And swung through the pool' and the double meaning of 'smashing crawl'. I wish that 'smashing' was an adjective used more these days, eg. 'You look really smashing in those corderoy flares, Penelope' or 'We had a really smashing time at the crazy golf'. Although I suppose at crazy golf you could literally have a smashing time if you had a mind bent on vandalism.

The Otter

When you plunged The light of Tuscany wavered And swung through the pool From top to bottom.

I loved your wet head and smashing crawl, Your fine swimmer’s back and shoulders Surfacing and surfacing again This year and

every year since. I sat dry-throated on the warm stones. You were beyond me. The mellowed clarities, the grape-deep air Thinned and disappointed. Thank God for the slow loadening, When I hold you now We are close and deep As the atmosphere on water. My two hands are plumbed water. You are my palpable, lithe Otter of memory In the pool of the moment, Turning to swim on your back, Each silent, thigh-shaking kick Re-tilting the light,

Heaving the cool at your neck. And suddenly you’re out, Back again, intent as ever, Heavy and frisky in your freshened pelt, Printing the stones.

Seamus Heaney #IrishWriters

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