I had a busy day planned. A dental appointment was scheduled out of town, then I had to be back home for a session with a client in the early afternoon. And I had to hit the supermarket on the way.
I left the house a half-hour later than planned, which meant that my grocery run was going to be very pinched.
I was just getting on the highway, when I noticed a small furry patch, a critter dead in the road. I drove on past it, as many cars did before me. But a sense of dread started to rise, as it dawned on me that our resident otter den was very near this stretch of road.
It didn’t look big enough to be full size—did someone hit a baby otter?! I have loved this otter family for decades, and look for them every time I go to the beach. I often leave them a few offerings from my stash of nuts and raisins. My heart sank in horror as I envisioned this precious creature lying in the road all day, getting squashed over and over again by traffic.
Someone should at least give the little guy a proper burial! Someone should……
I felt incredibly guilty that I couldn’t do it myself–after all, I had a dental appointment to get to, and I was already running very late! Yet, the further I drove away, the louder my body kept screaming,
Turn the car around! TURN THE CAR AROUND!!!!
My hands seemed to have a mind of their own, as I jerked the wheel hard left, for a U-turn. The damn groceries could wait! My heart pounding, I slowly retraced the curves of the road, scanning again for that flash of brown. I saw something up ahead, so I pulled off at the nearest turnout, then ran the rest of the way down the road to pick him up. His supple body drooped in my hands, with no stiffness at all–he had obviously been hit only recently. Cars kept whizzing by, craning their necks at the crazy lady in the handsome-brim hat and long purple skirt, running down the road with hands outstretched.
No one even slowed down.
I realized I’d better get off the highway, or I might end up as roadkill myself. As I crashed my way through the scrub to the beachside park where the otters make their home, the brambles tore at my skirt and scratched my face. I was dressed for town, not backcountry adventures. I stumbled over the unnatural roadside grade, my cradling hands unavailable for balance. My hat tumbled to the earth. By this time, tears were streaming down my face. The noise of the traffic covered up the sounds of my weeping, wailing my apologies to the otter mothers,
I’m sorry, I’M SO SORRY!
Finally, I stumbled out onto the forest trail and wandered back and forth, looking for a good place to dig a grave. I kept sensing a Madrona tree call to me, with an ample patch of leaf litter at her base, seemingly volunteering to watch over her deceased Lutra friend. I laid the beautiful otter down and admired him through watery eyes. Touched his supple paws and tiny fingernails, stroked his soft brown hair, told him how pretty he is. I prayed for his furry kin in the beyond to come escort him into the mystery. I covered him with leaves, and glistened the ground with fat tears, like diamonds on the duff.
I looked around, memorizing this patch of ground, vowing to visit again with offerings to mark the grave. I made sure to bury him deep in the leaves, so that the many dogs who walk the trail on sunny spring days like these would not dig him up.
When I got back to my car, the battery was dead–in my grief, I’d absentmindedly left the headlights on. The emergency flashers were on, as I stood on the side of the road next to my car, and sighed.
No one even slowed down.
My husband happened to be driving by, on his way back from an errand in our truck. Within a few minutes, we had the jumper cables hooked up and my car was running again. I didn’t get my groceries, but I arrived at the dentist right on time.
I did return later that evening to the burial site, with rose petals and feathers to adorn the grave, with quartz and jasper to place as headstones. As the sun shone down on us, and the birds gathered in the trees above, a chant found my lips, over and over again, for the Otter Clan, my kin:
Fly down, fly down deep, deep down fly……Swim down, swim down deep, deep down swim.