A splashing description of sheer untrammelled liquid joy in the second otter Gavin Maxwell claimed from the wild. This turned out to be a new species that was named after him (‘Maxwell’s Otter).
As Maxwell’s Ring of Bright Water and Henry Williamson’s superb Tarka testify, otters play with anybody who’ll join in, including birds and humans and discarded bits of rubbish. Of the two books, Tarka is the more powerful and is based on observations of otters in the wild, not on domesticating them – see our quote-packed appreciation of this slim classic.
While I love the detailed accounts of these glorious creatures and their exuberant, playful behaviour, I can’t go along with the notion of Maxwell’s having been a ‘conservationist’. He was a loner for whom in some ways otters were easier company than humans, who took them from their natural habitats to become pets, despite the fact this seems to have led to the premature death of several of them.
… took him on a lead to the bathroom, where for half an hour he went wild with joy in the water, plunging and rolling in it, shooting up and down the length of the bath underwater, and making enough slosh and splash for a hippo. This, I was to learn, is a characteristic of otters; every drop of water must be, so to speak, extended and spread about the place; a bowl must be at once overturned, or, if it will not be overturned, be sat in and sploshed in until it overflows. Water must be kept on the move and made to do things; when static it is as wasted and provoking as a buried talent.
Source: Gavin Maxwell, Ring of Bright Water (London: Penguin, 1974), p. 86
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