I love this photo. It is entitled “Ring of Bright Water” which I do not know whether it was intentional but is also the name of a book by Gavin Maxwell. This book was written in 1960 but I somehow came across it in my early teens and it made a big impression on me. Perhaps my love for squirrels had its seeds here, for the book is about the life of the author and his friendship with a particular otter, Mijbil, that he had picked up as a pet from the marshes of Iraq.
Maxwell did not know it at the time but Mijbil would turn out to be the only living specimen ever found of what is now believed to be an extinct sub-species of the Indian smooth coated otter. The sub-species was named after him, the Maxwell Otter or Lutrogale perspicillata maxwell. The book were full of amusing misadventures as the inquisitive otter found new ways to create mayhem and social disaster. On one occasion, Mijbil brought a whole train to a stop by pulling on the emergency chain.
The message was clear. Even though Mijbil had a relationship with Maxwell, in its core, it remained a wild creature that belonged to no one but itself. Perhaps I was attracted to this, recognising that having any kind of relationship with a wild creature is a privilege and a blessing. Something that I recognised in my own relationship with my little circus of squirrels.
Maxwell developed relationships with other otters too which he covered in other books including “The Rocks Remain” and “Raven Seek Thy Brother”. Today, the romping grounds of Maxwell and his otters are conserved and can be visited at the Eilean Bàn Trust and Bright Water Visitor Centre. There you will find a monument to Gavin Maxwell and a statue of another of his famous otters, Edal.
Perhaps, it may surprise you to learn this but till today, my favorite animal is the otters. They are such a joy to watch, both their play and antics as well as their underwater ballet of movement. I admit that I enjoy otters more than even squirrels but squirrels are far easier to handle. Or is the squirrels that know how to handle me? Hmmmm.