As you will have gathered, animals speak a particular language to their own kind but have a simplified inter-species understanding that does not exist in humans. When Otter spoke to her mate and said “Big Fish” it meant “something great” but one day she met her “Very Big Fish Indeed”.
It was mid morning when Otter heard the unmistakeable cry of a baby creature seeking its mother. Having had young of her own, the noise pulled at her maternal instinct so she slipped into the river to investigate, closely followed by Dog Otter. What she found astonished Otter completely. Coming upstream was the biggest fish she had ever seen and it breathed through a hole in the top of its head. A constant stream of squeaks and whistles came from it as the pointed nose broke the surface. Dog Otter went closer and came to the surface, spluttering.
“Big water! Taste around it. Bad water!” He spat and coughed.
Her kind nature overcoming her mate’s warning, Otter pushed forward and nudged the big fish’s nose, as she might with one of her own pups. He had been right. The big fish tasted harsh, like the big water by the sand where Dog Otter had gone when swept downstream in the storm when he had met the vicious gulls.
“Not home.” She told the big fish. “Mummy is at home. Go home.”
The reply was a stream of squeaks and wails which she deciphered as: “No go-where!” followed by a burst of sobbing.
“We can’t let it go upstream, it’ll ground. There is not enough water.” Dog Otter said, obviously concerned, placing himself solidly in front of the creature’s nose to stop it continuing. It had no visible ears so Otter swam close to its head and said loudly.
“Stop! Stop! No water. Danger. Help you.”
The big fish gulped, puffed water out of the top of its head and hiccuped
“Go home please.”
“Yes, yes, go home. We help. You stop.”
The pair of otters were at a loss. The distance to the sea was too far for them to swim but if that was where the big fish’s mother was, they had to try. Attracted by the squeaking, which sounded similar to his own, Buzzard swooped low and asked what the problem was. On hearing the reason, he squealed at the big fish which seemed to understand him better.
“If we turn it, can go in turns. I warn other birds, we tell otters, team game to big water.” He suggested.
“Turn, big fish.” Otter commanded.
“No. Go-where gone.” It replied.
“No sense of direction, pigeon thing, find place,” Buzzard explained. “Not know one wing from other.”
“Well it is too big for us to push. We need help. You think?”
Remembering how Granny Wytcher had organised his rescue from the big water, Dog Otter was thinking of asking her pup for assistance. This would be different. Tiny was gone. Could they trust the small dog to help?
“Wing-friend. You go find small dog and ask. See if she get female to help. She big. Strong to move the fish.” Otter, as Bard, had a certain amount of authority on the riverbank but doubted if this would work. The little dog was excitable and unreliable. As Buzzard flew off, directly to the farm which would take only moments, Otter stroked the big fish’s nose and sang soothingly to him, knowing that any mother love is better than none to a lost child.
To their amazement, a very short time later, the small dog came bounding along the lane, pursued by her owner who was still pulling on her outer fur.
“Mum come. We help. Can see big fish?”
“Not come in water. Look see.”
“No, not like in water. Oooo er!” The terrier stared in awe. She had seen sticklebacks and trout but this was the size of a human child. “Big fish? Blur normus fish!” she stated.
The woman arrived, out of breath and took in the scene. She stared very hard at Otter and for the first time Otter realised that there was a way of communicating with this one. It was pictures more than words. Think hard, she will understand.
“Big fish must turn around.” Otter formed the picture in her head of the woman helping to turn the creature. She was rewarded with a nod as the woman began to hum a little tune, speaking gentle words to the big fish, very similar to the ones Otter herself had just been doing. Small dog ran up and down the bank, shouting encouragement until the woman told her sharply to stop. Very gently she approached the big fish and ran her paws over it, calming it with her noises and thoughts.
Up to her middle in the river, the woman took the animal’s nose and guided it around, walking it forward, downstream, nudging and coaxing until it was facing the right way. She supported its chin for a moment and stepped on a few paces until the big fish got the idea. She was sending pictures of the big water, its mother and warm thoughts of re-uniting.
Otter swam up to her leg, placed one paw on it and looked up. She had never touched a human before or looked into their eyes. The woman’s mouth turned upward and her eyes nearly closed. The expression felt like being snuggled in a holt with your family, warm and peaceful.
Buzzard took off down the river, calling out warnings to all and sundry. There would be a relay of otters further down and our pair returned, paddling upstream and chatting.
“She speaks with her think.” Dog Otter observed.
“You too! What did she show you?”
“Big thank you.”
Several sun-ups later, Buzzard came to say that the gulls had sent word from the big water. The baby had got home and his mother sent deep gratitude to the river folks for their help. Two new friendships had been formed that day.