Ottery; on self and the other.

Fish scale in otter spraint on a fallen oak leaf between my fingers.

Otter spraint stained the smooth rock with a redness I’d not seen before. A translucent fish scale and tiny bones glowed in the shade beneath wintry stems crouching over the river’s edge. I’d been there a long while before noticing it.

My intent was not to think about treatment. Nor cancer. Nor my complicated life, in general. I just wanted to ‘fly-wheel,’ drift. Have some me-time. I didn’t even want to think.

Chemotherapy makes my skin sensitive. Finding myself alone, I braved it without a hat, the air whispering around my exposed ears. My rock-like bald head was shown to full sun and gulls cast avumbra over my vulnerability. I thought briefly of the death of poor, bald Aeschylus, by lammergeyer; hit by a tortoise dropped from talons at a great height. How sibylline for a thinker to be mistaken for a strike stone. I shuffled on my axis and continued observing the river.

So much for the fly-wheel.

On first arriving at the river, a pair of dippers had flitted to a stop on a shingle bank, and splashed beneath the ripples looking for food. Joy! I pondered what it would feel like to be a dipper submerged. Dippers exploit the physics of tiny air bubbles in protective sheens trapped around their barbuled feathers. It’s why they don’t drown, but drift back up to the surface to live and hunt again. Feathers also evolved from scales, like fish. Birds, fish, tortoises. Me. I looked at the back of my hand, and imagined bubbles shimmering there in the midday sun.

After searching for a place to sit among the flood debris, wrangled organic and human detritus, I felt distressed again. How did we ever let this happen? Eventually, I found a dry boulder to perch upon, life flows absorbing me as originally intended. This is my sanguimund; a visceral feeling of community belonging. And time lost all traction.

Me-time; so invaluable. Should we call it this? I don’t think so. It is simply living, which encompasses the passing of time and exchange within the nagorasphere. Time is not so pressing in comparison to living.

We need to think of breaths, not seconds.

(Cancer brings this kind of thought to you.)

How could we block out the possibility that, at an atomic level, merging with others might bring the biosphere into us, and us into it? More, with such coherence in a universe (or multi-universes) of unlimited complexity? There is no external environment, just as there is no definitive self. Inhale the faint breath of a dipper, absorb the odorous otter scent, feel the temperature drop when a gull casts a shadow over your bald head. They, literally, shape you.

The Scottish philosopher, David Hume, wrote that introspection does not reveal the presence of an enduring self; instead, a selection of fleeting perceptions. Our sense of self is, at best, partial. But we are reflexives among reflexives. At least Hume reintroduced the idea to Western thought of no singular self. For me, the ethos is not simply a renewed sense of a singular logos, nor a spiritual unity of mind. It is more than that ~ a constant interchanging with matter as mind/body/spirit, with other life forms at a material level (atomic, and in the nagorasphere). This exchange must be ethical to equate immanence, beauty. Everything meaningful is in the positivity of the best exchanges. All else fails, even in death. That’s why fluminism counts. It is love, at the very deepest.

I found a little fallen oak leaf and dipped it in the mustelid poo. I smelled it carefully, just to be sure. The whiff of jasmine tea made it a certainty. Otter! This was the first time I’d found signs along the lumbering River Taff through the City of Cardiff. I have observed otters playing in the River Ely just to the West, and hungrily hunting in the wilds of the Wye much further to the North. But this was just spraint. It was there; to be exchanged, melded into the symbiotic nature of nature. It brought to me another moment of self, the vision of a quick little being oscillating over the rocks at dawn. I could feel the wet on my fur, like the bubbles on my skin. She was me and I was her. Next time, she’ll sense me, perhaps, in a similar way.

Bearing witness to these wraith-like apparitions, I connected to her as I did with the dippers. Then, from somewhere other, otter spied me, took a breath and quickly melted into memory. So I put on my hat and walked home slowly, with neither introspect nor extrospect clearly defined. As it should not be! Because the experience is LIFE, immense and shared.