THE SILVER OTTER
Sliver Otter by Orion Photography
When a friend passed on a traditional teaching story -- The Silver Otter -- I immediately wrote to storyteller Valerie Callahan asking for permission to publish it, mentioning Black Elk's famous statement that "a vision means nothing unless it is shared with the people." She wrote back quickly saying, "I agree both with Black Elk as well as with the prophets who observe that 'a people without a vision soon perish.' I believe the story must have wings to both share its legacy and capture the voices of others who have not yet heard it." INDEED! Could any words be more perfect for VisionShare? So here is the story with a prayer that you, the reader, will continue to give it wings.
As a young girl, my grandfather told me many stories he thought would help explain the world to me. Often long, always colorful, all of his stories – or so he said – included the “signature” phrases of each of the storytellers who had handed down these tales through the generations before him. In this way, the story itself was a kind of family or village history that continuously honored and shaped the wisdom of the past -- so that the village might better embrace the challenges of the future. One of these tales is the story of the Silver Otter. (V.C. - December, 2009)
The Legend of the Silver Otter And the Time of the Great Disruption
Storyteller -- Valerie Callahan
In a far away place and a far off time, there was once a very special silver otter whose great athletic skills far surpassed any of his fellow woodland creatures.
The silver otter lived near a bend in the river, where the waters rushed downward to the lake below.
This was a place of balance and harmony with resources enough for the many different animals who lived there.
And then, with very little warning to those who had ignored the signs...
The time of the GREAT DISRUPTION!
Life’s rhythms changed. Nothing could be as it had been before.
In a great seizing, the land itself cried out in pain…
And the animals heard the land of their birth cry out to them: “Go from me for I am now the prisoner of chaos!”
The animals were frightened…
How would they get to the safer ground below?
The surging ice, the tumultuous wind, the raging waters…was there safe harbor?
So powerful were the forces of the Great Disruption not even the raven could fly above them.
And so the animals, panicked and separate in their fear, suffered and often perished as they tried to find their way to calmer waters and the lives they had once known.
As his fellow animals struggled, Silver Otter summoned all his strength and unusual skills … and he found a route in, under, and above the raging river to the safer lake below.
“Follow me … over here… I will show you the way!” he said. “Come… go with the forces… like so… up here… under there… across beyond… between those rocks… come, come, there is no time to waste!”
But the animals turned away from Silver Otter, still focused on their own fear… and still fearful for their very survival.
“I will hide here,” said the deer. “I cannot run any farther. Do as you will, Silver Otter, but I must rest now.”
“Silver Otter does not speak to me,” said the Eagle.
“He has nothing I can use,” said the Raven.
“What is he saying? I cannot hear him” called the Beaver.
“It is too late for me…the water is too high” whispered the big cat.
“Why don’t you listen?” shouted Silver Otter. “I can save you! Do as I say or you will surely die. You have no choice. And there is no time to lose!”
But as the Great Disruption claimed more and more of the earth, no one heeded Silver Otter’s call.
Silver Otter was distraught. Deploring the senseless waste around him, he called out to his Great Spirit for help.
And so the Grey Wolf appeared to Silver Otter at the magical moment when the dark of night slowly melts into the hope of morning.
Silver Otter trembled before the Grey Wolf, but was so very thankful Grey Wolf had come.
“I do not understand it,” said Silver Otter. “The animals, they ignore me. They chase their own tails, they rush to their deaths, they freeze in their tracks, they work against each other. Yet, they will not listen to me.“
“Yes,” was the Wolf’s terse reply.
“Well, what is wrong with them? Why can’t they see that I can save them?”
“Because you cannot.”
“But I alone can swim across the great divide. I can take them with me.“
“No,” said the Wolf. “You cannot.”
Silver Otter grew quiet. “I have bridged the gap a hundred times since the Great Disruption began. I know that I can do this.”
“Yes, you are gifted in strength and spirit. And you know the ways of the water,” said the Grey Wolf. “You are not entirely fooled by the chaos which the Great Disruption brings to the land and river. All this is true.”
“But …,” said Grey Wolf, “Neither have you reclaimed the secret that the Great Disruption has stolen away from each of you.”
“The secret?” asked the Silver Otter. “What is the secret? Please tell me quickly so that I may save the animals!”
Grey Wolf growled deep but softly.
“It is not you who will save the animals or calm the Great Disruption that now feeds on the frenzy of fear around us.”
“Is it you, then Grey Wolf, who will do this?” asked the unusually dismayed Silver Otter.
“The morning comes quickly now,” answered Grey Wolf. “I have little time. You must listen carefully.”
And so, Grey Wolf began to explain as best he could. “The Great Disruption can rob us of our free will. We longer choose.”
“The Great Disruption makes the world a random and unpredictable place,” he continued.
“The animals retreat further and further into a darkened space of scarcity and fear…there are far fewer possibilities in this space… fooled by shifting shadows of what used to be, the animals cannot see their real strengths,” said Grey Wolf. “They rely on what they call common sense, when what they need is uncommon wisdom.”
“Common sense is not enough?” asked Silver Otter
“Common sense only works when things are predictable,” answered Grey Wolf. “Uncommon wisdom knows how to harness the forces around us when common sense is confused…Uncommon wisdom weakens the randomness of life. It builds on the mastery of knowing how and when things work as they do.”
Grey Wolf then added, “When we know this, we are not forced to simply endure and accept. We can shape some changes.”
“But we have to move quickly…” said Silver Otter.
“Yes,” Grey Wolf answered. “But not without direction…Work together. Uncommon wisdom is always shared. It is greater than any of you, but comes from all of you… Find the real choices, the real abundance…”
“Abundance?” protested Silver Otter. “The Great Disruption has taken care of that!”
“The Great Disruption has stolen much,” replied Grey Wolf. “But has also revealed other resources you have overlooked. Find them!”
“But,” insisted Silver Otter, “I know I can help get the animals to safer ground, if they would only listen. All the rest of this can happen later.”
“These things must happen first, or you will not succeed,” Grey Wolf answered firmly.
“No one listens to you because they do not trust you. And why should they? Trust is the greatest gift of all. You must first show them you are worthy…”
Grey Wolf looked up at the breaking dawn. “I must go now,” he said. “And you, Silver Otter, have much work to do.”
Silver Otter heard the thunder in the distance and the terrible rushing of the waters above. But he also saw the beauty of the dawn and vowed to act on Grey Wolf’s counsel… or as much of it as he understood.
Making his way through the perilous passage to the higher ground, Silver Otter was surprised to see the spotted coyote on a ledge beneath the waterfall.
The Spotted Coyote had traveled a great way down the steep cliffs with his family, and Silver Otter wondered how he had done this.
The spotted coyotes were not well-known to the other animals. Few had ever talked with them and many thought they wished only to stay among themselves.
“We, too, can jump great distances, Silver Otter,” said the strange coyote. “We can ford the roiling water when we work together. But only up to this point. We do not swim well and cannot go farther. We are not safe here for long.”
“If the beavers were here,” the spotted coyote continued, “they could change the path of the water over there so we might all pass on the other side, don’t you think? But the beavers cannot come down this far.”
Silver Otter now knew what he must do. “Come back with me to talk with Eagle and the others! I understand now…There is a way to do this together. And I would not have thought of it had I not talked to you!”
So Silver Otter gathered the animals. They were amazed Spotted Coyote had come along with him. If Spotted Coyote would join with Silver Otter, they could at least listen to what he had to say.
Eagle listened as Silver Otter told of Spotted Coyote’s plan to dam the river by the ledge and clear the passage to the lake below. But most of the animals could not get to the ledge, and many would not survive there if they could.
“If you can help me down below the wind’s fury, I can fly swift and strong. And so can Raven and the Owl,” said Eagle.
“But even if you get me to the ledge,” said the Beaver, “it is much too dangerous to build a dam. I will fall into the savage waters!”
“If they carry you to the ledge,” said Eagle, “I can hold you under the wind and above the water while you work.”
The animals talked for a while. And then…they began to work together… to take control.
Some animals gathered resources.
Some moved the resources to where they were needed.
Some built new things with the resources.
Some built things that had not been built before to help them travel down to the ledge. They taught others how to do this as well.
Some helped others in ways they had not thought of before.
In all of this, Silver Otter moved swiftly back and forth between the higher ground, the swirling waters, the ledge, and the lake below… helping to coordinate and connect the animals to each other and to their destination.
He learned much from them. And, he helped to share what he had learned among them as well. Together, they found a powerful rhythm to challenge the Great Disruption.
And, in the end, they found their way to the quieter lake shore below.
Silver Otter had never felt so much joy before. As he talked one night at the village feast with Beaver, Eagle, Fox, and Deer, he noticed something wonderful…
Silver Otter, who had always felt so different and so isolated from all the other woodland animals, now felt he belonged to something greater.
And when he looked closely, he noticed he had turned brown. Humbler, happier, he gladly shed most of his silver fur to better harmonize with his woodland home.
The story's lineage through Valerie's grandfather is to the Wabenaki Federation, specifically the Maritime Abenaki. She notes that,"the story was transcribed -- as best as it could be remembered -- from a very early childhood memory and that it has become a symbol of commitment and positive strategic change for an organization called Greater Lynn Senior Services - GLSS in Lynn, MA. Within the GLSS arena, both Grey Wolf and Silver Otter became strong female characters, which makes great sense for us and which adds to the fun of the signature chain." For more information you may contact Valerie at firstname.lastname@example.org.