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Eden: Now You See It, Now You Don’t

The Garden of Eden by Lucas Cranach der Ältere.

The Garden of Eden by Lucas Cranach der Ältere.

It was early morning, the time when the night, as described by Argentinean writer Jorge Luis Borges, “lingers on in the eyes of the blind.” The light from the sun was creeping west across the Atlantic, ribboning the sky in mauve and deep violet. Cloud shapes became visible and the hammock, still damp from its nighttime condensation, smelled dank and full of promise like any forest floor. I had just picked up my morning coffee and newspaper at the village store when I saw them in the children’s playground, two torpedo-shaped otters with sleek heads and muscular tails gliding and rolling over the stout-bladed St. Augustine grass, trying to mount a spring rider. They reminded me of Marlene, the otter on Nickelodeon who I was forced to watch one rainy afternoon with a grandchild who had been promised the beach. A starring role on Nickelodeon is not to suggest that otters are lightweights. The Norse Volsunga Saga, the Icelandic version of the Nibelung that celebrates death and betrayal, begins with the dwarf Otr taking the form of an otter, a serious alteration from any point of view.

Slithering and scratching over polymer sliders, neither otter scurried away at my approach. Instead, both regarded me with round-eyed, whiskered faces, then continued to romp as if they were in some ancestral Eden where the only creature to be driven out was man. I wanted to tell them to hurry back into the lake before they were seen by someone with a machete, a cement block or a nine iron – even, slightly more benign, a game warden with a hole punch, a tranquilizer and a numbered tag. You’re making a terrible mistake, I thought. This isn’t Eden anymore. Have you been under water so long you haven’t heard?

The cavorting otters seemed oblivious to me or the threat I might have posed, under some illusion that flora and fauna were still living in harmony with man, glancing at me from time to time, as if to say, come on and play, it’s fun. Sounds picked up around me, the way an orchestra bleats itself into life – pick-up trucks on AIA, a 4.9 h.p. Husqvarna edger giving a buzz cut to confederate jasmine, a plumbing truck careening around a corner, a yellow-breasted meadowlark perched on the rail of a corral. Then suddenly, as if hitched to the same warning instinct, the glossy-pelted Laurel and Hardy scurried toward the lake.

Read the entire article in the September/October 2011 issue