Totemic

There is the world, and the warp and weave left to denote time’s passage. Boughs bend and gnarl, mountains erode and crumble, oceans recede and leave deserts behind. Such it is with all things. 

This land was a lush place when our ancestors settled it, a realm of verdant forests and gushing rivers full of fat, industrious beavers and sleek mirthful otters. We were a people of crafts and skills: woodcarvers, fur trappers, weavers, hunters, and fishermen, who traded our wares to the communities outside our lands, and the travelers passing through. 

From the beavers we learned to build dams, so as to shape the flow of the water to our needs. From the bears and deer we learned to forage in the forests. From the otters we learned to fish, and more importantly, we learned the value of games. Of all the animals, they were the dearest to us; only with great ceremonies of respect were they killed, and only for the highest price were their pelts sold to the outside folk. 

I will not say that our people lived in “harmony” with the land, for that is a fallacy. Spend even a fraction of time observing the natural world and you will see it for what it is: a thing of desperate, sudden brutality. There is nothing harmonious about it. No, what nature has, what we established, was an equilibrium. We took only what we needed, wasting as little as we could. And through the harshness of winter, or the ravages of disease, the land took back from us in turn. 

The only constancy of equilibrium is change. It is like a lake, swelling or receding with each rain storm or dry season, changing shape with each drop falling or each mouthful drank. So it was with our land. Perhaps it was our efforts, perhaps the industrious beavers were too industrious at their craft; none among us can say. In time our rivers ceased to flow regularly, ponds and lakes forming in their stead. As the waters receded, so too did the forests, leaving twisted sentinels behind on those dried banks like bones after a hunt. 

While the beavers live happily amongst their dammed lakes, our otters vanished, following the flowing waters to where they might continue to fish and frolic. Only the oldest among us remembers them now, and we are few indeed. 

Some years ago one of us, a woodcarver by trade, sought opportunities outside of our lands. Before he departed, took awl and chisel to work upon the gnarled roots of a great tree that was once fed by our mightiest tributary. Into the warp and weave of the gnarls he carved an otter at play, left to remind us of what has passed on, and as entreaty that the rivers will flow again one day, bringing them back to us. 

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