Monday, July 24, 2006

Fury and the Rivermen

If otters give each other names, they are surely unpronounceable on the lips of Man. Who knows what name the other otters had for the big gray one with black fur across its eyes--but the Rivermen called it Fury, and crossed themselves as they did.

(Mercy, that's a good opening!!! It makes me all tingly to know that I'm the one who wrote it.)

For a time in America, the West held all the promises, and the stagnant East, in all its dreary pomp, might as well have been old England.

Land for your own? The West promised that. Freedom to self-rule? Yes, it promised that too. But The West promised other things as well--things of a more savage sort. It brought men close to things with claws. Peril was what was for breakfast and mistakes became eternal.

Crossing rivers for instance.

Crossing rivers was a big deal if you wanted to settle in the American West. Every spring the creeks would swell, trickles into torrents, and it fell to a few brave Rivermen to tame the savage shores. But some of the savage shores did not want to be tamed and they fought back savagely. And then one day an otter was born and Fury was its name.

From the journal of a Riverman - Late Spring, 1837:

"We were supposed to cross four times today--three loads with families and one load with grain. But then that goddamn otter came back, the big gray one with black fur across its eyes. It chewed right through the traverse lines and when Petey tried to refasten them, it blinded Petey with two fast claw swipes and then tore out his spine.

These good people have paid their fare and so we're duty-bound to ferry them across. Boss says at first light I have to go out and refasten the traverse lines. But I'm so afraid. I'm so afraid that when I lean over, that goddamn otter is going to blind me with two fast swipes and then tear out my spine. Goddamn that otter. Goddamn that furious, furious otter."

* * *

Okay, so to summarize: People head west, hungry for opportunity, any opportunity. But some of them discover that to get there, they must cross a river. And every time they try, a furious otter blinds them and tears out their spine.

From the journal of another Riverman, not the same one whose entry we just read - Late Spring, 1837:

"Not good. Not good!!! They're saying it's my turn to go out and try to refasten the traverse lines. Well piss on that, I can see the trend. First that furious otter blinds Petey and tears out his spine and then poor Jeb goes out and the same damn thing happens to him. Well I can read the writing on the riverbank walls--it says an otter stalks these savage shores and Fury is its name. Yeah, so to hell with Boss, he can go out and refasten the traverse lines himself and get blinded by that goddamn otter and lose his own damn spine. Me, I’m staying right- Wait, what was that? Guys, did you hear something?"

* * *

And then nothing. No more journal entries after that. And that section of land was never settled; it remains empty to this day. You can go there if you don't believe me. It's somewhere in South Dakota between a river and the world. But don't look too hard or you just may find more blood than you bargained for, because an otter stalks those savage shores and Fury is its name.

(Yes, yes--I know the second Riverman wrote stuff in his journal at the end that he actually meant to say out loud, but he was a simple man, very frightened, and he got a bit confused.)

(There's a remote chance that that otter was actually a raccoon that swam really, really well.)


At 11:22 AM, Blogger OldHorsetailSnake said...

No, wasn't no raccoon. Raccoons go for the lungs. Coulda been a hampster, though.

I'm not surprised the place is not teeming with people. That's because there is nobody in South Dakota, at all.

At 12:42 PM, Blogger Ghost Dog said...

"If he was dying, he wouldn't bother to carve 'Arrgh', he'd just say it!"

Great stuff, LF. BTW, I went past a road in my travels this weekend called "Latigo Rd." Didn't get the camera in time, and the missus didn't understand why we should turn around to take a picture of a road sign. *sigh*

At 2:01 PM, Blogger Ari said...

Maybe Fury was an otcoon -- a hellish hybrid of otter and raccoon.

Evil knows no species differentiation when it sets its sights on propagation.

At 12:18 AM, Blogger Sam, Problem-Child-Bride said...

Raccoons are the Zorros of the mid-sized mammalian world. There's nothing they wouldn't do for the favours of a comely otter wench. They are wild, rootless epees-for-hire and woe betide any seeker of manifest destiny who gets between a raccoon and the object of his/her verb. (There's something very camp about a raccoon's eye-mask, or am i just a wrong-headed type housewife?

At 12:28 AM, Blogger Sam, Problem-Child-Bride said...

For Outer Hebridonians, the West was a source of mystery, promise and inclement weather. In Scotland, weather, and hence uncertainty comes from the West. "Ooh, Murdo! Is it the promise of a brand new life or is it just an Atlantic squall?" are words a traveller in the isles might often here.

Stagnant and full of dreary pomp might describe an erstwhile Britain, but in colonial days we had not only peril for breakfast but also a pot of Earl Grey and some certain death for tiffin.

At 1:35 AM, Blogger Helga von porno said...

disconcertingly false, and I just don't believe in savage otters. Neither savage nor true (how sweet is the freedom of the pen). Still I am gullible enough to pack my backs and head for South Dakota to bag me some unsettled land

At 1:51 AM, Blogger Latigo Flint said...

Okay Old Hoss, there's just no way Fury was a Hamster. Nonsense is what that is! Senile babble-droolings...
Shit. "Fury was a Hamster" has a spectacular ring to it. No doubt. And now I'm your humble servant again.

Yes Ghost Dog my old friend, but perhaps he was dictating... ever think of that?
(And Misuses never understand me, and we can't ever get back all the road signs we pass.)

Thanks a lot Ari, now I'm going to need the nightlite again tonight. Otcoons... brrrrrgh!

Oh lord yes Sam, you problem child bride you, all of that, all of that is true. And also that they like to blind you with two swift claw swipes and then tear out your spine.

(For a moment there I thought you said "Tintin", and it made the comment truly, profoundly depressing.)

And now you've rather severely offended me Helga Von Porno. And it is an emotional brutalization from which our love may never recover. And quite tragic really because it was a love that was writ savagely among the savage stars. All the otters thought so anyway... But I guess the otters were wrong.


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