The True Alchemists Never Make a Mistake

Aug 17, 2010
“So I walk out to the middle of the bridge,” I say, “and see this shrubbery proceeding with great dignity and determination down-river.” “A shrubbery!?” Jeff shrieks. “Ni! Ni!”

by Mary Sojourner

note: It is said that the ancient magician Merlin lived his life backwards - from old age to infancy. It will avail you to read the post Saint Otter before you read this one.

I visit with friends in western Washington State. It’s been too long since we’ve seen each other. Jeff is a wild-life center care-taker for an injured eagle. Lynda is the servant of three cats. We walk in the soft near- twilight to their favorite mom ‘n’ pop Mexican restaurant. The owner’s daughter seats us; we order our favorites and start to catch each other up on our lives.. As always ninety per cent of our conversation is about animals other than our own species.

“So I walk out to the middle of the bridge,” I say, “and see this shrubbery proceeding with great dignity and determination down-river.”

“A shrubbery!?” Jeff shrieks. “Ni! Ni!” (If I wrote a Personals ad for friends, it would begin with: Must be able to quote Monty Python.)

“The shrubbery makes a roughly ten degree turn and heads for the shore,” I say. “I see a big brown head about four feet ahead of the shrubbery and realize an otter’s dragging a tree to the riverbank.”

“No way,” Jeff says. “An otter?” Lynda says. “Way no way.”

I treasure how sensitive they are, how both are amazed at this miracle of the persistence of the natural world. Then Jeff shakes his head. “Couldn’t have been an otter. Otters eat fish. No otter would cut down a tree.” Lynda nods. “It had to have been a beaver.”

“There aren’t beavers in the Deschutes at that point in the river," I say firmly. "Some guy told me so.”

Jeff grins. “Dr. Some Guy, huh? Well, if you have it on the word of an authority...”

I call Parks and Rec. when I come home from Washington State. The receptionist doesn’t have to refer me to a wildlife biologist. She knows there are beavers in the Deschutes near Farewell Bend. I call Jeff and Lynda and leave a message. “It was a beaver.” Why deny them the pleasure of counting coup?


I know I have to eat crow on this blog. Then I have a deep thought that could rescue my now shaky reputation as Nature Goddess: Imagine that an otter reached a glorious old age and died. A murder of crows descended on the free meal. Chunks of otter passed into crow gullet and became crow.


One of the crows danced and tricked its way to old age. She was playing Chase the Unseen between the lower branches of a Ponderosa and thinking about her boyfriend. Thoughts of his long shining wing feathers distracted her. She slammed into the trunk of the tree and fell to the ground. Dead. Grateful beetles reduced her body to feathers and crow-dust. Rain and snow washed the particles of crow and beetle dung into the soil to the roots of a tiny willow sprout. The sprout sucked up the nourishment and grew.


Years later a beaver waddled up on shore, snacked on the bark of the young willow, chomped at the slender tree trunk till the willow fell; then took the base of the trunk in its mouth, slid back into the river and headed down-stream.  A woman watched from a bridge. She believed she saw an otter towing a shrubbery. She was not entirely wrong. In fact, the woman saw an otter, crow, beetle, soil, rain, willow, and beaver moving downstream. She remembered that Time and Death are the True Alchemists. And the True Alchemists never make a mistake.