The Name of the Lake

 

Look to a gentle moraine, weirdly verdant in the moonlight, cradling the black calm of a lake with no name.

From where you sit up the slope, the lake looms in the dark like a river — a half-mile wide and winding into the distance — stretching to the west and out of sight. The basin of the moraine cradles the water like a mother cradling her child’s head, arms extending away down the slope. You sit with many others in a semi-circle clearing cut into the fringe of a stand of Ash. The trees and the slope rise up behind you forming a primitive amphitheater. A bonfire backlights a head-dressed figure dancing as if underwater. His hands cup and sweep through the air as if to catch the crackling sparks that burst from the fire as he whirls past. He cups his hands to his lips as if drinking the fire, an oblation. He is your chieftain. He dances to honor the Lake. He cups his hands together and raises them to his mouth. He throws back his head and shouts in fire-flicker ecstasy. In dancing shadows, you see flames pour from his cupped hands and down his throat.

You repeat the gesture. Hands cupped together and tipped to the lips. Head thrown back. Palms extended to the night sky. Throat rattling with shouts. Your shouts mixing with the shouts of others. Shouts finding an intrinsic rhythm. Voices and bodies swaying in the dancing firelight.

The dancing becomes faster and the affirmations grow louder until it sounds like music and there’s no time for reflection. No time to endlessly analyze the thing. No time to sift the incremental bits of it through the sieve of history. It’s just the *now,* the happening at-the-moment kind of thing when – in an instant — a log explodes in a cloud of shrieking splinters and sparks. You duck in reflex. In the next instant, you hear echoes booming away over the lake until it’s quiet enough to hear your own heartbeat.

The bonfire is in disarray. Its logs, some of them still on fire, lay scattered in the clearing, their light fading. You look around at everyone looking around with the same incredulous look on their faces. One begins to laugh thinking it was a joke, then another laughs and another. Others begin to cheer thinking it was part of the ceremony until you scream, pointing at the mangled figure outlined in glowing coals on the ground where the fire used to be. Everyone gathers around the fallen chieftain, kicking the glowing embers aside and stamping out the smaller burning pieces.

A wedge, about an eighth of an entire log, was embedded in the left side of his head. The skull was deformed significantly in the area. His left eye bulged wildly. Below the elbow, his right arm was sheared into a stumpy mash like twisted clay.

And the Lake spoke, “I have heard and my waters have beheld the evil and beauty that People weave into the world. My waters have long mourned the Peace that faded when People came. My waters, who have tasted the purity of the rains and the richness of the lands that drain into me. My waters, who have followed the wind on its tortured assaults against my rocky shores. My waters, who have been and always will be.”

The Lake paused a beat. “I have seen your peoples. I have heard your cries. You are not removed from me. The dance of the Feathered One pleased me. I am the Lake. What was his name?

You whisper, “Seneca.”

“And so!” the Lake roars with a voice of many waters, “I’ll shall take the name Seneca so that his Honor will live in my waters.”

And the People rejoiced.

It was only much later that anyone wondered if the Lake hadn’t had something to do with the exploding log. It was much later still before the image would fade in anyone’s mind of the Chief in the shattered firelight, his temple stove-in, his arm hanging limp, shredded and missing below the elbow.

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