Nature Notes

Volume VII No. 3 - September, 1934

The Lake
By Ernest G. Moll, Ranger-Naturalist

We sit on the rim looking at the lake that lies a thousand feet below us. The morning is clear and windless with a touch of autumn in the air. Blue the lake lies, blue and calm as a great morning-glory fresh with the dews of night. And above it the walls rise, towering in places to a height of two thousand feet above the water, the western areas bathed in strong sunlight, the eastern cliffs veiled in mystery-making shadows. The great stone breast of Llao takes the morning: opposite, Cloudcap looms gloomily. On the tip of Wizard Island the sunlight glows, and at its base the waters sparkle as they break.

For awhile we sit without thought, the mind making no inquiry, only our senses and emotions awake and active. Trite as the phrase may be, this experience comes to us like a draught of wine "cooled a long age in the deep-delved earth." At first we know only the taste, the smooth matchless flavor, the sweet that has in it little glinting edges of sharpness. Then little by little we think of the rain and sunshine from whence this vintage came, and the slopes of the hills with the green vines on them, and blue skies and summer and the voices of harvesters. So it is as we stand above this lake. After the first impressions of color and form, silence and far cool shadows - after, shall we call it, this feast of the senses - there float up into the mind questions that will not be still till we have made them welcome and satisfied them with thought. For man - and it is not the least of his attributes - would know as well as see and feel. What, then, does it all mean, this "silent sea", these majestic cliffs, this ceaseless play of light and shadow?

In fancy we call to our side a young brave of the Klamaths, bronze and lithe as a creature of the forest, brought back to us from the dust that is the past. He glances down the crater walls to the quiet water, then turns his back to the lake and stands, arms folded across his chest gazing steadfastly out through the clustered hemlocks, out and on to the wide valley that lies beyond the mountains. Why does he bend his eyes away, why turn his back on this which holds our vision captive?

Llao, he is thinking of, and Skell; the one mighty and evil, the other mighty and good. Through his mind troop in pageant the legends of his folk, the wonderful old story of the Indian maiden and the great god Llao who loved her and desired to carry her to his home in the burning mountain, down to his kingdom of darkness and fire. He is thinking of Skell, the god of things above ground, who loved the maiden also, and of how Llao, his passion thwarted, rushed back in anger to his burning mountain, and Skell, his love disappointed likewise, went away quietly with peace in his heart and kindness on his lips. He is living again the long war of the gods that followed, when Llao in his rage hurled up the yellow water-smoke and the flaming stones that killed many men in the valley and filled the villages with wailing. He is thinking of the four wise-men who went softly and bravely into the horrible regions of Llao, giving themselves as sacrifices that peace might come, went with their torches growing dimmer as they night closed about them, went and never returned. And in time Skell killed Llao, and Snaith put out with his rain and snow the last fires of the evil one, and peace settled over the broken walls of the mountain.

So dreams our brave, his back to the lake, his face to the valley, and in his dream we later sons of earth find more than simple legend. This vision is truth as seen by the imagination, an explanation, in fact, of the destruction of Mount Mazama and the creation of the lake within its hollow and shattered walls. And it is more than that. In the story of the strife between Llao and Skell we have the old problem of good and evil, of love and hatred, of gentleness and anger. The good, it is worth observing, triumphs, but in that triumph there is no rejoicing. Our brave stands in solemn silence, for the thing on which he has just looked is a tragic thing. Llao, with all his faults, was mighty and magnificent, and the ruins of the mountain that was his throne are majestic ruins.

And now, still searching for meaning, still weighing the questions that have risen in our minds, we call to our side a man of our own generation, a scientist. His words are not those of the Klamath brave, yet the story which unfolds is not unlike the earlier one. He, too, tells of water-smoke and burning rocks, and we of ourselves can call up a vision of men in the valleys turning their faces away from the horror among the hills. The strife he pictures is less human, less personal, but clearly in the forces of creation and destruction, forever locked in war, we can read the Indian's concept of good and evil eternally in conflict. The scientist too pictures for us a noble mountain and from his words and from the ruins at our feet we piece together again the tragic story of its destruction.

The Klamath brave is gone, the words of the scientist grow faint in our ears. Before us lies the lake, calm in the vast shadow of time that glooms over it, majestic beyond the highest dream of man, mysterious, beautiful with life, terrible with death. And its meaning? That no man shall ever voice completely - only a few broken phrases of it:

Time shuts the old earth-giants all away
In cool far dungeons where his years lie deep,
But rarely does he grant, as here, to play
Smiles that light with loveliness their sleep.

A Rebellious Nuthatch
By Craig Thomas, Ranger-Naturalist

I had watched a number of interesting birds on Wizard Island and they all seemed to be behaving themselves as they should, when a nasal "yenk, yenk-yenk" reached me as I went along the trail. When I first saw him, he was perched on the tip of a dead limb. That in itself was nothing to get excited about. Nuthatches have a habit of sitting in positions and on places that Nuthatches shouldn't, but this one went the whole family one better. Suddenly on his absurd little wings he fluttered valiantly out into the air-lane of insect aviators that swept down a current of wind between the trees. He did a couple of somersaults, almost flew on his back, his tiny wings beating frantically, and then returned to his lookout station looking very pleased with himself.

Now, if he had done that once, and then gone on about his business, I should have thought nothing about it. But he left his perch to repeat the performance a number of times. An Olive-sided Flycatcher nearby, looked, I thought, aghast at such a performance, which obviously was the sole property and copyright of the Flycatchers. Finally, as so many of us do, this little fellow got all his wild oats out of his system and hurried efficiently about his neglected business as though it had never entered his head to rebel at the customs of his people or to break the conventions handed down by his tribe.

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