THE MANITOU OF POND LAKE
by Kathleen Sisco
This is one of the first stories I told. I have it on tape and listened to it before I came to the library to put in on my website. Daniel Bass was only 4 and Birdie wasn't born yet. I am sitting in my chair, one of two in the other room at the service station building in which we have lived for several years. Randy is yet to die and our dog Tango is sleeping on the floor beside us. He may even be listening for me to mention the word "walk", and Hebert is probably an sphinx on Randy's desk with his orange eyes on the birds outside the window at 8783 Frank Drive, Minocqua, WI. When we were still alive, or thought we were. In the deep northwoods, where the pines pierce the sky, where the orchestra of fluttering pople leaves is tuning up for the Winter March, lies a round lake. Like an eye in the earth, lined with lashes of dark dead stands, shadowed fullsomely with leather leaf and labrador tea, browed with crowded, wavering birch. Clouds skimming the thin fall sky darken the surface for only a blink of an eye before the sun returns. Across the water from the flooded deadwood, the surface of the lake meets the blunt edge of mud and sticks. The dam the beavers are reinforcing for the coming winter. The beaver family has the kits from the previous summer and the babies born this year. The older kits and the parents are working hard to make sure the dam can withstand the heavy push against the compacted wall of mud and sticks that rise from the lake bottom. They have been cutting and storing the tree limbs of tender bark by forcing the limbs into the soft mud of the lake bottom. This food store will have to last through the winter, until the ice goes out in the spring or the beaver family will starve. Not even a bear can claw through the 6 feet of frozen mud, sticks, lilly pads, twigs that will house the family. Within the beaver lodge, rising up out of the water like a huge beauty spot on the chin, it will have enough room for all the family and be warm enough to keep a man alive, if he was fortunate enough to find the underwater entrance and follow the tunnel up into the lodge. Such hard work is for the older beavers and the young kits have found the lake is full of more than beavers. A small island, dotting the center of the lake like an iris, has a tall pine with an osprey nest. Mrs Osprey has watched the beaver kits float in their coat of hollow hairs, learning to close their nostrils and dive. She knew about the family of otters living under the lake edge in a snug den. Sleek and slinky, the otter family uncoiled in the water like a wound-up spring. They had no need to store food and they ate the fish and mussels in the water. They would even be out and about in the winter. Beaver kits and otter kids found each other and explored the lake together. A favorite game was choo-choo. The otter kids lined up like a train and the beaver kits, a little slower, were at the end just like the caboose. Mrs Osprey, high up in her tree, would watch the otter train steaming along, thinking how much fun it seemed, while keeping a sharp look-out for any fish that would dash away from the paddling youngsters. And once, when they played tag, she swooped out of the sky and tweaked the tail of one of the beaver youngsters. It was so much fun she couldn't resist playing also.
Mom and Pop beaver kept right on working, knowing the kits couldn't get into trouble on Pond lake, especially with Mrs Osprey keeping an eye on them. And they didn't really, if you don't count the time they waited until Mrs Deer and her fawn were sipping water and they all poked their heads out of the water at the same time! Or even when the otters made a mud slide and everybody had to swim as far away as possible and the otters hid under lilly pads and the beaver kits couldn't guess where they were. Until Mrs Osprey gave the game away by diving and dropping a stone over the lilly pads. But, after most of the leaves had fallen, and a chill was in the air, they all went as far as possible, down to the end of the lake where the rising water had turned the trees into woody spears and the leatherleaf grew thickly.
The sun was setting and the red glow tinted the marsh. It was easy to feel like you were all alone, even with everybody with you. Hiding in the leatherleaf was lots more scary than hiding under a lillypad. Little Girl beaver wouldn't go up past the fallen tree that lay in the water but Little Boy sure did. He tucked himself down under the limb of the waterlogged trunk and thought he looked just like a part of the limb. You have to be quiet while you are hiding. Shusssh, don't say a word. He heard the sound of something heavy on the limb above but he didn't see anything. Some sand popped onto his nose but there wasn't anything there! And then-something pulled his wiskers and nothing was there! That was too much for Little Boy and he jumped over the log, into the water, making such a racket that he had everyone around him asking what was the matter? Of course, no one believed him that something had pulled his wiskers. They just teased him. The sun had just a small cloud lit, and they choo-chooed back home. Everyone agreed to return the next evening, partly because the game was more fun in the leatherleaf and partly because it was kind of scary. The next evening was chillier, and just as the sun was setting, the moon rose, so full it seemed it was leaning into the lake. Everybody noticed Little Boy didn't jump into the shoreline like before, and when they had all hidden, gotten very quiet, Little Boy too, there was a sound like a moan, like a breathy long-drawn out o-u-u-uugg-ou-o-u. They all heard it and Little Boy felt a hand -grabbing!! They all splashing out and came together and this time Little Boy's story was believed! How scary, what could it be? The coolness had settled into a mist that twisted among the cattails. Everything looked differend-and spooky. The train of otters and beavers moving in the bright moonlight passed Mrs Osprey's nest tree before the kids and kits felt safe. But, being home made everything seem right and of course nothing was there, probably just an owl, how silly to think anything else. So they agreed to meet again and go the the marsh the next night and the moon was so bright anyway!! The moon was bright, dipping into the lake, seeming to share it's light with the water. On the edge of the lake, the dead trees loomed, casting shadows. Fog settled on the water and crept into the leatherleaf, twisting into misty loops. Nobody wanted to hide this time and they all held hands waiting to see if the sound would be made, if something else would happen. Little Boy beaver saw the mist make a tendril, he watched it creep forward, looping itself around Little Girl beaver's leg; he raised his tail to splash a warning and Oh No, he had a misty loop wrapped around his tail, and it was tugging at him! There wasn't any train then as they all swam as quickly as they could, raising the biggest fuss splashing and yelling, that Mrs Osprey asked what was wrong as they came to rest on her island. They all wanted to talk at once and Mrs Osprey listened and heard the story in bits and parts. Mrs Osprey said that she would think about what to do and that she would keep an eye on the children and nothing would harm them.
That evening Little Girl told Mom and Dad about the scary evenings even though Little Boy didn't want her too. Sometimes you have to ask for help and the best place for that is Mom and Dad. If there was anything in Pond lake that was dangerous for his kits, Dad beaver wanted to know. Mom wasn't about to let her children go to the bog without her so the whole family, and wouldn't you know it, all the otter family too, went the next night to the misty bog.
The fog had spread out and the leatherleaf was almost invisible. It felt heavy, it felt like it was a blanket, and it felt like it was moving! The beavers and the otters clung together as the mist looped and twisted around them, twining up legs and over tails. It was tugging and grabbing, hanging on. The moonlight was so bright it was easy to see as it thickened and bulged into a shape on the shore. It was hard to breath, their teeth chattered.
Above, in front of the moon, Mrs Osprey spread her wings. She fluttered, holding herself in front of the moon, casting a shadow down on the surface of the lake, over the frightened families held in the grip of the mist and the creature forming on the shore. From the bottom of the lake, around the beavers and the otters, rocks and sticks began to swirl. Logs left the bottom and whirled into the ring forming around the animals. Sand, pebbles and boulders joined the watery ring rising up into the sky. The logs, stumps, lilly pads, all clumped together with the water pulling out into fingers, forming a hand. The hand reached the shore, grasping the misty creature who writhed and pulsed, wrapping misty whisps around the hand. More pebbles, muck from the bottom, swirled up and filled the hand of the Manitou, coating the creature with dark earth, pinning it to the shore, holding it and changing it. In the bright moonlight, the Manitou's hand released the creature, now turned to wood, shaped with root-like ropes of bog, twisted and turned on itself. Knotted into an immense meld of earth and wood, rocks and sand, plants and twigs.
Mrs Osprey's shadow had brought the Manitou of Pond Lake to life. When everyone had gathered on her island she told of how she recalled the legend of the creature who came to life in the moonlight, who crept and twined, holding onto whatever it found. And how the Manitou could be called to conquer the creature-the mass of roots and rocks now part of the lake. The beavers and the otters hadn't known about the Manitou, only Mrs Osprey, and she kept her knowledge until she needed it to save the animals of Pond Lake.