In the old days, older than the oldest days, long before you drew your first ragged breath, long before your grandmother’s grandmother’s grandmother drew her first ragged and tentative breath–that’s when this story begins.
In the bottom of Lake Superior lived a creature, a dark and dismal creature, a creature born of the moon’s shadow and icy headwinds and lake trout fins.
This creature roamed the bottom of your world, oh reader, like a daemon or shadow or almost-forgotten energy sweeping between pine and spruce beaches. It still lives in you now, but I am skipping ahead of its finned twisting and turning.
This creature, this underwater bottom feeder, this cold-water silver beauty, inched along sand and silt and rock feeding for its life among smelt and minnows and the blood of forgotten dreams.
Oh, you have seen him in dreams, haven’t you? Where you’re shaken awake from deep peaceful slumber out of the arms of your beloved life into fear, into not-knowing, into an instinct to survive the lake’s deepest depths? Don’t be afraid to admit this. I’ve seen him, too, oh reader, and cried tears enough to fill this deepest lake.
The Creature. Oh, how it ruins all your pretty plans and ideals. Where you intend to turn left, it veers right. Where you aim to veer up toward air and sunlight, it dives down toward darkness and endless night.
An Ojibwa woman once asked me if I knew about the creature who lived at the bottom of Lake Superior. I said no. I still don’t know what creature she talked about. But I know about This Creature.
And–if you don’t know about this one–you’ll know about one of your own that lives in Lake Michigan, Lake Erie, Lake Ontario, Lake Huron, the Atlantic Ocean, the Pacific Ocean, the Mediterranean the Black River, the Little Bitty Stream. Perhaps even the tiny sprout of water through the ravine behind your house. Perhaps even in your septic system. Because, my dear and faithful reader, we can’t avoid the mythic creatures, can we?
The Creature is the energy that lives in the basement of us humans. That which denies rationality and reasonability. It isn’t sensible. It isn’t logical. It moves of an undulating rhythm all its own. It rides waves. It moves beneath ice. It survives in ungodly conditions. It lives, oh it lives, and it feeds upon all our undigested energies.
Please don’t ask me to describe what the creature does. It gets angry when we don’t want to get angry. It hates. It destroys. It watches porn. It medicates through drugs, alcohol, smoking. It judges, how it judges. It slaps and punches and induces sly insults. It creates enemies. It is always discerning how different the “other” is from us. It hates this politician and that. It hates best friends, should they move astray from our values. Everything we despise about ourselves–that’s who this creature is. That’s his cold-water blood.
The creature is our underground daemon. He’s whispered of to small children in their fairy tale childhood: less you stray, dear babe, the creature will eat you for breakfast and spit out your bones. If you wander away from your tribe–too close to the waterside–it will pull you down underwater, down, down, down, into the depths of what can’t be described, what can’t be imagined, what can’t be told except with frozen icicle tears as November approaches in its wild anguish of waves and destruction.
But I can’t end this story here, leaving you stranded with your icicle tears. I can’t leave you with no hope. Because something is stronger than that underground creature. Something lives in the light that others hail God, Allah, Jehovah, Buddha, the Great Spirit. They claim that if we just believe–if our belief is strong enough, hardy enough, waterproof enough, loving enough–that we’ll be saved from the creature’s pike-sharp teeth, from its slicing silver fins, from its abilities to lure children into the depths.
Some will say that good triumphs over evil, but I am not here to tell this tale that way, even though–who knows?–it may be true.
In this tale, the child is mouthed underwater by the creature and thinks itself dead, forgotten, iced over, black, gone.
But the Great Goddess Spring arrives with its green wings, with its flowered halo, with its forget-me-knot necklace and dives deep into the cold Lake Superior waters warming it as it flies down, down, down past the melting ice, past the surface fish, into the rock-bottom silt and glacier plunge.
The Great Goddess Spring does not hate, does not decry, does not demonize. She wraps her loving arms around the creature of us all–the deep bottom feeder of the lake–the siren that calls our lost ones–and guides that creature up, up, up, to the rivers to spawn, to lay pink eggs, to come home to the life at the center.
The child comes home with the creature and is born anew to bring fish to the People. Out of death comes life. Out of life comes food. Out of our despair comes hope.
This is my fairy tale for you today, all you hurting ones carried around underwater by what seems to be the creature of destruction.
Have faith, dear ones. Spring is coming. The ice is melting. The fish are turning toward the rivers. Lo and behold, do not blink or you’ll miss the miracle of it all.