Tell Me a Story

Legend of the Lake on the Mountain (A Mohawk Tale)

Perched high above the Bay of Quinte on Canada's Lake Ontario is the beautiful and mysterious Lake on the Mountain. Fathomless and fed by secret springs, the water level never varies, and for hundreds of years it has been a sacred place to the Mohawk Indians. Long ago, before the land we know existed, Sky Woman lived high above it.

One day, she fell from the sky. And soon after, she gave birth to a daughter. But the child did not live long. Sky Woman buried her, and from her body three sisters were born: Corn and Beans and Squash, the great sustainers of life.

The Mohawk people believed that the spirit of the sisters lived forever in this lake, which they called Onokenoga -- "Lake of the Gods." They often visited the lake to make offerings to the Three Sisters. They offered thanks, and they requested blessings -- for a successful hunt, a bountiful harvest and plentiful fish. And the Three Sisters not only provided, they carried the Mohawks' humble messages of praise and gratitude to Manitto, the Great Creator.

The Three Sisters also occasionally interceded in the affairs of human beings. This was true when, once upon a time, there lived a Mohawk maiden named Tayouroughay, who was the daughter of a chief. The maiden was so lovely, with lively eyes, jet-black hair and a gentle, generous nature, that all the braves fell in love with her. But the chief had selected a brave to marry her. He was called Annosothka.

Tayouroughay did not love Annosothka. In truth, although she told no one, her heart belonged to a young man called Gowanda. She told no one because he was an enemy of her tribe whom they had captured. While Gowanda was a prisoner, Tayouroughay fell in love with him, and he with her.

Secretly they came up with a plan to run away and spend their lives together.

And so, one day before dawn, Tayouroughay set Gowanda free. They planned to meet late that night, under cover of darkness by the waterfall on the edge of the sacred lake.

But when the sun rose and the people saw Gowanda had escaped, the cry went out to capture him. Tayouroughay stood looking down the winding path at the sunbathed Bay of Quinte. She shaded her eyes from the rising sun and watched as one canoe came around a corner, followed by another and another, until there were 40 canoes gathered to chase the runaway prisoner.

Tayouroughay prayed her beloved Gowanda was safe, and then she saw him -- handsome, strong and swift, he paddled steadily until his canoe touched the pebbly shore of an island, and there he hid from his enemies' canoes among the tall, waving grass.

Tayouroughay waited patiently for the day to pass. She watched as the sun began to set and the moon rose into the sky. She listened to the call of the whippoorwills and watched the reflections of the trees mirrored in the still lake. As fireflies glittered on the shore, the people gave up the chase for Gowanda. They pulled to shore and began their favorite festivities. Everyone danced -- men and maidens and children -- and Tayouroughay, keeping her secret, went down to join them for a while so she would not arouse suspicion.

Meanwhile, under the cover of darkness and the noise of the dancing, Gowanda had scaled the embankment and reached the edge of the lake by the waterfall, and there he waited for his love.

Annosothka watched as Tayouroughay climbed the path back up to the lake, and so he followed her. He approached her and looked her in the eye. "I have told you three times that I love you," he said, "and I've come now to take you away."

Her father, who had gone to retrieve Tayouroughay with Annosothka, stood beside him. "I give you to him, daughter," the chief said.

Tayouroughay knew she could not marry this man. She looked across the lake to the place where Gowanda was waiting in the shadows of the trees. Suddenly, she ran to the edge of the lake, jumped into a canoe and paddled away. Her paddle flashed in the moonlight; her canoe quivered wildly. She was breathless with excitement and fear, but then, when she was in the center of the lake, she heard the sound of Annosothka's canoe behind her. He was rapidly gaining on her.

"Gowanda!" she cried. In the distance she saw her only love run to shore. He opened his arms to welcome her.

But it was too late. Annosothka would soon have her in his grasp, and so she stood and leaped into the water by the waterfall.

Gowanda nearly went mad with despair. Hoping he would somehow find her in those deep, dark waters, he dived in too.

All that night the chief and his men searched the water, but they knew the search was useless. Tayouroughay was lost, and so was their enemy.

The Three Sisters saw all this. They saw Tayouroughay slip from the lake over the waterfall into the bay below. They saw Gowanda lost in the lake on the mountain. They took pity on the star-crossed lovers, whom the gods had condemned to wander for eternity separated by the limestone wall between the bay and the lake on the mountain because they had violated the sacred waters.

They led Gowanda to a place in that lake where a limestone wall kept the lake from crashing to the bay below and there they showed him a tiny hole. Gowanda worked at that hole until he could squeeze through and join his beloved.

And so they were, thanks to the Three Sisters, free at last, and their spirits remained together forever after.

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