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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Flyaway Lake


In my mouth the words are melting
From my lips the tones are gliding
From my tongue they wish to hasten
When my willing teeth are parted
When my ready mouth is opened
Songs of ancient wit and wisdom
Hasten from me not unwilling
Golden friend, and dearest brother,
Brother dear of mine in childhood
Come and sing with me the stories
Come and chant with me the legends,
Legends of the times forgotten
Since we now are here together
Come together from our roamings...
~ the Kalevala


Let me open the painted box of stories, and tell you of a lake that did not like where it was or who befouled it, and so flew to a better place.

In Estonia, a northern land on the Baltic Sea with many islands, there was a lake, called Eim Lake. It was surrounded by woods, and legend said that the bottom of this lake was covered with golden treasure. People who would rather fish for treasure than work for pay often went out in boats, dredging for gold. When their efforts did not pay off, they took to waylaying travelers in the nearby woods, and robbing them. Over time the woods around this lake developed an evil reputation; the forest became dark and overgrown, and weeds and reeds choked the edges of the lake. No crops grew by its shores, nor cattle or sheep drank its waters. Before long the bandits were doing more than simply robbing the anxious travelers who had no choice but to pass through the woods; before long the bandits were killing them, and dumping their bodies into the lake. Eim Lake grew foul, and under sunset skies it was a dull, blood red. Trash and litter from the bandit camp on the lakeshore drifted here and there in the stagnant water. Geese would not fly over, nor land there.



One night, as the bandits lay sleeping in their tents, there was a sloshing, sucking sound. The lake was gathering itself and all its fish, and was lifting itself up, as a lady lifts her long skirts from the mud. Up it rose from its muddy, stagnant bed, leaving behind the filth of rot and death. The clear waters with rejoicing fish gathered into the air like a cloud, scattering a few drops onto the bandit-tents. The one look-out, holding out his hand for rain, glanced up. But the dark sky was pierced with stars - only one dark shape obscured them, and it was moving swiftly away. The overpowering odor of decat drew his attention to the lake bed, which was now a stinking trough of mud. "The lake has flown away!" he cried. "Now we can hunt for treasure on foot!"

The bandits waited until morning, and then trudged across the sucking mudflats, captivated by the sight of rotting chests and boxes. But when they reached the treasure caskets what did they find but only frogs and salamanders and snakes and eels, which wriggled after them, biting wetly and squirming into their pockets.

Meanwhile, the lake was traveling, looking for a place to land. Below was a dry, parched land, and the people stood with prayerful eyes turned to the skies. "A raincloud!" cried one child. "No, not a cloud," said his father in amazement. "A floating lake of clear water! Please, come to us, lake!"

"Will you tend to me, and keep my shores free of weeds, and make birds welcome?" called the voice of the lake.  "Make a place for me and I will dwell here."

The people dug with everything they had, shovels, rakes, buckets, spoons, clearing away a clean bed for the lake. With the sound of steady rain, Eim Lake poured itself down into its new place. The grateful people tended the lake like a baby, and kept it clean, and built wooden docks and grazed their sheep there and let its waters nourish their crops. The land all around the lake became fruitful, and beautiful, and the people were filled to the rim with gratitude, as pouring water fills a cup.



This is an unusual story, isn't it? It's from the Kalevala, the ancient epic poem of Finland/Estonia. I've never before heard a story about a lake with opinions and made decisions, let alone got up and left, so this really caught my attention.  You can read it as a metaphor for relationship, and observe that it takes emotional courage to leave a person or a job that has become abusive, and then be willing to try again somewhere new.  But I also love that you can read this is a story about gratitude and good stewardship. Spiritual courage allows us to recognize and give thanks for all the natural gifts that make life possible and meaningful. May we have the courage to do our best at tending all our natural resources, lest they decide to fly away.

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