Because it is not seen, some people think the lake has dried up long ago. But this is not true.
Sunset, and cold west winds, at Kuwahi
Anyone attuned to such things can tell there’s a special quality about the place called Kuwahi. The people who were here before us said the bears had a townhouse under this mountain, where they would hold a dance before retiring for the winter.
The chief of the bear tribe, the White Bear, resided here. Nearby is Atagahi, the enchanted lake, where wounded bears would go to bathe and heal. The way to Atagahi is so difficult only the animals know how to reach it.
With spiritual vision sharpened by prayer and fasting, a person might see the lake at daybreak, a shallow sheet of purple water fed by springs from the high cliffs. All kinds of fish and reptiles swim through the water while great flocks of ducks and pigeons fly overhead. Around the shores, bear tracks cross in every direction.
Go any place on this planet where bears have lived and you will find old stories, old stories that tell of humans transforming into bears and bears transforming into humans. The belief, ancient and universal, is that bears and people are closely related.
The Smokies, long ago, were home to the Ani-Tsaguhi people. One boy from this clan would leave home every morning and spend his days wandering the mountains. After a while, he stopped eating at home and spent a longer and longer time in the woods each day.
When his parents noticed long brown hair growing all over his body, they asked why he preferred the woods.
“I find plenty to eat there, and it is better than the corn and beans we have in the settlements, and pretty soon I am going into the woods to stay all the time.”
His parents begged him not to leave. He was determined, though, and invited his parents to come along, since there was plenty to eat without having to work for it.
The father and mother considered his offer and consulted the headmen of the clan. At council, it was decided the whole clan would go since scarcity had been the result of their hard labor up until that time.
After fasting seven days and nights, the Ani-Tsaguhi left their settlement for the mountains with the boy leading the way.
The people of the other towns learned of this and rushed to dissuade the clan from going into the woods to live. Messengers who found them observed the Ani-Tsaguhi were already growing hair like that of animals because they had abstained from human food for seven days.
The clan refused to turn back. “Hereafter we shall be called bears, and when you yourselves are hungry come into the woods and call us and we shall come to give you our own flesh. You need not be afraid to kill us for we shall live always.”
They taught the messengers the songs with which to call them, and the groups parted ways, After returning a short distance down the mountain, the messengers looked back and saw a drove of bears going into the woods.
(With apologies to James Mooney)
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