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For the Love of the Lakes
General News · 2nd September 2014
Mark Braaten
Thanks Carrie and Leah for your beautiful and detailed reports of the Nine Lake Swim event. Thanks to everyone who contributed with donations, support of all kinds, and good wishes for the Lakes! You are the real heroes of this effort!

It is not too late to donate.
Please make your donations here ! –

Here is one story from our journey that is difficult to simply convey in words. In the spirit of storytelling, I will do my best to share the wonder of this experience:

Spirit of the Lake

The light of dawn bathed the treetops with gold as we approached the bluff summit. The carpet of bright moss and lichen under our feet showed no sign of tracks. We stepped with care from stone to stone until the lake shone in the brilliant sunrise below. Carrie had suggested that we swim Cork Lake in silence. She must have sensed that we would have a special experience there! No one spoke except to quietly gasp with wonder. A deep stillness pervaded.

With a flash of light on water, 3 birds rose off the far southern bay of Cork Lake, and flew up above the trees circling the lake wide. Their white undersides appeared against the forest behind and they almost disappeared in the bright sky. I recognised their speed, short wings and outstretched neck circled with a white feather band. It was the “Spirit of the Lake”. It was not the first time I had seen them.

My childhood summers had been spent canoeing in Northern Ontario, all the lakes had loons, and they always watched us paddle by from a distance. The Loon was considered by the local first nations to be “the Spirit of the Lake”. To my young mind this was so obviously true it was beyond question. My father had given me a paddle when I was 12, into which I burned the image of a Loon. I loved to draw them. Since then I have been always overjoyed to see them. In this setting it was pure magic.

We had visited Cork Lake the week before on a scouting expedition in preparation for the Nine Lake Swim, and seen these same loons. We had sat spellbound on the round rock in the center of the lake, covered with moss and guarded by one old Douglas Fir bonsai tree. We had discovered miniature bay on one side of the mysterious island was covered with a bed of empty fresh water clam shells and there was a full skeleton of white deer bones in the moss. The stillness had been broken by the loud mating calls and splashing of wings as these loons danced across the water with their white breasts puffed out towards each other. An entrancing serenade.

The loons had sensed our presence immediately as we reached the bluff summit and taken flight to investigate. They called to each other as they settled again in the Southern Bay. We sprang lightly from rock to rock down to the lake shore, stripped off our clothes and quietly slipped in the water. That was when we saw the fine silhouette of an osprey circling silently over the center of the lake to spiral out of view into the Eastern light.

The loons took flight again and for the first time ever, I saw them actually hovering, seeming to almost stall in the air directly above as we swam below gazing upward. The loons wings flapped downwards with webbed feet stretched forward. I had the distinct sensation of being curiously observed! “Who were these unusual swimmers?” They returned again to the Southern Bay singing. I was not the only one smiling from ear to ear and quietly laughing with joy. The joy rippled out and settled into an even deeper peace.

We were swimming towards the bright green estuary in the Northeast Bay spotted from the bluff. Nearing the edge of the floating vegetation we were caressed by banks of water lilies. Bianka started to sing a water lily song as she drifted through. When I placed my hands on the edge of the bright green bank it moved – I felt around with my feet for the bottom and there was none, my legs swung underneath the floating vegetation. I found that I could haul myself out on my belly without sinking the living bed of plants. I couldn’t stand so I kneeled on this living prayer mat took in the surroundings. The spongy turf was intricately woven with many species I didn’t recognise. Sundews dotted the surface, their sweet droplets and bright red fronds almost touching each other. I was aware that all 4 of us had spontaneously fallen into a deep and silent meditation.

2 black vultures circled very close overhead and broke our stillness. When they saw me move, they backed off a bit and landed on a nearby snag to inspect. One by one we flopped back into the water and began to swim back across to where we had taken off our clothes, still enchanted by the scene.
I was practicing a style of breast stroke that reminded of how beavers cross a lake. Head still, with only the slightest ripple of a wake, a constant movement through the water, silent breathing. I felt that we passed almost imperceptibly.
I was suddenly sized by a burst of energy and a desire to swim to “one tree island” by myself. I would get there fast and wait for the others. I took off with a splash and a burst of speed noticing the break in silence. When I next raised my eyes to see the island, I was amazed at what I saw.

A Loon loomed directly ahead on the water surface, seeming huge from that vantage. His dark red eye gazed at me. Time stood still in the wonder of that intimate connection and something in my consciousness was confirmed. He slipped under the water and was gone. I was stunned.
I looked around and noticed 2 more loons swimming towards us on the water surface from the Southeast. Bianka called my name and pointed. The Loon was now beside Andrew – he must have swum under our little human pod! As we watched, he circled round us while the other two loons approached, until the three of them sat still and near to the 4 of us, all calmly treading water.

There was in those moments, a certainty of relationship, communication and awareness – much deeper than the rational mind will usually allow. It felt like the Spirit of the Lake had welcomed us, and was giving us a message of support for the entire Cortes Community, and our efforts. Through the Loons presence, an even greater presence - all surrounding - of which the Loons and we are a part, was giving its blessing. It was all, and more than my most mystical imaginings of what this experience could represent. In that moment I knew…

These pristine places speak to us, as do our relations in the Plant, Animal and other kingdoms. They speak to us sensually and inwardly and they teach us. Ancient people derived understanding of life and the universe through direct experience with nature. It is a component of intelligent awareness that is becoming more and more rare in modern times. Seeing this we understand that to be stewards of the Earth we preserve not only “other” living things, but ourselves, our own holistic awareness, the circle of life. It adds a depth to our gratitude and reverence that is difficult for most of us to remember all the time. Here, on this island, on this tiny planet in the backyard of the Milky Way, we can all still immerse ourselves this essence and be reminded. How fortunate we are to be in a position to take care of even this small part.

We slowly and reluctantly continued to swim towards shore – still 8 lakes to go! Could we bring this experience with us? 5 Kingfishers circled and around our heads laughing as if to say, “no, you can’t bring it with you, but this experience will continue, just stay awake!”