A Story From the Cherokee

The Lake of the Wounded

 

Deep within the Smoky Mountains, and west of the headwaters of the Ocanaluftee River, there is a lake called Ataga'hi.  No hunter has ever seen this lake. It is the place the animals go to heal themselves when they are wounded.  Some say they have been near that place.  As they walked through the mists across what seemed to be a barren flat, they began to hear the wings of water birds and the sound of water falling.  But the humans could not find Ataga'hi.

Some humans who lived as friends of the animals have been granted a vision of the lake.  They prayed and fasted all through the night.  They saw the springs flowing down from the high cliffs of the mountains into the stream that feeds Ataga'hi.  Then at dawn, they caught a glimpse of the purple waters and the animals bathing in those waters and growing well again.  But it is just a glimpse.  As  soon as the humans saw it, that vision faded away.  The animals always keep the lake invisible to all hunters.

It is said that there are bear tracks everywhere around Ataga'hi, for the bear is a great healer.  One human who saw Ataga'hi in the old days said that she saw a wounded bear with a great spear wound in its side plunge into the purple water and come out whole and strong on the other shore.

It is hard today to see Ataga'hi and some think that its sacred waters have dried.  But it is still there, the Cherokee say, hidden deep in the mountains and guarded by the animals.  If you treat all animals with respect, live well and pray, it may be that some day you will see the purple waters of Ataga'hi, too.