Readers may have guessed that I’ve been flipping through old vacation photos from September when we were on the road for 18 days, exploring Oregon and British Columbia. These three photos will be the last from our trip to Crater Lake National Park that I’ll post here (at least for awhile). My previous post described the white pine rust pathogen we saw evidence of while touring Wizard Island in the extinct caldera of former Mt. Mazama, an ancient super-stratovolcano. On this trip, we also learned a little oral history about the caldera. Turns out that Native Americans in this area have a myth that interprets the geological rumblings of Mt. Mazama (before it blew out its magma chamber to form the caldera we know today as Crater Lake, my posts about that are here and here) as a power struggle between two gods — Llao and Skell. Llao was the chief spirit who ruled a mystical area called Gaywas which encompassed Crater Lake. Skell ruled a nearby area that included the great Klamath Marsh. Llao could call upon other spirits in his control who were shape-shifters and switched forms with ease. One of these spirits could take the form of a giant crayfish which would pluck humans off the cliffs rimming crater lake in a split instant.
Woe to the person who ended up in his gigantic pinchers, because the crayfish spirited them beneath the cerulean blue waters, never to be seen again. Skell and Llao began fighting, and their underling spirits clashed against each other too. Their fighting could be heard as deep rumblings in the earth, and it could be seen as smoke, ash and fiery rock that spewed from Mt. Mazama’s many mouths. Eventually, Llao ripped Skell’s heart from his body and Llao’s spirit subordinates played with the organ and brought it to a high rock towering above Crater Lake on the eastern edge. A big party followed, and Skell’s heart was used to play a ball game. But Skell’s spirit supporters tricked them, and came into possession of their leader’s heart. They placed it back in his war-torn body, and he lived again — and he felled Llao eventually. Skell’s followers brought Llao’s body to his rock and they tricked Llao’s followers into believing it was Skell’s body. They tore it apart, and threw the pieces into the lake. Each piece was eaten by Llao’s monsters. But Skell’s followers threw Llao’s head in last, and Llao’s followers recognized it. Realization of the deception settled in, and they wailed and cried out that Llao was dead, and they’d eaten him. Llao’s giant head settled in the lake, and it remains there today — as Wizard Island.
I found the minor role in this legend of the crayfish shape-shifter spirit absolutely FASCINATING — because there ARE crayfish in Discovery Bay around Wizard Island. (See Pic 11.) We overturned rocks in the bay and found many of the little crustaceans in a mere few minutes of looking. In fact, the first rock I turned sheltered one. And the second, and the third. It’s hard to imagine how crayfish may have come to colonize the lake, but the legend suggests they are one of the few life forms in the lake that have been there for thousands of years — true native species! Fish in the lake were first stocked by sportsmen in 1888 who wanted to create a giant recreational fishing hole. “We don’t care if every one of those fish dies,” a Park Ranger said on our boat tour, explaining that they were not native and that the lake had not been stocked since 1941, yet the trout and salmon persist still. A National Park Service web page states, “The species stocked included rainbow trout, brown trout, cutthroat trout, steelhead trout, coho or silver salmon, and kokanee salmon. Today, only a couple species survive – kokanee salmon, the landlocked form of sockeye salmon, and rainbow trout.” But the preservation of the Native American legend supports the idea that the crayfish can lay claim to the rain- and snowmelt-filled caldera as its native home.