Untitled (Loon in Swamp)
Untitled (Loon in Swamp) by First Nations Cree artist Garnet Tobacco – Original First Nations Woodland Art style painting presented by DaVic Gallery of Native Canadian Arts
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Notes from DaVic Gallery: ‘Untitled (Loon in Swamp) ‘ – A Loon Legend – This story is from the Great Lakes region –
In the time before time there was a village of humans living beside a lake. One of the families in this village was a man and a woman with one daughter. From the time she was very little this girl loved the lake and the beings that lived there. Rather than playing with the other children, her parents would find her down at the lake. Sometimes she would be helping the beaver family gather tender tree limbs to anchor below the water for tasty winter snacks. Sometimes she would be chasing fish in the shallows with the otter pups. Other times she would be sunning herself on the old log with the turtle family.
This girl loved all the other water animal people, and they loved her in return. The told her where the best fish would gather under the bank in the heat of the day so than she could tickle them out for the evening meal. They told her where the best patch of wild rice was growing, so that her mother could easily fill the family storage baskets.
But of all the animal people, the girl loved the loon family the best. She loved the way the parents danced on the water in the spring, and how the mother built a secluded nest on the floating weeds. She loved how the little ones looked like the down of the cat tails floating on the water, and how they rode on the mother’s back when they tired of swimming on their own. Most of all, the girl loved the loon’s voices – the gently undulating call they made to each other across the misty lake at dusk and dawn.
One day the girl did not come home, and her parents searched for her with much alarm. They feared that she had surprised mother bear while fishing, or that she had got caught under water helping beaver repair his lodge. They looked for the girl for four days along the shores and on the islands. They kept a big fire burning for four nights so that she could find her way home. But she was gone.
The next spring a new loon family came to the lake and set up a home near the lodge of the mother and father. In the evening the man and woman heard a different kind of loon song, and found that if they really concentrated, they could make out human words. It was their daughter! She had been changed into one of the loons she loved so much by First Woman as a special gift for being such a good friend of the water people.
The next morning the father found a flute outside the door of the lodge, with a loon’s head on the end, and a small loon on the top, just the way the babies ride. As he picked up the flute and began to play, he could hear his daughter, returning his call from her nest nearby. Thus the flute is a gift to humans from First Woman, and from that time on humans have been able to speak with the bird and animal people with the flute, if they try hard enough.