Little Po-Chee-Cue saw me first. As agile and soft-footed as a Giselle, she caught me unawares while I was finishing my morning repast. She blended well with the forested glen’s autumn foliage, the reds and browns and yellows of fallen leaves carpeting her moccasined feet as she approached the bank of Lake Okanagan to fetch water.
“Kan-He-Kan!” she shook fearfully, creeping backward until the trees swallowed her up again.
I had not wanted to be seen. Not then. I liked the anonymity of my existence and had come to welcome my exile in this wild and untamed land.
Much as I yearned to sunbathe under the rays of the dawning sun, I banished myself back downstairs where I would not be found. And as I descended, the muffled sounds of Po-Chee-Cue’s approaching kinsmen grew louder.
“Ook-ook misachie coup a lake!” they chanted in unison, calling me to reveal myself. Their bows and arrows, sharpened and ready, reflected off the lake’s surface like an otter’s glimmering winks. And I disappeared. They feared me, I knew. I had heard the rumors. Their legends labeled me as a murderer, a fiend who killed a local village man who had been well known and loved. I was innocent, but could not prove it. So I hid, disguised by the Indian gods for my “sin” so that I would forever be at the scene of the crime and suffer eternal remorse.
I lived off the lake’s bounty after dark, developing a sharpened taste and heightened appetite for the fish and turtle and the culinary delight of seagull pie for dessert. Most left me alone when they discovered my existence did not depend upon their largesse. And so I lived, I hunted, I ate, I slept, and I awoke, and occasionally, when the island was deserted, I floated on the tranquil waves of Lake Okanagan.
At least the Chinooks respected me, even if it was out of fear, offering me first fruits of their harvests in exchange for safe passage across the lake. Years later, The Red man was replaced by the White man as European settlers tried to tame the wilderness with their handmade tools and plows and scythes. I mourned the loss and destruction of nature and lashed out the only way I knew how by revealing myself from time to time. But it did not stop them. They came in droves, eventually, with their traps and nets and their religious freedoms.
And, although I was innocent of the crime that had doomed me, I began to murder these marauders. First, I just intimidated them by appearing suddenly in their midst. Many were frightened off with this tactic, but the curiosity-seekers remained. Bolder than their deserters, these began invading my home and so, to defend myself, I killed a few. Their disappearances created awe and fear and resulted in a bounty on my head. Once, I remember well, a man was leading his farm horses across the lake close to Rattlesnake Island. So, I pulled them under and they drowned. I much prefer trawling for clams or snails or crabs, though, which are much tastier.
In later years, I have become more of a curiosity than a danger. I have mellowed with age and am more apt to come out in the daylight. I have been renamed from Kan-He-Kan to Ogopogo, after a ditty was sung about me, making me quite popular:
“His mother was an earwig, his father was a whale, a little bitty head and a mile-long tail . . .”
My likeness, which, by the way, does not do me justice, is on the 1990 Canadian postage stamp. (My distant cousin, Loch-Ness, didn’t even receive that recognition, as popular as he has been!). The artist’s rendition is inaccurate, but until I reveal myself fully as a fossil many eons hence, it will have to do. Locals and tourists have photographed me and documented me a sea monster of gigantic proportions, complete with the body of a serpent, flippers, a tail like a whale, a 20-foot long neck and a head like a horse, residing in British Columbia, Canada, on Lake Okanagan.
But, if you decide to visit, remember: you never know for sure what lives and dies in the depths of my home.
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