Of all of the mysteries of The Legend of Zelda, one that gives the fewest hints as to its meaning is the tree at Ocarina of Time‘s Lake Hylia. Standing alone upon an island in the center of the lake, the tree is unremarkable when Link visits the lake as a child. When Link returns as an adult, however, there are three distinct parallel gashes on the tree, appearing to be claw marks from a massive beast.

During my first playthrough of Ocarina, I saw those marks on the tree and assumed the damage must have been caused by a vicious beast that lurked in the subterranean Water Temple. I was surprised then to find that the temple’s boss, Morpha, was a squishy amoeba encased within a gelatinous fluid. Surely this creature couldn’t be the one behind the marks. Morpha lacks any claws, or any sort of sharpness that could possible damage the tree in that way.

Another theory for the culprit could be Dark Link. He wields a sword capable of gashing a tree and he resides within the Water Temple, which makes him a prime suspect. Before his battle with Link, he even appears standing next to a tree on a small island. However, I don’t believe Dark Link is responsible. He seems to be less of a living creature with agency or the freedom to roam, and more of an illusion come to life, generated by that room in the Water Temple. I suspect that, if anyone else were to enter that room, be it Sheik or Princess Ruto, they would find themselves battling their own doppelgänger, a Dark Sheik or a Dark Ruto. So, while Dark Link certainly fits the profile, I don’t think it could have possibly been him who did the damage.

So, who did it? Well, I suspect that the real culprit is a lot less interesting than what our imagination can muster. When Ganondorf usurped the throne, his army of monsters swept across Hyrule, enforcing his rule and awakening the beasts that dwell within Hyrule’s temples. The marks on the tree, I believe, are just a remnant of that war. Perhaps it was the result of a Stalfos or Dinolfos missing its mark as it swung at an enemy combatant, or that of a hulking Moblin attack.

If anything, the gashes on the Lake Hylia tree are a reminder that some things are better left unsaid. The mystery of their origin has spawned conversations and theories. It’s run imaginations wild as players ponder what that battle must have looked like. That mystery alone makes some claw marks on an unremarkable tree worth more than any explanation or cutscene.

Now I want to hear your theories. What caused the claws marks on the tree at Lake Hylia? What kind of battle ensued there? Do you wish Ocarina of Time gave us an explanation for it? Let us know in the comments.

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