Friday, September 2

swimming with the loon

There was one really fantastic moment that I haven't yet told you about, while we were at the lake.

One evening, when the winds were chilly and brisk, and the sunlight was just hitting that marvelous range where everything feels golden, I looked up from my place on the end of the dock, and there was a loon.

It was very close. I usually saw the loons from far away, where they looked like small black slivers of lake shadow, hardly distinguishable from the waves rippling. They look like they are wearing black rubber wetsuits readying themselves for their deep dives. All that was usually visible was a slice of back, almost sunk under the waves, and the iconic bill. I can't even describe their bill ~ it is different than a duck or a heron or a gull, and I hope you have seen one for yourself.

Each night when the loons called during the last shrinkings of sunset, I sprang to the door and went out to hear them, their warblings hitting the eardrum closer and sharper than the mosquito's whine. The sounds rippled from lake to lake as if they were in an opera house with perfect acoustics. They called their mate far away and soon enough, the other would return and they would talk in their weird hovering cries as the air turned black and velvet.

So that day on the dock when I saw one quite close, close enough to discern the white feathers on the belly and the spots on the sides, I was entranced. I watched it duck its sleek head under water, back and forth, as it looked across the lake floor as clearly as a hawk over a field. It would bring its head back up, without a bead of water on it, like poured glass, and gaze at us. The dogs sat perfectly still.

I like to think it felt my longing. I held my breath, and gazed and gazed. I tried to imprint every lapping wave upon my memory like a tattoo. The loon dived, and my heart burst. The loon surfaced and I was all attention. I slid over the side of the dock, slowly, and let go and swam gently out, as it bobbed not very far away, curiously looking at me. The waves that touched me might have just touched its feathers. Its gaze was wise.

We swam together for a short while, before it dived to fish, and I knew that somewhere near, it was underwater and could probably see my pale legs dangling under the green evening surface. It took me in stride, and I will never forget it.