Crazy as a Loon

A bright moon sliver sent a long shimmer of light across the dark lake.  On the other shores a loon laughed shattering the silence that had fallen over this large body of water deep in the wilderness of Quebec.  The eerie laugh changed to a treble and then a long warbling whistle.  The dark lake before me was alive with the sounds of loons and no one was there to hear these at that moment but me.

I was taking a short stroll along the shoreline on Lac Wetetnagami.  My friends were back in the cabin playing guitar and singing.  Jeff and Steve have an enormous bond, partially formed in music.  It is nice to leave them to their enjoyment of each other when they hit a certain key.  There is not too much like friendship that has a musical bond.  I was happy that they had this union with each other.

On the other hand I knew that Jeff would enjoy the loon concert.  Jeff has a true love for this beautiful symbol of the north woods.  When cruising about the lake on a way to fishing grounds we often spot loons and we frequently stop the outboard motor to enjoy their antics.  Loons are normally pretty shy, but if you are quiet they will put on a show.  They will dive and swim long distances under water.  They will sing a short tune.  And when they take off to the air they need an enormous stretch of water to get air bound as they flap their wings and paddle their feet trying to gain altitude.  On that night the loons seemed content to locate each other by singing a few notes.  They too seem bonded by song.

As I slowly navigated the shoreline I thought about the past few days.  Jeff had fallen on the first night and had broken his collarbone.  We had to get him into a boat, find our way back to the outfitters camp in a fog covered lake with which we were not familiar, and then get him into the truck for the long journey to a hospital.  The truck ride over these unimproved roads was terribly bumpy.  Each time we hit a bump Jeff would wince.  On larger bumps, even at very slow speeds, he would scream out in pain.  By the time we got him to a hospital nearly 12 hours had passed since the accident.

To our surprise this hospital located in the small hamlet of Lebel-sur-Quevillon was well equipped and had more than competent nurses and doctors.  There first objective was to make Jeff comfortable by giving him pain medication.  Their second objective was to diagnose the problem.  It seemed obvious to me that he had broken his collar bone.  It was misshapen, black and blue, and very swollen.  This medical staff left no stone unturned.  They did a careful examination and x-rays.  Their eventual diagnosis was a broken collar bone and some rib damage.  Other then putting Jeff in a harness and giving him pain medication there was little they could do.  Within hours they sent us along.

After some discussion we decided to go back to the camp.  We would keep an eye on Jeff and see if he was comfortable enough for us to stay.  Jeff was still in a very advanced relaxed state from the pain medication that the doctor had given him in the hospital so the trip  back over the bumpy logging roads was not nearly as agonizing.

Once settled Jeff would not hear of us leaving.  He had made his mind up to toughing it out.  The pain killers that were given to him by the medical staff would be an important companion for the remaining part of this fishing trip in the wilderness.  Jeff did not do much fishing that week.

The loon laughter faded away and the moon sliver slid behind some unseen clouds in the dark sky.  My eyes were adjusted to the dark so travel along this rocky shore was not too difficult.  I found a large rock on which I could sit to enjoy the night air.  I sat there, sipping a drink, enjoying the silence of the night.  A breeze picked up and I could hear the distant sound of two guys singing.  They sounded as happy as two larks.  I smiled to myself.  There is nothing quite like love between long time friends.

As I sat there I thought back to the first time I encountered loons on a pond in the Allagash wilderness area of Maine.  I was about twelve years old and walking alone along a trail by the edge of a pond.  A laughing loon on the other side of the fifty acre pond sounded like the laugh of some deranged person standing on the other side of the water. I had heard recordings of loons so I was not afraid.  I found the loon cries soothing after I listed to them for a while.

I had gone to the Allagash with a group of friends to enjoy camping in the wild.  What I discovered was that I wanted to experience the wilderness whereas my friends wanted to experience each other.  Although I did not know it at the time, it was the beginning of a long relationship with the north woods.  Years later I would get in touch with my native american ancestry and understand that my connection was more of a necessity than a choice.

The wind shifted and the distant singing ran away with the breeze. After only a few moments of silence I could hear the mournful wail of timber wolves coming from a distant hill.  They howled long notes, first alone, and then in unison.  They were probably celebrating a kill.  The wolf songs seemed to spark interest across the lake.  Loons trebled, laughed and sang their crazy song.  I had never felt less alone.

This short outburst of song and laughter came to a sudden ending.  The quiet was, as they say, deafening.  I stood up to head back towards the camp.  As I slowly picked my way amongst boulders on this rocky shoreline in the dark night I wondered why most people lived their lives in crowded places.   To live in a place where there are so many lights that the stars cannot be seen seemed tragic to me.  How could people feel so comfortable while being so disconnected from the natural systems of our planet and the universe?  I could tell where these thoughts were leading and decided to let them challenge me at some other time.

Somewhere in the distance a loon sang a crazy tune out into the night air.  There was no response.

Written for in May of 2010.

  • Jean

    My daughter is one who prefers city living. I don’t know where I went wrong. A very nice account of your fishing trip.

  • Ratty

    The calls of animals soothes me too. When I hear them, I know I’m not alone. Even the whisper of the wind through the trees makes me feel as if I’m surrounded by friends. In a crowd of people is where I feel the most alone.

  • bill

    Thanks for visiting Wild Ramblings Jean. I have a son who loves living in Boston. It is near his work and I think he finds the city life very exciting. He still manages to do some “rural” things like go fishing in Boston Harbor.

  • Robb

    Kia ora,
    Living in New Zealand now the call of the loon still haunts my memories of growing up in Wisconsin, or paddling on the Boundary Waters. One of the songs I most miss.

  • renata

    Ahh, the sounds of the loon, and the bright, clear northern sky at night – heaven! I agree with you about being in nature as to opposing it (in a city).
    cheers from sunny Barbados with good night skies (the Milky Way from down here is very cool!)
    Renata <

  • Sandy

    Wow, this made me homesick! My husband’s family lived on Big Wood Pond in Jackman for many years. We used to hear the loons all the time. The house is long gone, and his mom now lives in Augusta. We do get up north once in while, though.
    I thought your trip was to the Rangeley area. Did you fish in Quebec?

  • Bill

    Thanks for reading this story Sandy. This story was from a trip we did last year. This year I will be fishing at Aziscohos in Maine and Wetetnagami in the Hudson Bay watershed of Quebec. Yes, loons are wonderful. They fully represent the wilds of the north woods.


Nature Blog Network