CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE ABOUT THE STORY OF UP NORTH COVER
Above the hum of nature – the wind whispering through pine needles, the chatter of birds and insects – is that long, almost haunting cry of the loonie. They appear in the morning or towards the evening, an elegant bird alone in a large lake, flush with the water, bright in contrast, the red eyes catching the first reflections of the sunrise which chase the mists out of the water.
The loonie plunges, disappears in the reflection of the sky and is gone for an incredibly long time. Or is it just that we are looking in the wrong place when it reappears as a cork, fresh and crisp? Loons can stay submerged for up to five minutes, diving up to 250 feet, so a swim in a lake is a snap for them.
Their eyes, dull gray in winter, light up red for summer. Unlike their fellow avians, loons do not have hollow bones and the extra weight challenges them. They cannot take off from land, and even their takeoff over water requires a long runway, at least 100 feet and, in windy conditions, up to a quarter of a mile.
While we are charmed when the mother carries her chicks on her back, our romantic notion of loons mating for life may be overstated. Like human snowbirds, they return to their lake homes after migration each season, and although these may be shared places for mates, they again arrive in court separately. And what we call their lonely cry is a basic language made up of four calls: tremolo, yodel, hoot, and moan. The first two are warnings to invading boats, predators, and other males, while the hoot is family chatter. But the moan is what moves us: the call to a mate, a song that resonates through the water, that says, “Here I am.” A hymn, therefore, to the peaceful solitude of one alone on a lake in the woods.