I did not know they would be here.
Standing before Elk Lake, I closed my eyes and waited. I had come to this vacation lodge in the Adirondacks to step off the world for a few days. I came to lose myself in the pungent pines, to relish the rush of a mountain stream after a storm. I came for solitude. I was not expecting the magic of loonsong.
There were five of the birds: a mated pair, their young and two others swimming nearby. As they hunted for small fish, they kept track of each other through long ululations that called forth a wild vestige in me, some deep memory of what it was to hunt naked through the woods and call for a mate left behind.
I turned to watch a woman walking barefoot to the lake and carrying a small book. She turned the pages as she stepped onto the beach.
“Look,” I said, pointing out to the middle of the lake where the birds were swirling, “The loons are right there; you can see them clearly with my binoculars. Would you like to use them so you can see them better?”
She glanced up at the lake, then back at her book.
“Oh, no,” she answered, pointing to the binoculars. “I’m no good at those things.” She held her book up and offered it to me instead.
It was a small picture book about loons. She flipped forward a few pages, pausing a moment over a female bird with a loonlet curled on its back. The photographs were ripe with color. Creamy pages told the story of loon life with dramatic paragraphs about their imperiled life. There were descriptions of the effects of habitat destruction, and about how lakes like these were critical to their survival. The woman pointed all this out, then called her companions over to show them her prize.
I wanted to shout: Wait–Here is the real McCoy, right in front of us! Put the book down and be part of a moment that will never happen again. Let us be with the loon trumpeting in the twilight and share in this mystery together. But the group moved off, marveling over the book and its photographs.
The diamond backs of the birds glinted in the sunset. Three of them circled the dock. They held their bills like lances as they sailed directly at each other, almost touching before diving again. A distant yodel halted their circling. They vanished underwater, only to reappear closer to the beach.
The woman with the loon book was showing it to another couple at the dock. A man pointed at a picture.
Behind him flashed the brilliant glistening of wet loon.
A page turned.
The loon dove.
There were comments about wing patterns.
Another loon spread her wings and flapped at the darkening sky.
The book was passed around. A male loon half rose from the water and arched his neck, displaying his white necklace.
The crowd chatted on as the sun set. The birds circled farther out, shrouding themselves in darkness.
I stood still in the shadows, for one cannot lose themselves to loons while standing upright in a human world, but must surrender quietly in anticipation of a soaring yodel across all time. I saluted them silently, bade them good hunting and safe haven, then returned to the lodge in gratitude.