I think I remember hearing the sound of the loon during the night as a small girl, and thrilling to it, rather than being scared. That might just as well just be a story I made up! It matches the feeling I have about loons – like many others I have felt a special kinship with loons for as long as I can remember.
My childhood memories of Christie Lake are interwoven with memories of encounters with loons, and with their cries, their keening and their laughter present throughout the day, but most especially at night. A vivid and unforgettable memory is watching a loon swim under our canoe.
The summer I was 17, I took part in the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources Junior Ranger Program. Along with twenty three other 17 year olds from all across Ontario, I went to McConnell Lake, somewhere outside of North Bay. I drank it all in – from steel toed working boots, to blueberries in an abundance I could not have imagined, to being away from home, to the friendships formed…and especially to a wilder lake than I had ever know…McConnell Lake was home to somewhere between 24 and 30 loons. I perfected my loon call, and felt that I could commune with a particular lone loon. I remember being punished one morning during calisthenics because the loons were dancing in some kind of formation – and I left (oh horror!) our exercise routine to go and watch them. The young women who were supervising us were barely older than us, and knew that their authority was held by a very frayed thread indeed!
All of this has come to mind for a few reasons. There are two families of loons at this end of the lake this summer. I have had some wonderful conversations at the Perth Farmer’s Market with people who see “Deep Diver” and want to share their own stories and love of loons. When my friend Mary was visiting, I looked for and found a board I painted as a teenager with loons on it.
Much like my entry in Taking Flight #2 , which shows another sketch of a loon diving, it reminds me just how formative my growing up years are in relation to creating art (and much else).
Last Saturday, at the Perth Farmer’s Market, I had a wonderful conversation with a woman spending time with her family at a nearby lake. One of her children made a peeping sound, and a young loon swam right for him on shore. Waters had been stormy so the loon was bedraggled and clearly tuckered out, so my friend was called and she cradled the loon in her arms for a while keeping it warm and offering some rest. For all of this time, no parent loons were in sight. As the small loon revived, they spotted a pair of loons out on the lake and decided to paddle her/him out. My friend sat in the canoe holding the baby in her lap. As they got closer to the adult loons, she put the baby into the water. The baby peeped…the adults did not hear. The adults peeped – the baby hightailed over to the parents and many loon sounds were heard. She hopes all is well with this reunited family.
Another group came by the same Market Day with a woman visiting from the States – from a place where there are no loons. Every time she saw a loon, she commented on the “duck” up ahead. The people she was with were quick to correct her – “Evvie”, they would say when she was looking at “Deep Diver,” “That is not a duck, it is a loon.” As Canadians, we are not usually so precise about bird nomenclature! Some of us call goldfinches canaries, for example. But for those of us lucky enough to spend time in Shield Country, for those of us lucky enough to share waters with the common loon, it is vital to know the difference between a loon and a duck.
In May 2013, I had an art show entitled “Taking Flight – Exploring Birds and Oher Flying Creatures in the Art of Sue Bland”. I continue to want to explore the theme of birds, and of flight in my life. Previous posts are Taking Flight #1, Taking Flight #2, Taking Flight #3 and some reflections on the show.