Chasing the loon


You don’t have to feel Canadian to feel something when you hear that loon call.


As often as I leave it, I can’t help full-heartedly loving Nova Scotia. This morning after reading an email that filled me with joy, I went out to this backyard to feel the joy in the grey daylight. I found my bathing suit in the car and slipped it on while walking down the path to the lake. Everything was quiet. I pushed one of the surfboards off the sand and into the water and lay on it, face forward. I usually paddle out into the stillness before deciding whether the air or the water is colder and thus which feels better on the skin. Today, I was still surprised by the presence of this joy, so I just floated along enjoying the uncertainty, not considering my choices of water or wind.

Having drifted into the middle of the lake, I saw up in the direction the invisible current was taking me a loon floating among the reeds. I have long been a Canadian living outside of a Canada, and loons are one of the many animals I am aware are supposed to evoke in me a sense of home, but they don’t. Instead, they’re mysterious, a curiousity, because of what is missing in my heart when I see them.

So, feeling mischievous, I pointed myself at the loon and paddled, drawing my cupped hands forward one at a time in the air over the board so that the water dripped down my fingers and landed quietly on the vessel instead of marking the surface of the water.

The bird noticed me anyway, and started moving. Away. I corrected course, made my direction less obvious, but still getting me a better view of the bird. I wasn’t wearing glasses, so although I could make out the sharp black arrow of a head and the crisp white collar, any detail on the feathers below blended into its rippling reflection.

I would normally have chased that loon around the lake, measuring my movements so as to get as close as possible without frightening him, but eventually losing patience and making some move that was too obvious, or that I was too close to make at that moment, and spooking him, getting a last glorious glimpse of what could have been as he takes flight, or, more likely for a loon, see him disappear under the surface of the water and pop up a mile away, out of reach.

But today, today I just let him be. If he’d swam my way, if I’d enticed his curiousity, I would have loved to look into his red eyes and seen something. I can even imagine how it would feel to reach me hand out and touch his oily feathers. A magical moment, in my mind at least.

Instead he swam into the current, probably making furious motions with his webbed feet while seeming completely still on the surface. I paddled my own way, back to the backyard and the shore. I climbed onto the floating dock, pushed the surfboard away as motivation, and dove into the blackwater. It was cold after all.

Later, back inside, dry and warm, I finally heard the loon. They make a beautiful sound. You don’t have to feel Canadian to feel something when you hear that loon call.

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