Sep 12 2008

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Four Days with the Loons

Posted at 5:41 am under Blog Post

From Monday afternoon until Thursday morning, I was alone in the West Canada Lakes Wilderness. Or perhaps I should say, I had only the company of my dog, Matika, a few small forest creatures, and the loons who inhabited the lakes where I camped. That was company enough.

Much to my dog’s bewilderment, a loon called out as soon as we reached Sampson Lake. A dozen miles from the nearest paved road, it seemed an appropriate greeting. I smiled as I listened to it, fully aware that I had arrived at a truly wild place. Beyond that I didn’t give the matter much thought.

At dusk the loon called out again, loud and clear. This time the wind had died down and both lake and forest were silent and still. I stopped what I was doing and went down to the water’s edge to see the loon. With my binoculars I saw a mere bird floating about, occasionally dipping beneath the surface. Yep, that’s a loon, I thought. Then I continued about my affairs.

The next day it rained steady from daybreak until late afternoon. To my surprise, a pair of loons called out in the pelting drizzle. First I spotted the female, then the male, then both of them together. They reminded me of another wet day in Southeast Alaska when I was camped alone in the wild. The Adirondacks on a rainy day aren’t much different.

On the morning of the third day, a loon called out and that did it. I broke down and cried. In that moment the loon’s call seemed to me like the voice of the wild itself, like the voice of God heard only in the most remote places – far away from all the nonsense that passes for civilization. I cried because I couldn’t keep up my armor another second. I cried because I had forgotten, in all my busy-ness, what the wild is all about. The shock of sudden self-awareness. Adam longing to regain access to Paradise, yet still Adam. Existential tears.

The sunset at Pillsbury Lake was a hallucination. I watched the steady advance of that undefined edge between day and night until it crowded all the pink and orange sky into a fiery grand finale on the horizon. The glassy lake perfectly reflected the show, and the call of a loon echoed through the mountains until the boundary between the real and the surreal disappeared. Then I groped beneath the stars for some kind of firmament upon which to stand.

Yesterday morning a loon bade farewell to me while I was packing up. I left the wilderness with some reluctance. The walk out was one long daydream. The call of loons swirled inside my head even as I drove home. And right now it doesn’t seem to matter what I’ll do today, how high the price of gas will go, or who will win the upcoming presidential election. I am still haunted by loons. Give me a few more hours to armor up.

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