Uncommonly Elegant

I feel like talking about loons. 

Their species is officially called the common loon, but I was up at the cabin a few weeks back, with a blue, blue sky and warm sun reflecting off the lake and a loon called from over on the bay. I never tire of that song, and 'common' is hardly a deserving title for the artist providing the vocals.

Belying its regular-guy title, the common loon is the venerable symbol of the North Country, its visage plastered on coffee mugs and key chains and menus, and anointed the state bird of  Minnesota. But in the middle of, say, a late-night ghost story at a remote island campsite, its haunting call echoing horizon-wide across the lake says this bird is far from ordinary. If you live or have spent extended time in our part of the Northland, you are familiar with this voice from out there on the water. 

To me there is simply nothing better than sitting by a campfire or paddling a canoe and hearing a loon song, and a call from one will often elicit a choral reply from other loons. It’s like the icing on our already delicious cake. Loons can sing and look good doing it, in dapper, black and white checkerboard colors and piercing red eyes, and with a 50 million-year lineage, loons hold stage as one of earth’s oldest living birds. Becha didn’t know that, eh?

Loons play the now you see me, now you don’t game with aplomb, casually floating along then suddenly vanishing from sight. These diver birds can remain underwater in the neighborhood of three minutes while hunting for prey. They are graceful in the water, to be sure, and even watching them take off from it is a treat, as they speed across a runway of surface water, the tips of their 54-inch wingspan slapping like firecrackers before finally lifting off. Loons will often call while in flight as well, announcing their arrival above your barbeque party or lounge chair or seat of a boat, or barreling through the sky at high speed.

  I guess we could call it common, if simply considering the good fortune of having these enchanting birds on our lakes and sharing our homes and cabins with theirs for so many generations. We have come to expect their company. Familiar, but what a blessing to know them.