The ice is slowly leaving the Adirondack lakes. There are those who say the robin is the harbinger of spring but in the North Country the loon symbolizes the turning of the seasons. When the waters open, the loon make its way back from wintering along a southern shore and, once again, the haunting wail penetrates a misty morning.
I remember my first loon sighting. Head held high, a black-and-white feather necklace adorning its neck, the bird emerged from the cove where herons nest and where a family of otters construct a house out of bark, moss and twigs, in the midst of the lily pads.
Excited by the prospect of paddling close to this spirit of the northern waters, I launched my Mad River canoe and glided in the direction of the loon who, at the time, was standing on its back feet and flapping. I imagined this was a greeting as I entered his territory. Or maybe it was her territory.
We passed the brown boathouse and set off across the lake. It was a strange sight, a red canoe escorted by a graceful black and white loon. Then the loon veered off to the left and headed towards Point O Pines Camp, still awaiting the summer campers who, on water skis, would break the calm of a summer morning.
Suddenly the loon dove beneath the surface and disappeared, leaving ripples expanding outward. At the time we were moving in a straight line so I waited for my friend to surface just up ahead. Loons can stay underwater for many minutes and I focused on a direct point between myself and where I assumed the loon would again appear, hopefully with a fish in its mouth. With stereoscopic vision the underwater world offered broad fishing grounds.
I waited and waited. My view deviated neither to the left or to the right but the loon did not appear. Then, I noticed a black head emerging, neatly positioned between two waves but, to my amazement, the loon had reappeared far off to one side, above Camp Gibbons.
As spring merged into summer I followed loons in my canoe, with binoculars, with my camera, but I have learned the bird never surfaces where I expect. Instead of behind the raft, the logical point, the loon would come up behind a yellow kayak. Instead of next to our pontoon boat where the loon had put under, the loon had drifted into the swamp near Carrol point.
The bird’s journey underwater does not proceed in a straight line. No one can predict the exact spot where it will surface. Watching a loon dive, then eventually rise somewhere else, is always a surprise. Perhaps that explains why the loon is the herald of spring—the season of rebirth. Who can tell where that new season will take us? The future is a mystery and the excitement of life, whether underwater or on dry land, exists in not knowing what lies ahead.
Where will you emerge, perhaps tomorrow, when the ice is off the lake?