Heading Elsewhere

One morning, I had thoughts of taking the canoe out to watch the sunrise from the water. I considered going down to the dock to sit and watch the world. Instead, I pull up a chair to the cabin’s big windows, let the world pass by one step removed.

The clouds are low and heavy, the air misty. The hour of sunrise comes and goes, barely letting more light in. The world stays gray. Rain begins to patter lightly on the surface of the lake.

Even in the rain, there is a dark shape out on the water, its formal black and white smudged to shades of grey, a common loon in winter plumage.

It paddles along, occasionally bending its long neck forward, submerging its head to peer into the depths. And then it dives, slipping under the surface with barely a splash, sinking down, gracefully, headfirst.

I take its dive as a chance to shove my feet into shoes, put on my coat, and go out, get closer without startling it. I stay on the trail down to the dock because it often seems that water creatures of all types, from the yellow perch off the end of the dock to the various diving birds, can detect my presence from just the vibrations of my feet on the wood planks and respond accordingly. All I want is to get closer, but everything is shy.

Something I read recently said that loons are found at the beginning of field guides because they are one of the oldest living species of bird. Their bones are denser than those of other birds and it makes take off from the water a laborious affair. A few days ago, I saw a loon fly for the first time. It was low over the water and did not go very far, just far enough to catch up with its companion. The loons I see are just as shy as the mergansers, which do startle into flight, but instead of taking to the air, loons just slip into the water and stay underwater for long enough that I begin to wonder if I missed them, finally emerging again, looking unruffled, much further away.

Though I don’t see them flying, right now they must be. This is just one more day in a string of maybe ten days that I have seen one or more loons almost every morning, right around this time, just when I need to be leaving for work. The number of loons has varied, up to a group of six, the largest number of loons I have ever seen together. I think I must be witnessing their migration from the lakes across the northern part of the continent where they spend their summers to the coastal areas they overwinter.

I do not usually see loons more than a couple times each summer. I have seen more loons in the last few weeks than I usually do in a year. This is what I have been holding out for, staying at the cabin far enough into the fall to see something new, learn something new. The world is so full it often seems impossible for my attempts and hopes not to be rewarded.

I let the rain sprinkle on my face, just like the loon does. We are both moved by the seasons and heading back into town for the winter does not feel so bad when I am not the only one heeding the elements and heading for an easier wintering ground.

The world is just as full elsewhere, as long as I keep my eyes open.

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