We always stop for loons. We stop mid-sentence or with the coffee cup halfway to our lips. We lift our eyes from the book. There is no sound when a loon pops out of the deep water and though we see them daily on Wilson Pond we always feel a bit surprised to catch sight of one, there, just off the swimming dock.
Loons are big birds with wingspans of 42”, large bodies, long necks, and sharp bills, feathered in black and white with round garnet eyes. On the water they are elegant hieroglyphs gliding in a barely moving wake. Their backs and wings are marked with art deco designs of checkerboards and polka dots, their shoulders with op-art repetitions of waving zebra stripes. Pinstripes form a dignified collar at the neck tapering and open at the front. They are at once ancient and modern, enduring and ephemeral.
I heard loons before I ever saw one. I was, maybe eight years old, sleeping in Dad’s cabin when they woke me. I listened. I heard the single-voiced wail, which embodied all yearnings and all times. It rose and fell, skimming the water, a cry to be heard, to be known. A few heartbeats later, there was a low answering call, far away but reassuring. The call and response repeated, then settled into silence. I snuggled under the comforter. Soon there was the raucous sound of several loons, close together, the crazy laughter, the tremolos and quavers and warbles. I felt protected by the loons. There in the dark, life went on, boisterous and comforting.
I will always stop for loons. They are living Tibetan prayer bowls, singing me into the present moment, which contains all moments. They remind me to pay attention, to be here. They remind me that I am very small, and I am here for only a short time and that I am part of something immense and timeless.