"Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will."
Mahatma Gandhi

Tuesday, August 25, 2015


With our permanent move to our lake house, I knew that I'd need to find volunteer work in the area.  It is how I meet friends, and volunteer work just makes me feel good.  It's a selfish thing, this volunteer work of mine.  

We are very blessed by a healthy and stable population of Common Loons on Northwood Lake.  And, the calls of the loons have been a blessing in my life since I was a very little girl.  The loons' calls have been the background music to some of the happiest times of my life.  So, it seemed to be a natural for me to volunteer for The Loon Preservation Committee.  And, so I did.  

I volunteered to be a "Loon Watcher," that sounds good, right?  Watch loons, all summer?  I'm in.    

Early in the summer I met Ray, the Loon Preservation Committee's field biologist for Northwood Lake, and essentially my "boss."  He and I hit it off right from the start when I learned that he was attending college in Fort Kent, Maine, and i told him I know how beautiful Fort Kent is, I'd been there a number of times.  Not many people can say that.  I shared with him the fact that I had 7 times paddled the Allagash Wilderness Waterway from its southern most point of Chamberlain Lake (where Ray's girlfriend was doing a summer internship) north to it's terminus in Fort Kent.  That was it, Ray and I pals.... in spite of our age difference. He was my leader, I was his student.  He is a great teacher, and I'm insatiably curious.  Perfect match.  

It turns out being a Loon Watcher isn't just about watching loons, and Ray got me off and running in this inaugural summer of loon watching.  He was a patient teacher and leader, and was not afraid to give me assignments.  Put that together with my natural ability to go all in on everything I do and you end up where I am right now, One Loon Short of a Nervous Breakdown.  

A Loon Watcher.... counts loons, watches for nesting pairs, watches nests, finds failed nests, retrieves parts of nests, retrieves parts of eggs, (touching parts of eggs and nests is only done with the approval of the biologist), kayaks into areas where there might be nests, identifies loons on the lake by bobbing in her boat in the hot sun, peering through binoculars for hours on end trying to catch the colors of the bands on a loon leg, and sometimes takes calls for emergencies involving a loon.  Sometimes an emergency call can put her and her husband in kayaks in a channel adjacent to a nest, so they can stop boats from roaring through, because one of the pair of loons has been unable to return to the nest for 10 hours for it's shift due to the amount of human activity in the area.   This loon watcher will take a chance at getting wiped out by a boat if it means saving a loon and a nest. 

A loon watcher also checks a nest every day of it's incubation time, 28 days.  Then she checks on the status of the family every day, once it's on the lake 48 hours after the hatching of the second egg, and then she swears out loud when one chick is taken by a snapping turtle, but she carries on, making sure she puts her eyes on the family every day.   She fends off dopes who do not know that a momma loon is screaming it's brains out at them because it doesn't want them any closer than 100 feet.  And, that loon watcher gets a lot of one finger salutes, and does not give them back.  She will watch a chick through her binoculars as she bobs in her boat for an hour, because someone on the lake has told her "the chick is in trouble" (it was molting). 

That loon watcher is also very familiar with the two eagles on the lake and wonders just where the loon family is when an eagle is doing a low pass over the lake.  Once in a while she has to watch as an eagle attacks a loon, the eagle hoping that there is a chick under that loon's wing.  And, she is reminded on a daily basis that since this chick was born late (July 25) there is a chance it will not be ready to migrate to the ocean off the lake and will get iced in and need a rescue.  

When the loon family emerges from the cove where the chick has been living for it's first 5 weeks, that loon watcher looks to the middle of the lake where there's a mom, dad, and tiny baby bobbing in the waves, smack dab where the boats will be roaring on the weekend and where the bass fishing tournament boats will be racing during upcoming events.  Through her binoculars, she will see that the parents are insinctively allowing the chick to venture away from them as it learns to dive and feed on its own, and when she sees this, she will look to the sky for the eagles, look to the lake for the boats, and pray that the baby's instinct to dive has kicked in, even at such a young age.  

A loon watcher watches and listens with so much focus, she learns the differences in the calls of the two pairs of loons on the lake.  And, without thinking of which direction a call was made, can say "that's one of the East End pair."  And, people will think she's nuts.  

A loon watcher also gets to have fascinating conversations on docks, decks, in boats, with residents of the lake.  She receives visits from friends and family, throws cookouts and fishing lines, gets more fresh air than half the people her age, she laughs and smiles and tans and sleeps well at night.  People on the lake call her "the loon lady" and that's an honor to her.  People on the lake know her red mahogany boat, and know that they are always welcome to bob next to her on the lake for a good chat.  

She smiles as she listens to residents speak of their love of the loons and their calls.  She learns loon facts and finds fascination in every one.  She makes friends, she finds helpers, and she writes newsletters that people actually read and enjoy.  She receives the support of people who were once strangers.  This loon watcher knows that behind every successful woman there is a man rolling his eyes, paddling a kayak, driving a boat, and cheering her on.  She knows that her first season as a loon watcher would have been impossible without that man named Dave standing beside and behind her. And, somewhere in there, a few other cheerleaders show up on the scene to keep her going.  And, so she does.  And, every evening when the sun goes down, she once again is serenaded by the loons who have brought so much joy to her life, for so long.  

That loon watcher is often reminded that it is in nature that she has seen the Glory
of the Lord shine the brightest.   
Many times during her first year as a loon watcher she felt she
didn't have the strength to get down to her boat, or the
fortitude to sit in the sun for another moment.  At those
times, a sign from nature would arrive to remind her
that she had not choice other than to push and carry on.

And, more times than she can count, she is blessed and awed with
each siting she has made
during a very long season of the Loon.
(These photos are of the loon family on Northwood Lake.)

And, perhaps when this chick flies off to winter on the ocean,
this Loon Watcher will decide that being a Loon Watcher is something she
needs to do every summer of her life.

Once she recovers from her nervous breakdown.  
And, this is all this loon watcher had time to sew this summer.
That's OK, it's going to be a long winter on the lake.