The sun was almost down. I slowed my car and stopped by Quaker Lake on my way home. It was nearly frozen over. On the ice sheet there were only two open areas of water remaining. In the largest pool I saw the silhouette of a bird. I could tell it was a loon. I watched and waited. An eagle swooped low from overhead. It too, had been watching this rare visitor. I’ve never seen a loon before or known of any sightings in this area. It dove under the water and came up splashing like a songbird in a birdbath. And then it made its distinctive call. It was not the sound I was expecting. It was as cheerful as its motions. The sun dipped beneath the trees and land. I waited a little longer, hoping to hear the loon’s call again, but I didn’t. I slowly drove on, looking more to the water than the road. My father, a fisherman, had driven this way near lakes and rivers. He couldn’t resist looking. There might have been a huge fish that was about to leap from the water. He had to see.
In the morning when I returned to the lake, I was surprised to find that the loon was still there. The openings in the ice had closed in considerably. The loon’s movements were slowing the water from freezing but not by much. I wondered if the bird was injured. Two days later the loon was moving in a confined space with ice only inches away from it. I wanted so much to see it fly up, but my wish did not come true. The next day a couple was looking out over the lake with binoculars. I pulled my car next to theirs. Ice completely covered the lake, and the loon was gone. They looked so sad. That’s how I must have looked. We spoke briefly. The man said that loons needed a large path to take flight from the water. I told them about the eagle I had seen. He thought that was likely how the bird met its end.
In the days following I walked along the lake. I knew I wouldn’t see the loon, but I still looked and hoped that somehow it had flown away. The wind blew and carried wisps of snow that moved over the ice like ghosts. The ice cracked and the frozen lake made moaning sounds. All that I saw and heard was a reflection of how I felt.
Doves sleep under my kitchen window in a large Rhododendron. At dusk they start gathering and squabbling over who gets the best branch to roost on for the night. This is their winter home that had for years been previously occupied by Blue Jays. In the morning, before the sun touches the mountain and there is just a hint of light, I hear the doves. As they fly away their sound signifies the end of night. They remind me of the loon. Their calls are different and yet share the same haunting beauty and loneliness. They are the sounds of dawn and dusk; spirits of mystery we are fortunate to see and hear for a moment before they disappear.
Donald Partelow is the adult programming coordinator at Pawling Library.