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Max and the Midnight Loon

By Susan Mc Bride Els / October 5, 1993

MAX silently plied his paddle as Mr. Rosiello steered the canoe from the stern. The lake was quiet now. All the summer people had left. No ski boats, no laughter around the docks, no early evening lights twinkling along the shore.

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As the bow cut easily through the still water, Max thought back to his first canoe trip three years before, when Mr. Rosiello had taken him to his fishing camp on Lovejoy Pond. He remembered how his paddle kept banging against the canoe:

``Sta' zitto! - Sh-h-h!'' Mr. Rosiello had whispered. ``We'll scare 'em away if you keep makin' all that racket!''

But just then, about 10 feet to the right, a charcoal-black head popped out of the water. Its wild, cranberry-juice eyes did not blink. Neither did Max's as the duck-like body rose silently to the surface. Two wavy black-and-white vertical stripes wrapped each side of its neck; black-and-white checks feathered its back; underneath, polka dots covered its sides and tail.

The mixed designs would have looked comical in color. But in black and white, the bird was magnificent.

Max had never encountered such a perfect creature. Never had nature created such tidy patterns - as though a master painter had drawn lines without any mistakes on the first try, and then carefully colored them in with finepoint oil markers.

Then without a sound the bird sank like a submarine and disappeared.

That was the first time Max saw a loon.

``Bravo, Max!'' Mr. Rosiello called softly from the stern. ``After three summers you're a real paddler. Maybe it's 'bout time I tell Wendell you and I are a team.''

Wendell was the self-appointed president of the Loon Society. The club never held a meeting, never published a report, never mailed letters. And none of the members knew who the others were. They were just a loose group of lake people who were worried about loons disappearing on account of crowded lakes and acid rain. Every fall they counted the loons and hoped their number would be a little larger. So, after Labor Day, Wendell roamed the lakeshore camps in his green pickup with Burr, his black Lab, in the passenger's seat and handed out assignments to club members.

Max turned back toward Mr. Rosiello with one hand shading his eyes from the western sun. ``So when did you join the Loon Society?''

``I never knew that I did join. A few years ago Wendell handed me a piece of paper out of his green pickup. All he said was, `It's loon counting time. You can do Lovejoy Pond. Better get your canoe out there before middle of October - they'll be leavinround then.' So I did. And every fall since then, I get another one of these.'' He shook open a folded sheet of paper and handed it to Max. Across the top, fading letters announced: LOON SOCIETY. Right below were the words:

Come September

we remember:

the harvest moon's

for counting loons.

Then Max read the words near the middle of the page: ``Expected tally for Lovejoy Pond: 2 adult loons, 1 chick.'' And at the very bottom: ``P.S. Final deadline: Oct. 15. P.S.S. If you do a voice count, please state so.''

``One chick?'' asked Mr. Rosiello. ``Does it say that?''

``Yeah,'' said Max. And, checking again, ``Yeah.''

``Ma no! I have seen no bambino this year. People on the lake said the loons' eggs were swamped in that nasty June storm. And the loons didn't nest again. Wendell's mistaken.''

``What does it mean - a voice count?'' asked Max.