Of loons and the deliberate life

Were I empowered, I would willingly lift the broadcasting license of any television channel that shows a speedboat going more than 200 yards an hour.

The Maker gave us nothing on, in, about, over, above, around, or near water, shore, and sky that needs propulsion beyond a pair of oars to be contemplated and admired. Only a human idiot would tool any boat the way my TV portrays human idiots at sea and ramming about.

The US Coast Guard should arrest any aquatic speed demon on TV for being over the limit in any harbor. What would Homer have given us if his epics had lasted 10 minutes apiece? Why does a boat need to go a mile a minute (unless it's the fire boat)?

Why do boat advertisements assume speed entices sales?

And why do ad-writers think all boat buyers are mentally challenged?

When Bill and I began going into our wilderness each summer to hunt trout and meditate about affairs and their causes, we used a canoe. Later I made a skiff with an outboard that was a bit roomier for our outings on Maine's Caucomgomoc Lake.

I found a three-horse Evinrude motor, which drove the skiff along more slowly than we could row. In serenity suited to the scenery, we rode about the 15-mile lake except when we had to drift and replenish the fuel tank.

"Cauc" Lake had but one pair of loons at the far end then and we'd see them by day and hear them by night. The wild cry of a cavorting loon 15 miles away at night is never forgotten, but in those days loons tended to live one pair to each body of water.

For some years, Bill and I had a pair of loons, and then one year we had none. Dave Priest, the game warden, explained with a shrug, "Washed out!"

Not us with our three-horse skiff, but a TV-hyped nut with a 75 horse from Japan, perhaps, had rampaged at Cauc Lake and his wake had flushed away our mother loon's nest and eggs. Goodbye!

The loon is a big bird, nigh the size of a goose. They are great swimmers, using both webbed feet and wings underwater, but have weak feet and are next to helpless on land. They need a long stretch of water to take off in flight and to land, and do not jump up like a duck to take the wind. The female accordingly nests at the water's edge so she can shuffle easily onto her eggs, and if some smart-head speed fool in a whupped-up boat goes by, stay tuned for details.

Game warden Priest said loons seem to be adjusting and are learning to live by flocks on lakes and take care of speed-boat wash. And Bill and I did see several pairs of loons together later at Cauc Lake.

Happily, not too many loons watch television.

During World War II, a loon came winging down the flyway, and on a moonlit night flew over the runway at the Army air base at Florence, S.C. The concrete runway looked like water in the moonlight, so the loon dropped down and slid about a mile and a half on his feathers.

There he sat in the way of operational flights, and the marines who came were perplexed, looking at a bird with wings that couldn't fly and being told it was bad publicity to harm anything to do with Audubon.

There was a Maine boy there in an engine-changing crew. He told the marines to circle the loon, and he'd pick it up. Then if they took the loon to a river he'd fly soon enough.

This proved to be so, but we won the war anyway.

So after 30 happy loon-loaded outings, Bill and I decided that the next year we would go to West Branch Ponds Camps and let Andrew and Carol Sterling care for us as paying guests.

And on Saturday, the day before we broke camp for the last time, we looked up: On the lake, one by one, 14 loons swam by in a straight line of purpose headed for the outlet dam. Bill and I watched them and supposed they would go around the dam and head downstream for new adventures at Chesuncook Lake.

So the next day we broke camp and on the road out we stopped to say farewell to Warden Priest, and we told him about the 14 loons in a row.

He said: "Eyah, they'll come back. That guy from Jersey sold his camp last summer and don't come no more to razzle-dazzle our Cauc Lake loons with water skiing."

Then he added: "I tried to talk to him about loons, but he asked me, who cares about loons?"

Bill said: "What'd you say?"

Warden Priest said: "I told him the loons do."

The next summer, Bill and I did go to the camps at West Branch Ponds, and we didn't go again to Caucomgomoc Lake.

As a special treat for John Gould fans, his usual Friday column will appear next week on Thursday, July 3. (The Monitor will not publish on the July 4 holiday.) Mr. Gould will return to his Friday slot on July 11.

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