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Wish You Were Here: My Favorite Destination
4:17 pm
Thu August 9, 2012

Wish You Were Here: Listening To Loons In Maine

Originally published on Fri August 10, 2012 10:02 am

Writer Roxana Robinson's most recent novel, Cost, is set in Maine.

Mount Desert Island, off the coast of northern Maine, is known for dramatic scenery. Most of the island is Acadia National Park: steep forests, plunging down to a cobalt sea. Cadillac Mountain, the tallest peak, is the first place where light touches the American continent, each morning at dawn. Trails follow the windswept ridges; they wind along the smooth pink granite bluffs, rising from the deep, icy water, along the wild swirl of the great tides.

I love all this, but I don't come here for drama. I like more intimate encounters with nature. Our house is on a small saltwater cove, along the sound. The ocean is far away. Tides rise and fall, but our water is flat and glassy. The cove is silent, ringed by white pines, salt grass and bayberry.

Our house is up among the trees. From my desk I watch the cove. Sometimes a coyote or a fox, trotting along the shore. Sometimes a stalking great blue heron, or a swooping kingfisher. Recently we've had a pair of loons, which is a great honor: Loons are royalty.

Loons are beautiful, distinctive and self-assured. Male and female are identical, large, with brilliant coloring. The back is black and white, checkered. The breast is snowy white, and at the throat is a wide black choker. The head is black, and the eyes, the jewel-like eyes, are a glowing ruby red. The loon is like a magical bird, conjured up by a spell.

Loons are powerful swimmers and extraordinary divers. They're also good parents, and kind of adorable. When their two chicks hatch, the parents carry them around on their backs, fuzzy nestlings, peacefully adrift on the glassy water.

When our loons' chicks were nearly full size, the family came down to our cove. In the afternoons I saw them drifting on the green water. One preened and groomed, twisting her long supple neck, stretching her wings, showing that astonishing white chest. I watched with binoculars; sometimes I crept through the trees, though I didn't want to scare them. Each sighting is like a gift, and I watched with my breath held. Still, watching is not the most exciting thing.

Loons are never alone; they are always in pairs or fours, and when they're on the move, they call back and forth. If a visit from loons is like a visit from royalty, hearing the call is like receiving a blessing.

There is nothing like the sound of a loon. It's the cry of the soul, a long melodic drift, haunting, mysterious, rising into the darkness.

In the afternoons they call briefly, to keep in touch. Even that is exciting, but it's at night when the great songs are sung. Then the loons open their throats to the dark sky and the bright stars.

I lie in bed, the windows wide open, and listen to those gorgeous dreaming cries, that sweet opening into another world, and there's nowhere on the planet I'd rather be.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

Mount Desert Island off the coast of northern Maine is known for its dramatic scenery. Acadia National Park covers much of the island with its steep forests plunging down to the water. Writer Roxanna Robinson has a home on the island and she sent us this postcard for our series Wish You Were Here.

ROXANA ROBINSON: Our cove is silent, ringed by white pines, salt grass and bayberry. Our house is up among the trees and, from my desk, I can watch the cove. Sometimes I see a fox or coyote trotting along the shore. Sometimes I see a stalking great blue heron or a sweeping kingfisher.

Recently, we've had a pair of loons. This is an honor. Loons are royalty.

Loons are big handsome water birds - black and white, with distinctive markings and a regal manner. Males and females are identical, and they both look as if they were designed by a graphic artist. They're striped, dotted, checkered and incredibly chic. Their backs are patterned. Their breasts are snowy white. They wear wide black chokers around their throats. Their heads are glossy black, and their eyes, their jewel-like eyes are ruby red. A loon looks magical, like a bird conjured up by a spell.

Loons are powerful swimmers, extraordinary divers and fabulous parents. They're also kind of adorable. They have two chicks at a time, and when these hatch, the parents carry them around on their backs - tiny, fuzzy nestlings, safely adrift on mom or dad. When our loons' chicks were nearly grown, the family came down to our cove. In the afternoons, I saw them rocking on the green water. Each sighting is like a gift, and I watched with my breath held, but the pleasure is not just in looking at these birds.

Loons are never alone. They're always in pairs or in families. There's always another loon nearby, even if he's out of sight. They keep in touch by calling - pond to pond, cove to cove. Where are you, they seem to call. And I am here. If a visit from loons is like a visit from royalty, hearing the call is like receiving a blessing. The sound of a loon is the cry of the soul, a long, melodious drift.

(SOUNDBITE OF LOON CRY)

ROBINSON: In the afternoons, they call briefly and quietly.

(SOUNDBITE OF LOON CRY)

ROBINSON: But it's at night when the great songs are sung.

(SOUNDBITE OF LOON CRY)

ROBINSON: Then the loons open their throats to the dark sky and the bright stars. I lie in bed with the windows wide.

(SOUNDBITE OF LOON CRY)

ROBINSON: Where are you? I am here. I listen to those gorgeous dreaming cries. I hear that sweet opening into another world, and there's nowhere on the planet that I'd rather be.

(SOUNDBITE OF LOON CRY)

CORNISH: Writer Roxana Robinson of Mount Desert Island off the coast of Maine. Her most recent book is called "Cost." Those loon sounds came to us courtesy of the Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.