The road curved around the bases of the hills, snuggling into the ravines and bending back towards Nicola Lake as it passed around the ridges. Down the slope, between me and the open water was a swamp, a welcome home to muskrats and mink.
As I came around the foot of a long ridge where the shoulder was particularly wide, I saw a large bird sitting on the gravel. My first thought was that it was a goose, and then I realized I was looking at a loon.
How did a loon come to be on the road that far from water? It wouldn’t have landed there voluntarily. Loons cannot take off from the ground. They need a long water runway because they are heavy and their wings aren’t big enough to lift them into the air from a standing start.
I pulled off the road and stopped about 50 feet from the loon, considering what to do. It seemed clear that I was being given an opportunity to help it, but I had to be careful and respectful. The bill of this underwater hunter could inflict a nasty wound if I were careless.
I had a hoodie with me. I decided I would throw the hoodie over the loon, put it in my car, and drive around the end of the lake to a beach where I could put the loon in the water.
As I approached the loon, it pushed itself along the gravel for a few yards and let loose a healthy splop of poop. I thought, ”Thank you for doing that here and not in my car.” The loon turn its head and watched me approach. When I threw my sweatshirt over it, it didn’t move. I picked it up, appreciating the feeling of the solid heavy body in my hands. This beautiful creature was giving itself to me to decide whether it would live or die.
I carried the loon back my car and put it on the floor beside me in the passenger side. As I drove it struck once with its bill, then was quiet for rest of the 10-minute drive around the end of the lake to the beach. I parked, walked around to the passenger side and picked it up. I put it down close to the water. Then I lifted the hoodie off and stepped back a few feet.
The big bird calmly pushed itself into the water and swam out about 30 feet. It turned to face me, lifted its wings, and flapped them slowly three times in a dignified and unmistakable acknowledgment and thanks that I felt in my heart.
Out loud I said, “You’re welcome”.