By Kristen Laine
A few weeks ago, I heard a story on National Public Radio about the original recipe for Coca-Cola. The folks on "This American Life" made a batch of carbonated soft drink from what they thought might be Coca-Cola's original recipe. They took their creation to a local grocery story and conducted blind taste tests with it and actual Coke.
How does this story relate to loons? I'm coming to that.
When the radio reporter asked a shopper how she knew which drink was which, she pointed to the "real" Coke and said, "This one tastes like my childhood."
My childhood didn't have a taste so much as it had a sound - the cry of a loon. Growing up, I spent weeks every each summer with my grandparents on a big lake in northern Wisconsin. I can't remember a time before I recognized the different calls of the loon: the wail, the yodel, the tremolo, the hoot. The sound of a summer night, to me, is still the sound of one loon calling, answered by another, followed by still more, echoing down the lake.
As a newlywed new to New Hampshire, discovering that many of its lakes were home to New England's bigger loons made me feel that I'd recovered an important part of my past. When my husband took me to Squam Lake and Umbagog, the loons made me feel more at home.
If only we could have loons here, I said to my husband when we moved to an old farmhouse on Orange Pond in the shadow of Mt. Cardigan. The pond was quiet enough - especially after the state prohibited gasoline motors - with a virtually unbroken wooded shoreline. And occasionally we did hear a loon, though usually from a single loon passing through, usually for only hours or days. We figured that the pond was too small to support a family.
I learned more about loons in New England, got a magazine assignment to write about the species' recovery in the region. Almost as if the loon gods were watching, a pair arrived, and before long Orange Pond had a nest and then a chick. Through the summer and fall, we watched the parents and the chick, which grew to be even bigger than its mother.
As winter came on, though, the juvenile didn't leave the pond as we knew it should. When ice came in late in November, leaving the young bird only a small area of open water, we called Harry Vogel at the Loon Preservation Committee for help. John Cooley drove out from the Loon Center to try to capture the bird; when that rescue attempt was unsuccessful, John left his boat and net with us.
One morning in early December, with snow blowing across the iced-in pond, we finally were able to use that net to rescue the bird. At the Loon Center, Harry and John weighed and banded the juvenile. John drove it to rehabilitator Kappy Sprenger in Bridgton, Maine, and five days later, she carried the young loon into the water of Saco Bay and let it go.
My children have now heard the call of a loon through an open window on a warm summer night. Perhaps loons will nest again on Orange Pond next year, or other years down the road. Perhaps when my children are grown, a loon's call will remind them of their childhood.
If they do, I'll know it's because the work of organizations like the Loon Preservation Committee. Loons are in danger everywhere. Wild as their sound may be, unfortunately, their survival on many northern lakes depends on our care.
LPC member Kristen Laine's article on loons in New England is scheduled to appear in Yankee magazine's summer issue. She also wrote about her family's "year of the loon" for AMC's website. Read those posts here: