Rain, Heron, Loon

We’ve woken up to rain: short, sharp, and torrential. It won’t stay for long, but it’s so lovely to hear.  How quickly one changes one’s tune!  How is it that Scottish rain on a dreich February day doesn’t carry this musical and welcome sound?  Because there is every possibility that it won’t cease until March or April, that’s why. Whereas here, by a lake in Quebec, it gives a momentary respite from the heat, cools us, and sounds like the percussion section of an orchestra as it falls on the trees.

Before the rain started I was sitting outside enjoying the stillness of the morning.  I could hear the hammering of woodpeckers that seemed to be calling to one another from either side of the lake in hollow, regular beats.  A tiny nuthatch was flitting in the birch in front of me. Someone was up early paddling a canoe, slicing through the morning’s still water.  There was no sign of last night’s loon, the most striking and beautiful bird and the jewel of Canada’s lakes.  Much larger and statelier than the duck, apparently, of all of the birds in the northern hemisphere, the loon is most closely related to the penguin.  It’s a large black and white water bird: shiny black head, a white necklace marking around its neck, and a chequered jet and pearl back. It has a haunting song; four variations of it, I’ve learned.  The descriptions of the loon’s call make me smile.  There is the tremolo, the wail, the yodel and the hoot.  The tremolo is used to defend its territory; the wail means social interaction (oh yes, we all know a social wailer); the yodel is also a territorial call, but used only by males (show-offs); and the hoot is used by family members to check up on each other’s wellbeing (where’s wee Jimmy?).

We saw other birds as we were sitting on the deck. “P., what on earth is that?” I asked, pointing overhead.  It was unmistakable: a bald eagle with its majestic two-metre wingspan.  Slowly circling above us, I was both amazed and discommoded by how close it was to us. Later a groundhog lolloped across the path to the deck.  I wondered it that’s what Mr. Baldy had been after.  The groundhog spotted me spotting him and it froze.  I laughed.  I thought about being a kid – that stage you go through where you close your eyes and because you can’t see anyone you figure they can’t see you.  I played the game and froze too – now you can’t see me either, Mr. Groundhog.  One of us moved first, and he trundled (for there is nothing elegant about a groundhog) back into the safety of the forest: a fabulous mix of birch, fir, oak, Canada’s famed red maple and the wonderfully descriptive, trembling aspen.  I jumped into the water to cool off and saw the blue heron on the other side; flying so low I could swear it was skimming the water as it went.  They’re suppose to be lucky – herons – in the native culture.  Said to be a good omen because they are expert fishers and hunters and so, sighting a heron before a hunt was taken as a sign that the hunt would be a good one.  I’ll take it as a good omen.

Last night I fell asleep to the sound of the bullfrogs – they sounded more like baby donkeys baying than the frisky frogs they are, nonetheless, there is no more pleasant a backdrop to fall asleep to.  The rain has cased, but I would be more than happy to see and hear more rainfall before I leave.

What a thing it is to sit absolutely alone, in the forest, at night, cherished by this wonderful, unintelligible, perfectly innocent speech, the most comforting speech in the world, the talk that rain makes by itself all over the ridges, and the talk of the watercourses everywhere in the hollows!  Nobody started it, nobody is going to stop it.  It will talk as long as it wants, this rain.  As long as it talks I am going to listen.”  Thomas Merton, Raids on The Unspeakable

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