A Loon Walks Into a Bar

Well, not really. More like I met it out on the lake, shortly after dropping my butt into my kayak. That’s how you do it…you put in a leg and then drop your bottom. It doesn’t matter what your other leg does, because you’re already secure. Anyway, I was paddling merrily along the shore, staring at the rocks and belting out the Christian standard, ‘How Great Though Art.” For those who love to sing, there is no better place during Covid than being alone on the water. First came the hymn…I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder…and then I met the loon.

Immediately, the lake, rocks and forest around me were transformed into a smoky lounge. Think Rick’s Café in Casablanca. Grabbing a barstool, I silently wondered if the loon came here often, but since I’m writer, I try to avoid such clichés. “Did you come here alone?” I said, knowing they like to travel in pairs. 

“Did you?” it replied with a languid but lonely look. 

Pointing to the spot where I’d scattered my husband’s ashes a month before, I took a second look at the bird. It seemed melancholy, and gave a forlorn wail as proof. “Did you get left behind?” I asked. It nodded. “Yeah?” I said. “Me too. You’ll be okay.” We chatted about the lake, how empty it seemed and how all the beavers had disappeared. I’d gotten used to the steady sound of their slapping tails. It seemed eerily quiet without them. 

“Beavers are just so bitchy,’ the loon said in a low voice. “Always in a bad mood. Like, no one else is allowed to swim around? I raised my glass, saluting its bitter sarcasm. 

“Here’s to those who love us, and bugger all the rest.” We toasted and sipped. I must mention that while we were deeply engaged in this conversation, the lounge was growing darker and more intimate. As we leaned our elbows on the counter, I tilted my fedora…(okay, Clarence’s Tilly hat) and said, ‘Of all the gin joints in all the world…”

“You had to walk into mine,’ the loon finished with a heavy sigh, just before we heard a booming sound. We looked up. Dark clouds crowded the sky, and in the distance, thunder rolled across the heavens. Oh, the irony. I’d just been singing, “I hear the rolling thunder,” before I met the loon. Sadly, its meaning had not registered. 

Quickly the loon flew upward and the lounge disappeared, leaving me to desperately paddle back to my car. As lightning teased the sky, I asked myself this. Would my rubber soled Keene’s ground me? Was my paddle just a lightning rod in disguise?

There are different kinds of prayer. Singing is one type; a celebration of being alive and able to breathe freely. Ordinarily when paddling, I sing a lot, gazing at the fallen trees, (compliments of the beavers) lying beneath the waves like ship wrecks and the gray boulders resting on the bottom like sleeping dinosaurs. As I paddled swiftly, the loon disappeared from sight and I practiced the desperate person’s prayer. (Many of us know it.) ‘Please don’t let me die here. My kids will kill me.’  

Life holds all kinds of lessons for us. Like, remembering to put a foot in your kayak before dropping your bum. Like understanding that time spent with Mother Nature is like applying lip balm to a chapped soul. And then there’s this. If you meet a loon in a bar, don’t be seduced by its pretty feathers or lonely wails. Just doff your Fedora, wish it well, and leave. But feel free to call over your shoulder like I did before paddling away. “Loony, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” 

A tremulous answer came from somewhere far above me. I took it as a yes.

Published by Judith Anne Pettersen

Judith Pettersen is an author living in Canada. She blogs about her life in the north and the ups and downs of being a writer.

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