Early morning's stillness was disturbed by the strange, laughing calls from a family of loons. They rang in echoes through the early mist.
The chilly air was like a splash of cold water on warm faces, as a Grandpa and his grandson crept to the edge of lake water. The older man reached for his binoculars and passed them to Matthew, who anxiously focused on his target.
A fuzzy picture emerged until he saw the dark outline of a loon. Its head and neck were blackish with narrow patches of white on the throat. It was neat to observe such a beautiful creature. Grandpa said loons usually lived in pairs, with their own favorite lake, a place now special for Matthew.
Both he and grandpa had planned this trip a week ago. It was supposed to be a fun day. But it was hard to forget the sadness he felt in his heart. Matthew's mom and dad were having some family problems, and it was not pleasant at home. Grandpa was sure a short time away would be just the right medicine for a young grandson.
It would also give Matthew's mom and dad some private time to talk things over. The boy tried not to think about whether mom and dad loved each other any more.
Their arguing was getting worse. His eyes blurred as he looked through the binoculars. If only his parents were here to see this. Matthew knew the wonderful scene in front of him could bring peace to anyone. He wished with all his heart everything would be okay when he returned home later tonight.
Matthew watched as both loons took turns diving for breakfast, staying underwater a long time then surfacing much further away. After returning the 'glasses' to his grandpa, he walked a short distance and leaned against a tree.
"How about some breakfast?" grandpa quietly asked. Matthew's thoughts were mixed up as he watched grandpa prepare the campfire.
"Okay I guess," the boy said. He decided to help a little, then a lot. Soon, the dark cloud left his thoughts. "Grandpa, do loons ever fight?" Matthew suddenly asked.
"I don't know, grandpa answered. "If they don't, I'm sure it's because they realize a family has to care for one another."
Matthew wished all humans could be like that. Not fight, just care for each other. Then they would be happier.
"It's not possible for a perfect world," grandpa's voice interrupted.
"It's not fair. We should be doing things together. Just like the loons!" Matthew shouted. He thought about other bits of information grandpa had given him. "Loons lay two eggs. And as they grow up, each parent looks after one of the young loons. To teach and protect them."
After breakfast, grandpa and grandson cleaned up. Dishes washed, campsite checked for refuse and warm embers splashed several times with lake water. More wood was also collected for their supper campfire.
Then, grandson and grandpa prepared out for a little canoe trip. They removed shoes, socks and slipped bare feet into Deyarmond Lake. They carried then pushed the canoe into deeper water before getting in. Matthew's paddle thumped loudly on the thwart.
"Did I scare away the loons, grandpa?"
"No Matthew. They know you mean them no harm. Besides, they're resting somewhere right now. I'm sure we'll see them again tonight."
The day passed swiftly as their canoe moved easily from one inlet to another. Peanut butter, jam sandwiches, along with a jar of water was their lunch. During their trip they saw chipmunks, a porcupine, deer and many varieties of birds. The Chick-a-Dee was Matthew's favorite. Its piping call seemed to ask, "How do you like my land?"
Supper was a delicious meal of steak and beans. "I want tonight to be just perfect," grandpa said. "Good food and good times with my grandson."
"With lots of love," Matthew added. The words leaped right out of his mouth. "And no more fighting at home," he whispered.
Matthew thought about his mother and father. He wished they were with him, right now. He wanted his family to have fun times together. Like the way it is with grandpa. Maybe his parents should know about how he feels inside.
Also how kind grandpa is to him. And the way the loons send a neat shiver up and down Matthew's back. Maybe he should help more at home, with the dishes and instead of complaining, cheerfully help dad carry in the firewood. And the next time his father got grouchy, Matthew promised himself not to growl back. Or slam his bedroom door when he was upset.
He believed everyone deserved another chance, mom, dad and even Matthew. They were a family, and should copy the loons. Yes, they could work it out.
They dressed in warm clothes, and put on mosquito repellant. Grandpa placed a finger on his lips as they walked quietly to the edge of Economy Lake. After sitting on their prepared log, Matthew leaned against grandpa's shoulder. Both sat silently.
Then, the songs began. Trickling sounds crept across the water, more like fingers playing on a piano. And evening breezes, like soldiers moved quickly to carry the tunes, as layers, one upon another.
The wind puffed its breath over the growing symphony, sweeping everything towards the man and boy, waiting eagerly. They were not disappointed. A pair of loons called from one to another in playful chords. They seemed to understand they had an audience. Peace and caring through melodic beauty crisscrossed the lake.
And they were absorbed into a young boy's heart.
Matthew's own song was one of love for his family. Closing his eyes, he made a promise. Like the loons he would bring back a message, of a family working together. Matthew placed his arm on grandpa's shoulder.
And squeezed really hard.
* * *
Richard L. Provencher 2007
NOTE: Several versions of this story have been written since loons are my favourite wild species. They are such a thrill to be near. RLP
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