Jarvis Coffin: Off the Highway – Calmly on the waters

Jarvis Coffin


Published: 04-19-2024 8:32 AM

It looked hopeless outside after the most-recent snowfall had melted. (Note: I do not tempt fate by presuming we have seen the last snowfall of the year, only the most-recent. It is still April, a moody month, antagonized easily by any presumption about its intentions. Do your part -- don’t start sending boots and gloves to the basement yet.)

It was still wet and damp under the trees at the lawn’s edges, which were matted and tangled, like someone’s sweaty head from which we will need to comb the leaves, sticks and twigs. But after a few days of sunshine and warmer temperatures, the grass is getting green and the little red buds are out on the trees.

Most importantly, the loons are back. The mergansers came through, followed by the buffleheads, the single wood duck that always shows up for a day, other ducks, notably mallards; the Canada geese; and, finally, for us, the loons. And once the loons arrive, it seems everyone else is uninvited, particularly their diving competitors, the mergansers and buffles.

Of all the animals we will share property with this summer, we are most attached to the loons. They are the only creature that does not bolt the instant they become aware of our presence. To the contrary, they will generally paddle over in an effort to be neighborly when it happens we are down on the shoreline.

They are as courteous to Huckleberry, our exuberant little black dog, who hops from one shoreline rock to the next to get better views of them. They seem to enjoy his hopping and occasional slips and falls into the water. They take up a position about 20 yards offshore and watch, exchanging amused glances.

Why is the loon the only animal we see that does not run and hide when we approach or so much as step out on our porch? A partial answer may be that they do not carry the memory of us hunting them in their DNA. But that cannot be the whole answer. What sort of fearful memories of us would robins, or phoebes, or any of the myriad songbirds have (we feed them, after all), yet all of them hightail it the instant we slide open a window.

My wife is doing what she can to dissuade two robins from building a nest again in the rhododendron along our front door path because we know it will lead to a very unsettled incubation period. Everyone will be a nervous wreck by the end, including us. The children will be born feeling on edge.

We will use the door at the other end of the house (not convenient, frankly), to try and minimize the disruption, but, even so, will need to traverse the driveway to get to the cars, meaning “vroosh” as we go by. We will forget and use the wrong door, carrying the trash outside to the bin, and “vroosh” again – whoever is on the nest will race to the nearby hemlock. It rattles the nerves.

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This will happen dozens of times a day, you understand. Out the door, “vroosh.” In the door, “vroosh.” Pick up sticks, “vroosh.”

Fox, raccoon, possum, deer, bear (thankfully, so far), even colleagues at the top of the food chain such as hawks and eagles bail when they see or hear us. Owls are a slight exception. I have encountered owls who will remain impassive as I stroll along the driveway in the evening, allowing me to pause and study them for a short while.

But the loons. The loons will fall in line behind our kayaks, pop up behind us as we are floating on our foam noodles or divert to swim closer if they see us on the dock. Personally, I think this level of chutzpah derives from a record of 30 to 50 million years of existence, which gives them levels of comfort and self-confidence that our – well, you decide, but a call it 300,000 years, as we are today – cannot match.

We worry about climate change. If a loon could talk I would expect to hear, “Baby, let me tell you!”

I recognize that loons can be hard on each other during mating season and they clearly do not like eagles. They hold certain opinions and report their grievances. But I take comfort in the overall affability they project after surviving so many eons. Time has not made them more mean-spirited. They have arrived to float calmly on the waters, bidding us a chance to do the same.


Jarvis Coffin writes fiction and essays on rural life. He is a retired media and advertising sales executive, and former chef/owner, with his wife, of New Hampshire’s oldest inn, the Hancock Inn. Reach him at huntspond@icloud.com, and keep up with all his musings at postcard-from-monadnock.ghost.io.