Sunday, April 27, 2014

Frank Morehouse: The Return of Common Loons

SONY DSCLeft the farm at 11:15 am; reached Kibby Pond at 12:30.  There were some reroutes since the last time I was here, but I can’t blame my hiking time on those.  I blame winter and junk food.

Ice is not out.  And it’s a good thing because I am not prepared to fish.  I didn’t expect the ice to be out.  I came here for reconnaissance.  Of course I got myself worked up on the hike in.  What if the ice is out?  I’m not ready.  Then, as I crested the hill and saw the outline of the pond below, my heart stopped.  It is out.  I stood there in disbelief for half a second.  Through the trees, ice looks the same as the reflection of an overcast sky on open water.  But the sky isn’t overcast enough.  Ice.  I started down the hill and could make out a darker outline along the shoreline.  That’s what open water looks like today.  My heart slowed with my relief and my decent.

I came here on a whim.  I was hemmin’ and hawin’ this morning over whether and where to hike.  I’m farm-sitting for my cousin in Sodom.  Do I leave the animals for a little while?  There’s a lot going on at work right now, too.  I should stay and get some stuff done.  But I heard and saw my first loons of the season this morning, a pair of them, and that made my decision easy.

As I walked toward the barn this morning to water and feed the chickens and ducks I swore I heard a loon laugh faintly in the distance.  I stopped and heard nothing.  Maybe not.  Then, as I stepped into the pen and opened the door to the coop they were unmistakable.  They were flying.  I scanned the sky and found the pair as they flew by, no doubt scanning me and the chickens.  The ice is out and the loons are back looking for breeding waters.  Time to start thinking about fishing.

The significance of the loons is twofold.  As I mentioned, one of the voices in my head telling me not to go hiking today is my work voice.  It’s my day off, but we’re busy preparing for our annual celebration and fundraiser at the Adirondack Interpretive Center in Newcomb called Loons and Logs Day.  You should be working on that.  Says that voice.

But it’s not just about the loons being back, it’s about me returning as well.  I moved back to the Adirondacks last June to start working at the AIC.  I came with a profound sense of accomplishment.  I grew up in the park, did the fairly typical exodus from the Blue Line in my late teens for education and employment and was fortunate enough to be able to return for a good job in a beautiful place close to family.

I grew up, like my father before me, in North Creek, but Newcomb is a special place for my family.  I’m pretty sure I caught my first trout at my grandfather’s camp in Newcomb, a place I spent a lot of time at as a kid.  I’ve found a great deal of meaning in moving back.

But now I find myself in Sodom for a week on a lovely homestead in springtime.  Whereas my father and I grew up in the big city of North Creek, this is the place of my ancestors:  Sodom, Johnsburg, Bakers Mills, all along what’s now the Route 8 corridor.  Way back, someone in an offshoot of my family, a man named Andrew, got a whole town named after him.  I guess that might put me in an offshoot of his family, but I like my way better.  The bottom line is I have a longing in my soul for this place I cannot explain, so I chalk it up to a sense of home.  Of belonging.  I belong here.  And I’ve suddenly found myself with the mindset of a loon.  I’m thinking of hidden ponds and the fish they hold.

I did a fair amount of trout fishing growing up.  At first it was in the little brooks near camp in Newcomb, but as I got older my dad started taking me to his favorite spots in the shadow of the Blue Hills of west Johnsburg.  They quickly became my favorites.

Every spring we’d pick a pond or three to try.  Dad would even pull me out of school once a year.  I spent my senior skip day in an inflatable raft on To-remain-nameless Pond with my father, but at that point it was nothing new, it was tradition.

We continued the tradition throughout my college years, upping the ante to trail-less ponds.  The first year we tried this we had to give up our search for a hidden hole else we’d have run out of light for the hike out.  We ate our lunch in a mosquito filled seepage that must have been close to our pond before turning back disappointed.  The following year we returned with fierce determination, found the pond and caught one, single, hard earned and well deserved brookie.  It wasn’t even big, but it was beautiful and I can still picture it clear as day.  It’s never been entirely about the fish.

I’ve had to break our tradition these past few years.  Distance, work, life.  But I’ve felt these hills and ponds calling me every year.  I would steal away home to fish an easy favorite as often as I could, but it was usually late in the spring and my dad and I haven’t been able to coordinate increasingly busy schedules.

There couldn’t be a more clear, beautiful, and haunting wakeup call than that of the loons this morning.  I, like the loons, have returned and it’s April and the sun is shining.  Like the words of an old song, “The feeling of spring is like the birth of a baby when the sun shines warm like a mother’s smile.”  That’s what those loons sang to me.  “It’s the song of a robin, it’s the sweet taste of maple,” I sang back.  “It’s falling in love Adirondack style,” we rang out in chorus.  Then I stepped in the chicken filth filled water pan and cursed as it splattered on my pants.  The moment was lost.  I looked around to make sure no one could possibly have seen me singing with the loons, even if it was only in my mind.  I wouldn’t want anyone to question which is the loon.  The birds continued calling, but it was just that.  No more choruses of old camp songs, just the maniacal laughter of a common loon.

That’s all it took, though, and here I sit in broken sunshine on the shore of Kibby Pond in my chicken crap Carhartts feeling crazy as a loon dreaming of ice out.  I’m thinking of new beginnings, new chapters, family, friends, sunshine, gatherings, laughter, hiking, camping, oh right, and fishing.  I’m looking forward to fishing with my dad this spring.  I’m thinking about him doing the same thing in the same place with his dad, a man I loved and looked up to for twenty years.  I’m thinking of the cycles of life.  I’m thinking about belonging and I’m thinking about love.  And all of that – not just the sunshine – after a long, cold winter, feels good.

The loons will be in Kibby soon enough.  The ice is rotten and the sun is relentless, undaunted by cloud and angle of the planet.  It just burns.  The trout feel it too, no doubt.  And here I am crazy as a loon because it’s open season, but not ice out.

To learn more about the work that brought me home and Loons and Logs Day visit

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Frank Morehouse is Program Manager for the Northern Forest Institute at the Newcomb Campus of the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. Frank grew up in North Creek and has been an environmental educator for over ten years, working all over New York State before moving back to the Adirondacks in 2013. He enjoys exploring the communities of the Park, both human and wild.

3 Responses

  1. John Jongen says:

    Call us crazy but we love belonging to that tribe. See you on the trail soon at Henderson or Lila scouting for loons in our Hornbeck.

  2. david canavan says:

    stop in at Creekside….

  3. Loving loons must run in the family! Just happened upon this article and it brought back many a fond memories of growing up and going to camp in Newcomb and all the wonderful relatives there as well! Happy trails and good luck fishing!!! My sister Dawn and I a few years back went to 13th lake during late April to do a nice canoe/photo adventure only to discover once we hauled our canoe down the trail that the ice was still on!!!

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