I’ve been traveling for two days and I’m tired of being treated like a number. I’m finally at my destination, a cabin in northern Wisconsin. I’ve come a long way to be here, and I know my journey from Hawaii was worth it.
Opening the door, I grope to find a light switch. In a few moments, I’m listening to the crackle of a wood fire in the stove. A sustained loon wail rises from the lake. Mystical and high-pitched, it’s a sound that could be interpreted as pain.
The loon speaks in four calls: wail, yodel, tremolo and hoot. Tonight they wail. But the loon’s elegy is music to me. They’ve recently flown back from the Gulf of Mexico, a nearly 3,000 mile journey. Their call in the dark is half mariachi. It’s an eerie sound over water, something like mourning and something like a high note from a Mexican trumpet.
The Ojibwa of this area once spoke of the loon as mang, which meant, “the most handsome of birds.” It’s also the most ancient of birds, existing long before humans. North American field guides list the loon first.
The wail keeps echoing over Big Casey Lake and it’s loud, much louder than summer calls when leafy trees mute the decibels and their haunting. The loon sound abates; I step outside to see new snow. I haven’t formed a snowball in years, so I make one about the size of a baseball and fire it at a tree.
I miss wide right, and it surprises me. My right arm has grown stubborn, like everything here. I take a short walk in the woods, looking down to see my boot sole making tracks. Snow keeps falling and the woods are silent. I look down again, certain I’ll see blood tracks.