Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Call of the Loon

My sister and I are at our parents' cottage on Frye Island in Sebago Lake for a few days' working vacation. Here's how we do it: one day vacation, one day work, one day vacation, one day work... Fortunately, the weather has cooperated with our agenda and our vacation days landed in the "mostly sunny" forecast and the work days in the predicted "cloudy, with some thunderstorms." Sometimes, things just work out.

Even though I'm vacationing/working, I'm still getting up around 6:45 am. I try to push it 'til 7, but this morning, as my eyes opened, there was a familiar but infrequent sound coming through the windows.  A loon. Somewhere out on the lake, with its hypnotic cry. Before I knew what I was doing, I flung the sheet off of me and got out of bed. I heard it again, but inside the house, I couldn't be sure where it was coming from. The cove? Out on the lake? Without stopping to put on anything over my nightgown, I walked, as if pulled by a tether, out of the cottage and down the wooden walkway to the water and sat at the edge of the small deck with my feet on a rock and stared out across the lake. The cry came again, and although it was more faint, it sounded like it was right out in front of me. I scanned the water. Instead of a still, flat mirror, the water this morning was slightly choppy and the only thing I could see was a small boat hundreds of yard away, sitting as if anchored. Maybe they were watching for it, too.
Then, I spotted something. A bobbing dark head atop a long neck to my left. I know that loons dive deep and come up yards away from where they went in, so I had to identify it quickly before I lost it. But my eyes were still blurry from sleep and as I rubbed them to focus, I lost sight. The calls stopped, too, and I wondered if I couldn't hear it anymore because of the sound of the wind and the waves slapping up against the rocks or if I had just missed my chance.

I stood up to scan the water one more time, but the spell was broken. I turned to go back up to the cottage and noticed that two of the women renting the cottage next door had also been on their deck, watching, listening. We gave each other a little nod as we walked back up to our respective houses and I wondered if I should be embarrassed that I had rushed out of the house in nothing but my short, gray nightie. I've worn less when called down to the lake by the loons; I was actually respectable this morning.
I've never taken a decent picture of a loon here at the lake. We have pictures of them plastered on one of our kitchen walls, but they came from a Maine Loon calendar. My mother has a collection of ceramic and wooden loons on a special loon shelf and above the fireplace, too, but actual sightings and photo opportunities are few and far between. It's like this cottage, nestled among the hemlock, pine and birch trees, shored up by boulders and deep blue water. We can only come here for six months of the year. The rest of the year it's inaccessible and frozen. We come back each spring, summoned by its changing, yet unfailing beauty and peacefulness.  Like  the cry of the loon, we can't do anything but heed the call.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


When we moved into our house almost eight years ago, it came with a garden. Not just a little side-yard, white picket-fenced patch for a couple of tomatoes and some daisies...a full-blown, professionally designed, perennial garden. It takes up the entire front yard. Or at least very nearly all of it. The problem was, the woman who had put in this masterpiece had moved away three years earlier and the family that had moved in pretty much--apparently--ignored it. Then we came along to buy the house and after we ripped up the gold shag carpet out of the dining room and hauled  out the dilapidated stove out of the kitchen, we stood with wonder at what to do with this wild and unruly Eden in our front yard.
I immediately had a friend come over and diagnose the patient. She took us on a tour of our own yard and pointed out things to nurture and things to get rid of. I conscientiously took notes and made drawings so as to be able to go back the next day and go to work. But naturally, by the next day, I had forgotten just about everything she told me. Even though I still have my drawing in a handy file folder titled, "Garden". I couldn't match the drawings with the actual plants. So I weeded and watered and basically tried to keep the whole thing from dying off.

Flash forward 8 years. (You can do that in a blog.) My sister, Susan, poet extraordinaire, entered the Uconn Master Gardener program last winter. By this May, she had passed her test and begun working down her 60 hours of community service to complete the program. Susie (ok...Susan) has been taking care of her yard and the yards of others for a couple of years now and has a keen eye and deft hand at doing it, so getting validated in a program was simply a natural progression of her talents.

Meanwhile, I had been hacking away at my poor little garden trying to keep it alive and give it a little dignity. My husband can be a little crazy with the weed whacker so I consider it a personal victory that I rescued the hydrangea a couple of springs ago. It lives today.

But it was a bigger job than my husband and I were able to manage. Able mulcher that he is and ready weeder that I am, we needed help. I sent my sister an email with the subject line: Garden 911. I included pictures.

She responded to the call. And even though I offered to be the muscle and do whatever she told me to do (and who can resist an offer like that?) she did all the work. She dug, pulled, moved, wheelbarrowed, contemplated, watered, assessed and sweated. She sweated her astilbe off. And now, after a mere day and a half in my yard, my garden now looks like this:

UConn may call her a Master Gardner, but I call her a Miracle worker. She also left me with instructions and this time, I'll try to remember them. (I probably won't) And when I forget, my sister will come back. That's what sisters do.