My daughter came upon them in her kayak: The mated pair of Lake Abanakee.
It is well documented that these two have withstood the test of the Adirondack wilderness together for 20 years now. Here they were, in the flesh.
“And Dad,” Emily breathlessly told me, “They were doing it!”
“The loons?” I responded, shocked. “Are they fornicating?”
Talk about the birds and the bees.
Technically speaking, the proper term for duck sexy time is “copulating,” Emily explained.
“Still, it’s not as if they’re married,” I responded.
True, but these two have formed their own kind of holy bond. We now stand witness at their alter in the wild.
My daughter loves birds and most every creature of the forest. She was hooked as a young kid vacationing on Fourth Lake. In an unsupervised moment, she had a close encounter with a big black bear. I freaked out hearing someone yelling: “Bear!”
She looked into its eyes and found kinship. True story.
Emily is determined to make New York’s North Country home. She is working full time this summer for the Adirondack center for Loon Conservation. In what must be one of the coolest jobs in history, Emily is paid to paddle about five stunning Central Adirondack lakes, documenting what she can – copulation and all – about these diving ducks, a storied fixture of our majestic park state.
She is particularly fond of the lovers on Lake Abanakee and their bond of commitment: “I don’t know a lot of people who make it 20 years,” she said.
You can purchase loon tchotchkes in any gift shop up there but, by far, the greatest gift is to see them on a lake, floating together as a family, or better yet, to be awakened by their primal cries at sunrise.
From across the water, you hear them trumpeting — a haunting, ancient sound – like a clarinet glissando spiraling into space. You can take the loon saltshakers home with you, but some people must work year-round to protect the real things and the once-pristine habitat that allows them to flourish.
Emily wanted to be part of that effort, pursuing an environmental science degree at Paul Smith’s College. But make no mistake, her self-described “escape to the woods,” was driven by a need to abandon Long Island.
She grew tired of the angry drivers and mind-numbing traffic, saw through the lie of unaffordable apartments heralded as affordable. She has contempt for the leaders who pay lip service to the exodus of our treasured youth when, in fact, they do little to keep them here.
Hypocrisy is thick like the trees of the woodlands. You need not look too deep to find the darkness.
Long Island’s loss – and mine – is nature’s gain.
Paddling near the shorelines these past weeks, Emily has documented nearly a dozen nests and several mated pairs.
There are two couples on First Lake, one each on Durant and Nicks. There is a pair on South Pond, but they haven’t nested yet.
Emily reports their behavior is singular: She calls it “clingy.” At times they form mirror images. They’ll dive together and resurface like synchronized swimmers. Their aquatic dance foretells another generation is to come.
Experts consider loons an “indicator” species, whose population and reproductive success are an indication of the health of the habitat. If their population can flourish, so can the rest of the ecosystem. Loons are also called a “flagship” species, one that serves as a kind of ambassador of a defined habitat or environmental cause. Love the loons; love the environment.
That’s good for business in the North Country, far beyond the sale of duck figurines. People travel great distances to rent cabins and hotel rooms there, eat in local restaurants and rent boats. Many hope the fresh air, a contemplative glimpse of nature in its majesty, might prove restorative to their battered souls.
Who among us does not need our hearts to be filled? Whose soul would not be inspired by two innocent creatures determined to forge another generation?
While contemplating that, let us Long Islanders ask whether we have done enough to nurture the next generation of our own treasured youth?
The answer will come when we clear the deep woods of our hypocrisy.
Joe Dowd is editor and associate publisher of Long Island Business News. His award-winning column run regularly.