Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

I see my first loon, at Itasca State Park September 24, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 2:27 PM

UP UNTIL AUGUST, I had only ever seen loons in photos or as artistic renditions, like these on this wooden tray in the Itasca State Park gift shop.

Loons in art at Itasca.

Loons in art at Itasca.

The only loons I had ever heard were on television or in the replica sound emitted by LoonTune™, a folksy-style toy created right here in Minnesota. See www.loontune.com.

So when I actually heard not one common loon, but two, while vacationing in northern Minnesota this summer, I was beyond thrilled.

These are birds that send a chill up your spine with their haunting voice.

My daughter Miranda photographed this loon in Lake Itasca.

My daughter Miranda photographed this loon near the shore of Lake Itasca in mid-August.

And to think I nearly missed these loons at Itasca State Park. I was walking along the sandy shoreline at the public swimming beach when a three-year-old boy ran up to me, held out his tightly-clutched hand and opened it to reveal a shell. He was so excited. I mean, really, really, really thrilled about his discovery.

Soon he was plucking more shells from the edge of Lake Itasca to show me. Back and forth. Back and forth. He was so cute that I simply had to stay and play his little game.

And that’s when I saw my first loon, not far from shore, dipping and diving in and out of the lake waters. Later I would hear, but not see, a second loon after insisting we stop at Peace Pipe Vista, a scenic Itasca State Park overlook.

Scenic Peace Pipe Vista, where I heard my second loon.

Itasca Park's scenic Peace Pipe Vista, where I heard my second loon.

The loon’s edgy, lonesome voice captivated my attention as did its sheer size. I never expected a loon to be so big. Adult common loons weigh 8 to 12 pounds. This is no small, duck-sized bird.

The waterfowl’s ability to stay under water for so long, up to five minutes, also impressed me.

And those red eyes, well they’re not to scare you. They actually serve a purpose—helping the loon see better while under the water.

I had, of course, learned all about common loons back in sixth grade, when I studied Minnesota history. But that was decades ago, in a southwestern Minnesota classroom, in an area of the state where there are no loons.

Finally, after all these years, I saw and heard a real loon and, like the preschooler with his shells, I was thrilled with my discovery.

© Copyright 2009 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Loon photo by Miranda Helbling