Flipping the Bird

My best friend – I’ll call him Curt Peter – and I had planned on moving to Alaska and working on fishing boats when we graduated from high school. Not only were we going to work on the fishing boats, but we would also have lots of adventures in general. We didn’t do this. I broke the pact and, like an ass, I decided to go to college. Curt eventually became worn down by after high school grown up working and went to college.

After college, Curt and I planned a camping trip to Canada. Deep down, we both knew that this was in place of Alaska. We headed up north in my 1984 Chevy Citation with a small canoe strapped to the top of the roof. We had our camping gear and 3 very large jugs of cheap wine.  We would supplement our wine with Molson, when it could be found- in Canada. Kind reader, we had done the kind of camping without the jugs of wine and decided that was not for us.

Curt was a fan of the animals. At that point of his life, he still was interested in studying wolves. The opposite of loving animals would be killing them. This is what we did when we went duck hunting as kids. But, Curt was like only a handful of people who I’ve known who truly respects animals. Dear fragile reader, I know it’s a stretch to understand that one species can respect another species, and then shoot the other species in the head- but it happens.

On the other hand, most animals freak me out. I never shot anything as a kid hunting. That would have meant that I would have had to touch it.  I can pet a dog. I even had dogs as a kid. But when it comes to touching animals I’m not very good. For example, horses. I’m not super keen on touching the face of a horse. It doesn’t appeal to me. Cats are spooky. And birds are absolutely revolting. Birds have those tiny eyes too close to each other. If birds were humans they would be serial killers. Curt was a better person than me. He could hold a bird in his hands and gently rub its little serial killer head next to his face until it made some kind of phony happy bird noise – that translated meant – “want to kill you, you, you, you.

On day 10 in Canada we were driving next to a lake. We saw loons on the lake. Loons are the quintessential northern bird experience. Their plaintive calling is magical. Then when they get very close it’s too loud and scary. And loons very close are just very loud birds with their tiny close eyes and a dead eye stare.

As the road wound next to the lake like a caterpillar on the edge of a large blue leaf we watched the loons from a distance. Then we saw a loon that was on the edge of the lake – on land. This loon decided to become airborne. Loons don’t normally take off from land. Water is the preferred launching method. The loon was slow in its climb into the air. We noticed this slow climb veered in our direction as we motored along the lake in our gas-powered junk of man-made metal. We watched as we drove. It all happened very quickly.

The loon flapped. We drove. The loon continued to flap and we continued to drive. The loon was headed straight for the 1984 Citation. It looked like it was climbing too slowly. Then we saw it up close. Its little serial killer eyes had no expression. We assumed the bird had done this daredevil stunt many a time. I was braced for it to hit my side window, then in the last split second it soared right above, out of view.

For not even a fraction of a second we presumed the loon safe. I’m guessing the loon presumed itself safe, possibly judging car heights over its bird career. At that last possible second we heard a loon vocalization that I’ve never heard since. It was four short screams. I think it said, “Canoe, canoe, canoe! Shit!”

Then we heard the hollow thud of something like a bird hitting the canoe. The canoe, not knowing it had this power, flipped the bird quickly to the side of the road. I grimaced. I was sad. Here’s the problem, even though I momentarily felt bad for the loon, I felt sadder that Curt would want to stop and investigate. I looked towards Curt and continued to drive. We were not married, so I didn’t have to try to guess what he would want to do. He would actually tell me. He said, “Pull over, ass. You just hit that bird.”

As I pulled over, I mumbled something about it actually hitting the canoe that I was carrying. Once again, as man friends I was not obliged to care about his feelings.

When we pulled over Curt went back and quickly found the loon. I followed, hoping this whole incident would not require me to touch a bird. I envisioned us needing to travel 70 miles in the opposite direction to locate an animal hospital. Another potential scenario would entail putting a dead loon in our cooler and taking it someplace for a burial. Curt ran to the scene of the alleged crime. I slowly walked.

When I got back to the scene Curt had completed dusting for prints and now was holding the loon in his arms. I approached slowly and realized this was respect time. I got a chill up my spine as I imagined myself holding a bird. He cradled the loon’s neck in his hand. He seemed deeply affected. For a moment my bird Grinch heart started to grow. The sound of the loon’s last call rang in my head like wahoo, wahoo. It became apparent that the loon had not survived the introduction to my callous canoe. I knew Curt possessed knowledge of the loons.

I asked, “What kind of loon is it?”

Curt gently moved its body to the left. I thought he was going to cry. Then he took the loon’s head in his hand and with a quicker motion he flopped his head back and forth demonstrating his broken neck and limp body. He looked up at me as if snapping out of a trance and said,

“Dead. This is a dead loon. That’s what kind it is.”

And I smiled slowly. Other-species-killing-Curt was back. He had his moment and was now back. I was so happy that there would not be a dead bird in our cooler. Curt gently laid the loon off the side of the road and covered it up with some leaves, making sure it was still easily accessible for something else to eat it. We had plastic cups of wine to celebrate the life of the beautiful beady eyed serial killer and continued on our way, watching extra hard for low flying birds.


1 comment

  1. Kathy Laraway Decker says:

    Hilarious! (I say with the appropriate amount of respect, RIP Loon).
    I know, right?! Birds are revolting, totally with you on that. Pretty, but creepy and dirty and peck-y and generally not to be trusted.
    Great story.

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