Tales from the Cabin
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Saving and Saved

Lessons learned from a mighty bird

By Sean Michael Bradley
Published: March 1, 2006
Photo by Christine Bradley
Norman Rockwell could not have painted us any better. We appeared to be enjoying the quintessential family vacation moment: Beautiful summer day, kids fishing on the dock; Dad, ice cold lemonade in his hand, and Mom catching a few rays … classic vacation, American style.
But something was wrong with me. I couldn’t seem to step out of work mode and into my vacation.
My oldest son’s query pulled me out of my fog. “Hey Dad, what’s that?”
He pointed to an object moving along the rocks about two feet off shore. I looked, but it took a moment to figure this out. It was a loon, but I’d never seen one this close to land.
I yelled to my wife to grab the camera. The loon’s head was submerged and it was looking for food along the rocky shoreline. I moved into the water and snapped a shot. When it was about three feet from my legs he lifted his head. I now saw why this beautiful, elusive bird was hunting the shore. His head was wrapped in fishing line, complete with sinker, bobber and hook.
Now my wife is what you call “animal sensitive” and she can detect a stray dog from an airplane flying at 33,000 feet. I knew my next action had to be to save the bird or lose the vacation entirely. The loon had now turned and was making his way back down the shore.
“Catch him!” she cried.
I jumped onto the dock to look for anything I could use to catch the injured creature. A neighbor’s boat was on the lift and I jumped into the back hoping to find a stowed net. Jackpot! And it was one of those beauties that could land a narwhal.
Thankful for the ever-optimistic fisherman, I ran toward the bird. He broke for deep water and I splashed into the surf behind him. Diving toward the ripples, I plunged the big net into the waves like some Nor-wegian crocodile hunter. Got him!
I stood, raising the net to look at this beautiful bird. He was struggling in the net and I yelled to my wife to go find a scissors.
“What is it, Dad?” my son asked as he backed cautiously away.
“It’s a LOON!” I proclaimed as if it was the newest member of our family.
As I pulled the bird out of the net, I was stunned at how big loons are! To control him, I positioned myself with the bird between my legs and my knees on the ground. This is the same holding technique I use to clip the cats’ nails at home, so I figured it would work on a loon too. I was holding the bird’s head, but he was still free to snap at me with his beak. The first thing that came to mind was to let him actually catch my hand, chomping down on my fingers.
Insert standard disclaimer here: Do not try any of this at home. (Loon beaks are sharp!)
This worked, as having a mouthful of my hand forced him to hold his head steady. The loon then attempted a loon call! Again. And again. And again.
I was sitting on a loon, as if waiting for some kind of Loon Search and Rescue Team to arrive. “This is not good!” my oldest announced as the bird continued to shriek.
My wife returned, out of breath. She carefully cut the fish line from the bird’s head and wing, removing each section as she went, including, eventually, the sinker and bobber. We removed the hook, then I walked the bird into deeper water – although it probably looked like he was walking me since he still had a firm purchase on my hand. My wife was crying joyfully.
It began to rain.
I was standing in this weird sun shower watching the graceful bird swim away. He stopped just off the dock, and rolled onto his back, preening his feathers to get himself back in order. Righting himself, he gave a tremendous loon call, the classic. He then disappeared under the rain-rippled, sunshine-sparkling surface.
I couldn’t stop smiling and I knew my vacation could now begin. I silently thanked the bird for saving me.

Having conquered loons and cats, Sean Michael Bradley is always looking for other animals to sit on.
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