It is July 24th, and I awake to the chatter of loons on the lake at our Central Minnesota cabin. Dawn is just breaking and something has disturbed the loons protecting their nests. Perhaps an early morning fisherman is racing to his favorite spot. Whatever it is, it has caused the high-pitched staccato call of the loons, indicating disturbance or perhaps danger.

Then it dawned on me that twenty years ago today I had heard a different call of the loon. It was the day my father passed away. We had just acquired the cabin that spring, and I was spending some time alone getting acquainted with our retreat and enjoying the peace and solitude of being at the lake. I was fortunate to have grown up knowing life at the lake in rustic cabins my parents had built with their own hands over the years in Canada. Having a family cabin of our own was like coming home.

Minnesota Loon

“Minnesota Loon” Photo courtesy of Scott Cram

On the Monday of that week twenty years ago, my sister called to say Dad was in the hospital, having had an episode with his heart. He had heart disease, but it seemed this was a minor episode, and he would be out of the hospital within a few days. Consulting my husband, we decided I would come back to our home in a couple of days, and we would go up to see Dad that weekend. He might even be out of the hospital by then. As he had both hearing and memory loss, I decided against phoning him as the call would probably be frustrating for us both.  By Wednesday, however, I kept thinking Dad doesn’t even know that I know he’s in the hospital. I called the florist in our hometown and asked to have a balloon delivered to him with the message that we’d be up to see him on the weekend.

That evening, my sister called to say that after supper, Dad had apparently quietly passed away. Our mother had passed on a year and a half earlier, and Dad had been living in the Senior Center since then. He had told my husband upon one of our visits that he had the hardest job in the world, just putting in time. I couldn’t help but feel that after receiving my balloon, he knew I knew, and he could go now, too.

With a heavy heart and regret that I hadn’t gotten to see him, I packed up and got ready to leave early in the morning to make the nine-hour trip, first to my home to repack for the duties ahead, and then continue on to my sister’s home in Canada to help with the arrangements we would make back in our hometown.

I crawled into bed, exhausted but with my mind buzzing and threatening to prevent sleep. As I lay there with the window open to let in the cool night air, I suddenly heard that long, haunting, mourning call of a lone loon. It matched my mood and, on a deeper level, spoke to me.

Later that summer, my sister and brother-in-law came to visit us at our cabin. I had told my sister the story of hearing the loon the night Dad had died. While she was reading our book on loons, she suddenly exclaimed, “For heaven’s sake!” She had found that for the Cree First Nations in central Canada, that long, mourning call was an omen of death. We were both stunned. Since I had heard the call after my father had already passed on, it couldn’t really be considered an omen or foreshadowing of death.  But for me, it would always symbolize that the loon was calling my father home.

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