Tuesday, August 6, 2013

trying to save the loons

I love kayaking. I love the feeling of spreading my wetsuit over the bikini I've been wearing all day in anticipation.  I love that moment where I shove myself off the beach shore, that moment where I no longer feel the ground and am just floating in the ocean. I love the salty sea spray in my face as my bow punches through the waves. The windier, the better. I'm like a kid when I ride the waves, bobbing up and down. I get flashbacks of surfing on the Wild Coast in South Africa.  I feel comfortable in the water and want to stay there forever, like a child in the bath with her bath toys.  I can feel the wetsuit becoming part of my skin, and my paddle becoming part of my hands.

I also love dragging my kayak on to the shore to explore a new beach.  The Arctic is full of beautiful beaches.  Pulling out my thermos that's been strapped to my kayak's bow, pouring myself some tea that's got a hint of saltwater from the cup, and playing with the things that I find on the beach. 

trying to make a shale xylophone

snowmobiles on land, waiting for the snow to come back

On one kayaking trip, S was paddling ahead of us when I saw him stop in the water suddenly and turn around.  He was inspecting something he found in the water.

I swung my kayak by him. "What is it?" I asked.
"A net," he said, looking distracted.
"Ah. Has it caught any fish?"

I didn't give it a second thought, so I kept going and headed for the beach nearby to stretch my legs. S remained behind, tugging at the net, and soon B joined him in his own kayak.

The problem was it didn't seem like the net was being checked very often. The net had already snagged a number of animals that were now dead and just floating there - including a loon - and the net was going to just keep on killing.

my kayak has the perfect spot for holding my hot thermos of tea

As per my usual ritual, I sat down on the shore and poured myself a cup of tea. I watched as the two kayakers struggled with the net, trying to shake it loose, to free whatever animals were caught in there and to pull it out so that others wouldn't continue to get caught.  They pulled and pulled, until I began to feel guilty about sitting on my butt.  But I had a cup of tea to drink, and I had just gotten myself comfortable. So comfortable.  But S and B kept at it.

trying to save the loons

Aw, dammit.  I couldn't just sit there.  I sighed, tossed out my remaining tea, strapped the thermos back to the kayak and wrapped my skirt back into the kayak. "Hold on," I said to the drowned loon underwater. "I'm coming. I'll save you."

It's not like the hunters are trying to catch the loons. They're trying to catch the fish. But the loons go speeding along and they get tangled in the nets.  And they usually go in groups, so one follows the other right into the net and they all get trapped.

But by the time I got there, they had already managed to pull the net loose.  They dragged the net to shore and dumped it on the land, so that no more animals would get stuck there.  I looked at the fish, its gills all torn up from the mesh net. The body of the drowned loon was twisted in an ugly way, and you could tell it had struggled.  B complained that his hands smelled like dead fish.

I don't want to end a story on a sad note like this, so let me tell you a story B told me about a time they were able to save the loons.

B was paddling alone in his kayak when he noticed something strange and very small bobbing in the water off in the distance.  When he moved in closer, he discovered it was the beak of a loon.  The loon had gotten tangled in the net and was fighting desperately to survive.  Every time the waves pushed her up, she would take in a quick breath, and then the water would pull her under again.  It was the saddest sight.  There were about a dozen other loons below her, stuck in the net and already drowned. It was the saddest sight.  B grabbed the loon and tried to untangle her from the net, but the loon thrashed wildly in fear, biting at at B's hands to try to defend herself.  B struggled to keep the kayak afloat.  

Finally after a long struggle, B shouted at the loon, "Stop moving, you silly bird! I'm trying to save you!"  The bird must have heard his loud voice, because she suddenly went still. Or perhaps she decided right then to give up. Maybe she was dead.  Either way, it finally allowed B to untangle her from the net and pull her away.   Once she was released from the net, the loon suddenly came alive and flew away, far far away from the horrible net that had caught her brothers and sisters, and away from the strange human that had freed her.

On my way home, a family of ducks swam right past me.  It was a mama duck and four baby ducklings. They weren't floating; they were speeding through the water towards the Strait at a furious pace.  Mama Duck was training them to swim. "QUACK!" she'd say.  "quack," they'd echo.   Mama Duck meant business; we gotta get out of this place before everything freezes over. They passed me within seconds until they were just a little blur off in the distance, heading right towards the spot where we had removed the net. Luckily, that particular trap was gone now, thanks to S and B.  Hopefully the family of ducks won't encounter any more on their journey.

and finally, for no reason, here was photos of my neighbour's brand new puppies