Coming Half Circle

The infant days of COVID-19 seem so long long ago. Back in those early times, it all seemed so strange. So disruptive. So confining. And lonely. In lieu of a social life, I took to the outdoors. By mid-afternoon each day I needed to flee the house, and began walking Seven Bridges Road. What a boon it was to have the city extend the road closing, to have a safe place to walk just outside my door. To climb that hill time and time again, and venture over to Hawk Ridge to look down on Lakeside. Quiet, traffic-less, sheltered neighborhoods. Shuttered by the virus.

Seven Bridges Road April 2020

I watched the leaves come out, the grass come to life, the roadside don its cloak of spring green finery. And still I traveled through a foreign world. The road reopened, and I joined the cyclists grinding up those same hills. My wheels took me further afield, granting a longer and more vigorous escape. I retraced old routes, invented new ones and flew down newly surfaced roads that felt like butter under my spinning tires. It felt almost normal. But I couldn’t out pedal the grip of the virus.

In summer, lively voices accompanied my wanderings. Amity Creek was teeming with life as teens and families alike were drawn to its swimming holes and surrounding woods in greater numbers than usual. “Hammockers” inhabited the trees. Thrill seekers jumped from high cliffs. Kids played hide and seek in the bushes. Picnickers ate by the stream. All eager to forget. Not exactly social distancing. We all needed a way to cope.

Fall’s colors painted over my world, brightening my days with radiance. Every day brought a new landscape, each set of changing leaves outperforming the last. Enticing me out to walk my route before they faded. Those hikes were habit by then. Seeking beauty in a world inhabited by ugly germs.

Hawk Ridge fall view

The falling leaves now signal the waning warmth in our days. Days which have already grown too short for my taste, darkness closing in on both sides. Gone are the evenings we could sit on opposite ends of the deck with friends, to relish seeing them in person. To satisfy that craving for live company. In ways we are allowed in the midst of the virus.

I feel winter lurking at the door, ready to scale down my social opportunities. To limit my face to face contact to that contingent of friends that embraces snow, skis, snowshoes and bundled up walks. To challenge my creativity and strengthen my tolerance for Zoom. All in the name of staying safe.

I don’t know what I expected when the first shut-down order came. I wasn’t naive enough to think it was only a matter of weeks. But I didn’t fully grasp the long-term nature of this confinement. Yet here we are. My walks up Seven Bridges Road tell me we have come half circle. I now have no doubt we will complete this circuit, and then some. Until the virus releases its hold on our lives.

Seven Bridges Road October 2020

Hello Strava

My daughter talked me into it. “You should be on Strava, Mom.” That’s all I need. Another app to check on my phone. More posts to read. One more place where I feel compelled to keep up with others. I’ve already pulled back from FaceBook, only perusing my feed now and then.

“You can see our workouts,” she said. “Complete with maps and pictures.” All my kids are on Strava. Karen’s strength and cardio classes. Carl running with the stroller to day care every morning. Erik’s uber rollerski and hill bounding training for the Birkie. “And you can follow Uncle Will as he roams the countryside to find outrageous mountain bike trails.” Now that would be entertaining.

I have to admit, I fit the profile. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t run, bike, swim or ski. Each athletic activity diligently tracked by the Garmin GPS watch on my wrist, uploaded the moment I get home so I can view, analyze and relish my progress. I begin to weaken.

Creating a free account, I link my Garmin and that’s all it takes. Suddenly, every move I make finds its way to Strava. Instantly. I find my kids and follow them. They find me and give me kudos. And there’s Will – way up in Copper Harbor! I see their routes, their speed, pictures and the descriptions they add. Kind of fun, actually.

It’s the pictures that draw me in. It’s no longer enough to lace up my shoes or fling my leg over my bike. I want to capture the moment with my buddies. Like that walk I took with my sister, Susie.

Molly Susie Lakewalk

Cycling up the shore, I always enjoy the scenery but now I am hyper vigilant. I’m eager to catch that brilliant sunrise, the red sky, the sun’s glow across the water.

Brighton Beach sunrise 1
Brighton Beach sunrise 2

I watch as the early morning sun illuminates the fall colors, intensifying their golden hues.

Morning fall colors on the shore

I search for good views, the right angles, the best timing.

Skyline cycling
Hawk Ridge hiking

Yes, it interrupts the flow of my cycling but I ask myself, what’s the hurry? I find new joy in the scenery that flies by, even if I’ve seen it dozens of times.

I know Strava was meant to inspire my workouts, drive some competition with others, give me ideas for new routes. And it perhaps it will. But for now it’s opening my eyes to the world around me as I run, walk, hike and cycle. Adding dimension to my exercise regimen. Broadening my view. It may even get me to slip my good camera around my neck or into my bike bag.

Hello Strava. Glad to be here.

Strava screen

Seeking the Peak

Was it more of a gift for Karen, or for us?  For her birthday, our daughter was given a weekend away, to indulge in her own desires without the constant demands of four little ones while her husband Matt held down the fort.  As hosts, we were the happy recipients of this generosity.

Karen’s phone pinged with a notification early in the day of her departure.  “Northern half of Minnesota approaching peak fall color,” it said.  “Good timing!” she texted us.  The search for color was on.

Saturday morning arrived along with thick fog.  Undaunted, Karen and I set out for a walk up Seven Bridges Road and across Hawk Ridge to take in the view.  But there wasn’t one.  But that didn’t stop us from enjoying the close range colors bordering the road, and the mother/daughter walk and talk time.

Hawk Ridge colors in fog Hawk Ridge in fog Karen on foggy birding platform Extending our route to include Amity Coffee, we sipped our hot drinks on the final stretch to home.

Karen and Molly on color walk

Our next outing was an afternoon bike ride.  Ignoring the dark clouds and nascent raindrops as we loaded the bikes on the car, Karen and I doggedly held to our plan.  Rich’s recent fall from his bike prevented him from joining us, but his pitying look told us he didn’t envy our stubbornness.

By the time we started our ride on the Munger Trail in Carlton, the rain had stopped.  The trail conditions were wet but we rejoiced in our good fortune and set our wheels in motion.  Heading back toward Duluth, we whizzed along the long gradual descent, trying not to think about the uphills it meant on our return trip.

Munger Trail colorsMunger Trail colors 2 Karen cycling Munger Trail Molly Karen rainy Munger Trail

Just as we were about to turn onto highway 23 for a loop route, the rain resumed.  Rather than endure road spray from cars, we chose to turn around and cycle back through the same tunnel of color on the trail, splashed by raindrops.  The temperature was mild and it wasn’t enough to soak us through.  Not as nice as a sunny day, but a good adventure none the less.  So far, weather 0 colors 10.

Sunday promised clear skies, and I knew Karen had her heart set on seeing the North Shore colors – just as every other leaf peeper did.  But we were determined to beat them.  Rising early, the three of us set off before the traffic and headed to Tettegouche State Park.  Driving inland, we hiked into Tettegouche Camp on Micmac Lake from the back side of the park.  There we could take in the colors without crowds.

Rich Karen hiking Tettegouche

Karen Molly overlooking Micmac LakeTettegouche Camp with colorsThe only thing that remained was an overlook.  For that, Karen and I climbed Mt. Baldy.  We discovered that it provided not only a view of Micmac Lake, but also Nicado Lake on the opposite side.  Surrounded by endless views of blazing fall color.

Karen hiking to Mt Baldy Mt Baldy view of Micmac LakeMt Baldy view of Nicado Lake

We finished our hike in good time, beating the rush back to Duluth yet catching the best of the colors.  At their peak.

Karen returned to her little charges rejuvenated and fulfilled.  I finished the weekend on a high as well.  Thank you, Matt!

I Love this Ride

As I strained against my bicycle pedals while advancing up the hill, debate raged in my head.  Rounding the corner I asked myself, should I or shouldn’t I?  Nearing the turn I pondered anew – what to do?

In my well ordered world, I would continue on with my planned early morning bike ride/workout.  I would complete my 30 miles, finish my breakfast toast slathered with peanut butter en route to the coffee shop, then perch on the front porch with a medium skim latte and write for several hours.  It’s what I do.

But possibility lurked.  It was a mild clear morning with the sun just rising, and the brilliant leaves told me they were approaching prime.  Not quite there yet, but the weather forecast promised ugly conditions for the next week.  The leaves might not outlast the ugly.

I had yet to perform my annual ritual. At least once a year I take a ride across the city of Duluth, perched on the hilltop following Skyline Drive with the harbor and lake far below.  This would be the perfect day to do so.  But it wasn’t in my plan.  And I always follow my plan.  Or do I?

I turned left.  Never mind that I had only a half full water bottle for a 40+ mile ride.  So what if my usual granola bar stash was in my other bike bag?  Forget the fact that my map of this route was in the same place.  I had to go for it.

Whizzing along in the early morning sunlight, the air alternated between hot humid blasts that fogged my glasses and the more habitual chilly air.  I felt loose and free.  The writing will wait.  The story will still get done.  I was doing something for myself, and it  felt good.

I had a good 20 mile ride through the countryside just to get to the opposite side of town.  But even that blossomed with fall colors.  They were all around me.  It’s what I had come for.

Fall colors Lavaque Road

Reaching the Information Center at Thompson Hill marked the beginning of Skyline Drive.  From there, the scenic drive snaked across the crest of the hill, weaving back and forth in a rolling ride through forests of fall colors.  My pace took a nosedive as I continually stopped to snap pictures, to gawk, to appreciate.

Skyline Drive fall colors 1 Skyline Drive fall colors 2 Skyline Drive fall colors 3 Skyline Drive fall colors 4

Normally, the appeal of Skyline is the view.  The panoramic spread of the St. Louis River, the harbor and Lake Superior is visible from multiple overlooks and is a real-life geography lesson.  But not today.  Blue smoky haze from the western wildfires hovered over the scene.  Across the water, Wisconsin was a blur.  The horizon erased.  The flat water on this calm day stretched into nothingness.  All of it was eclipsed by the vivid scenery in my immediate vicinity.

With one exception.  The quintessential Duluth experience – a thousand-foot ore boat was inching its way out of the harbor and making its final turn to pass under the Aerial Bridge.  In my “why not?” state of mind, I had all the time in the world to wait for it. Even if it resembled the scene from a faded black and white movie.

Ore boat approaching the bridge

Skyline Drive dumps out unceremoniously at the gates of UMD, and I dutifully skirted the campus.  But even that had its rewards, as I passed the flaming maples of Bagley Nature Area abutting a student parking lot.

The final stretch took me across Hawk Ridge where I bumped along the dirt road amid a gaggle of bird watchers observing the migration.  Then I twirled down Seven Bridges Road through a tunnel of gold – home territory and the terminus of my own driveway.

How glad I am that I followed my yearnings.  That I heeded the siren call and threw my plans to the wind.  And relished this last gasp of warm colorful weather.  Throughout it all, the same chorus kept repeating in my head: Oh, how I love this ride!  

Breaking Routine

We own a wonderful cabin nestled in the north woods facing a pristine lake.  A pontoon boat awaits, as do multiple kayaks, a fire ring and a sauna.  Inside a stone fireplace begs for a blazing fire.  So what are we doing renting a lake home?

Having put all our bike touring, lighthouse keeping and travel on hold for the foreseeable future, Rich and I decided we deserved a vacation.  A real getaway, on a different lake, in a dwelling with more space and amenities (including heat that doesn’t involve stoking a wood stove in the middle of the night), and new territory to explore.

New is the key word here.  A place with no expectations.  No chores.  No established routines.  Only possibilities.  Wonderful options.  The outdoors awaits, and I just know the indoors will delight.

Lakehome at Gunflint Pines

I pack all my notes for the pile of magazine stories I’ve promised to write.  But before the first night falls I set them aside, out of sight.  My head hits the pillow without setting an alarm.  I’ve already dismissed the idea of an early morning run or bike ride, kiboshing my daily ritual.  I’m off to a good start.

Our home for the week is on the edge of Gunflint Lake.  We came loaded with bikes, kayak, and hiking shoes.  I set about putting them all to good use.

Mornings on the large lake are my favorite.  Launching the kayak into the tranquil water I cling to the shore, exploring the deep rocky lake, peering into the woods to catch glimpses of cabins and lake homes.  Smoke from the forest fires out west reach us early in the week and creates eerie reflections, but can’t spoil my reverie.

Smokey sunrise by kayak

Strong winds keep me off the lake for a day, but in their wake the deep blue of the sky returns.  The air borders on freezing and the lake gives up her warmth.

Kayaking with lake mist Kayaking Gunflint Lake

The hills behind us are criss-crossed with hiking trails and I set out to conquer them all.  In the resort office I pick up a hand-drawn map, and get pointers on where the best overlooks are.  I can’t resist labels like Lost Cliff and High Cliff, which live up to their names.High Cliff over Gunflint Lake 1High Cliff over Gunflint Lake 2
High Cliff over Gunflint Lake 3

Rich and I set out to hike to Magnetic Rock.  It’s not a long walk, and I don’t know much more than that this rock has magnetic qualities.  I was not prepared for its sheer size.
Molly at Magnetic Rock

Fall colors grow more vivid by the day.  Yellows punctuated by brilliant gems of red illuminate the trail.

Rich hiking Magnetic Rock Trail Magnetic Rock Trail 1

I’m so busy watching where I step – over tree roots and around rocks – that my eye is easily drawn to nature’s minutia beside my feet.
Magnetic Rock Trail 2 Magnetic Rock Trail 3

Traffic on the Gunflint Trail tapers off beyond Gunflint Lake.  So I set out on my bike for the end of the trail – literally.Molly end of Gunflint Trail

Nightfall lures me back to the lake where I can hear the waves gently lapping while warming myself by a crackling fire.  Rich joins me and we sit, mesmerized by the dancing flames. 
Gunflint Lake Campsite

Five days of finding new things to do, seeing new sights, lingering over views, staring into fires.  None of it resembles my daily routine.

Dip Dip and Swing

Our paddles keen and bright,
Flashing like silver;
Swift as the wild goose flight,
Dip, dip, and swing.

That old Girl Scout song infiltrates my brain, repeats over and over again, accompanying the strokes that propel our canoe.  I’ve been yearning for this.  There is no escape quite like launching a canoe and becoming one with the water.  Losing myself in the pristine wilderness, the tree-ringed lakes, and the silence broken only by loon calls and the swish of our paddles.

Molly Rich canoe Sawbill Lake

I’ve been lobbying for a trip to the Boundary Waters.  To camp and sit by the fire.  To look beyond at the brilliant stars.  To hope for an Aurora. To crawl out of the tent in the morning and drink my coffee while looking out at the calm water.  To set out and paddle the whole day long.  But it wasn’t in the cards.

While in Grand Marais with our son Erik and his wife, Katie, we went up the Sawbill Trail and rented two canoes for the day.  Rich and I paddled one, they shared one with their dog, Finley who rode complacently in the duffer spot.

Erik Katie paddling Sawbill Lake

It all came flooding back.  That Boundary Waters feeling, the seclusion, the lack of technology and urgency which pervades our lives.  Just us and the water.  Dip dip and swing.

We traveled the length of Sawbill Lake, surfing the rollers stirred up by a strong south wind.  All the while knowing we would have to paddle back again into that same wind.  But we forged onward regardless.  An 80 rod portage took us into Ada Creek where we found quiet backwaters to have a floating lunch.  Finley wondered why we didn’t portage more often so he could run.  It was all good.Erik Rich portaging canoes

Yes, it was a brutal return battling into the wind.  But it did the trick.  I didn’t think about COVID all day.  I didn’t worry about wearing a mask, washing my hands for 20 seconds or who was in my circle.  All I had to do was paddle.  Dip, dip and swing.

This morning Rich and I launched a canoe once again.  We are staying in a secluded lake home at Gunflint Pines Resort, which comes complete with private lakefront, a canoe, and our own fire ring on the shore.  Gunflint Lake is not quite in the Boundary Waters, but close enough.  The fog was just lifting from our end of the lake when we pushed off.

Our dock at Gunflint Pines

It was calm as we crossed the large lake in the early morning.  Our destination was Magnetic Lake, but we accidentally sidetracked into a quiet inlet instead.  I didn’t  care.  Nascent fall colors accented the forest reflected in the calm waters.  We pondered the international border that ran along our route, the US to our left, Canada on our right.  The rest of the world didn’t exist.  Dip, dip and swing.

Canoeing Gunflint LakeMolly canoeing Gunflint Lake

We couldn’t help but be attracted to the ornate golden estate that populated the opposite shore on Magnetic Lake.  It turned out to be on the island we were encouraged to encircle, and I insisted we do so.  I was intrigued with the intricate carvings on the perfectly maintained structures and flower boxes with red blooms.

Magnetic Lake

The wind came up and challenged us on our return.  It wouldn’t be a canoe trip without requiring a bit of extra effort.  The far shoreline advanced ever so slowly as we beat our way into the waves, back across the endless expanse of water.  We poured all we had into the task.  It’s all that mattered.  Just as I wanted.  Dip, dip and swing.

COVID Family Time

“This is not the year to try to make things normal.”

That was in response to the unpleasant task of uninviting our friends to our annual Labor Day gathering at the cabin.  Todd and Susan and family have never missed in 30 years, but the Same Time Next Year event was not meant to be this year.  The feeling was mutual.  Mingling two family circles was not wise.

These COVID times have certainly limited our connection with such friends.  The ability to travel together, invite friends over for dinner and host them at our cabin suddenly evaporated.  Fortunately, in its wake we still have family – the silver lining.  Having extended our circle to include all our children and grandchildren back in late May, our greatest opportunities for socializing have centered around spending time with these loved ones.

Minus our friends, Labor Day weekend became a full family gathering.  We still numbered eight adults and six children ranging in age from 9 months to 10 years.  Thankfully, the weather allowed us to spend most of our time outdoors, sparing us from a juggling act in the cramped space of our modest cabin.

I love nothing more than being surrounded by all my children and their kids.  I’m so grateful for the closeness of our bonds, and the fact that they all still enjoy one another and choose to spend time together.  And yet, I’m conflicted.  So many people and so little time to talk.  I want quality visiting time with the adults, yet easily cave to the insistent pleas to join the little ones in their play, or read to them.

In the end, what lingers are memories of precious moments.  Spontaneous snippets of time that fill my heart.

Little Michael’s infatuation with riding a tiny trike.  Despite his limited vocabulary he easily cajoles several of us to join him.  Time and time again down the little hill.  He insists.  Points to illustrate his instructions.  I laugh so hard my stomach hurts.

Michael Erik on trikes

Ben’s excitement and determination to master the art of rowing – a prerequisite to learning to pilot the little fishing boat and motor.  Taught by none other than Dartmouth oarsman, Grandpa.  The grin on his face when he succeeds.  The invitation to be his passenger on his training runs.

Grandpa teaches Ben to row

Happy hour sprawled across the deck and beyond.  Little fingers picking out only the green veggie straws.  Adults with their favorite beverages.  Two Elsa princesses in attendance.  The cacophony of conversation swirling around me.

Happy Hour on the deck

Pontoon rides.  Wondering if we are over our weight limit.  Redistributing passengers to keep the front afloat.  Admonishing Grandpa when he exceeds cruising speed.  Ogling cabins on the shore.

Taking out the Pontoon Kids cruising on Pontoon

Carrying on the home-made ice cream tradition.  Will it freeze this year?  Yes!  Best Oreo Mint ice cream ever.

Karen Mya Michael make ice cream

The list goes on.  Introducing young ones to the sauna, the “warm room.”  3-year-old Maren swimming in the lake with me, immune to the cold water.  Baby Crosby army crawling across the lawn.  Watching my kids parenting their kids, aunts and uncles spoiling them.  

We certainly missed our friends.  But I am thankful that to date COVID has allowed us to still come together as a family.  Even more than normal.

Hoeg family with masks

Hoeg family

Time out for Waterfalls

With my manuscript ready for the Post Office, I am free.  There is no point in laboring over minutia, tweaking the words, or re-crafting my dialog.  While my writing coach spends the next month pouring over my draft and developing a plan to guide my next steps, I am absolved from working on it.

I promised myself this respite.  After hunkering down and writing all spring and summer, limiting my excursions to the cabin and family visits, it’s time to venture further afield.  Rich and I have decided that the safe way to do that is to stay self-contained, driving and renting AirBnBs that have kitchen facilities.  Sheltering in another place.

Our first foray is up to Grand Marais, returning to a gem of a rental, Tre Søstre in the heart of town.  These three mini-tower dwellings bear the Scandinavian sleek design of architect David Salmela.  With huge windows overlooking the harbor, a deck on each floor and within walking distance from everything in town, it’s an upscale haven.  Since we are in the middle unit this time with two bedrooms, we invited our son Erik and his wife Katie – as well as pooch Finley – along.

Three Sisters Horizon Three Sisters Horizon inside
View from the Horizon in Grand Marais

We dedicated a whole day to journeying up the shore, hiking in state parks along the way.  The common theme was waterfalls.  It didn’t require rigorous effort, as each site was a mile and a half or less from the car.  Half the fun was just lingering, not caring how long it took, and drinking up the sunshine.  Escapism at its best.

Our first stop was at Tettegouche, where we hiked up to High Falls.  Katie braved the rocks and water to throw sticks for Finley who boldly swam below the falls, while the rest of us perched on rocks.

Erik Katie Tettagouche High Falls Katie Finley High Falls Tettagouche

On the way back down, we took a side trail to see Two Step Falls – requiring 200 steps down.  And back up again.Katie Erik Molly Two Step Falls
Rich Two Step Falls Tettagouche Erik Katie Finley Two Step Falls Tettagouche

Temperance River has always been a favorite of mine, with its deep gorge, rushing water and potholes scoured out by swirling water, sand and gravel.  Despite the almost-fall season, there was still plenty of waterflow accompanied by lots of oohs and aahs.

Temperance River 1 Temperance River 2Temperance River 3

We followed the trail up to Upper Falls.  This view took a bit of maneuvering down a steep rocky unmarked path that we missed the first time we passed by.  But it was worth the climb down.Erik Temperance RiverHappy Hour on the deck while Erik and Katie prepared shrimp scampi was pretty sweet.  I’m starting to get into this time out.  Molly Grand Marais

Here I go again

My forever project.  That’s what I’m now calling the work that has consumed the last four years of my life.  What was I thinking when I started out to write a book, expecting that it was The Year of my Book?  Naive as I was, I poured my heart and soul into the stories I wrote for the next year.  And the year after that.  Tales derived from the thousands of miles that Rich and I covered on our bicycle tours, along with the joys and the conflicts that accompanied them.

I supplemented my work with taking writing classes, reading books about craft, joining Lake Superior Writers, and networking with other writers.  I grew as a writer, but knew it wasn’t enough.  I decided to engage a writing coach, to get first-hand personal input on  my efforts to write a book.  Even as I packaged up my work to send to Mary Carroll Moore, I knew what I had was just a “pile of content.”  I relied on her to steer me through shaping it into a book.  I spent the next six months working with her, and she delivered.

Molly writing

It has taken me another two years to put those learnings into practice.  To whittle down my stories and turn them into a cohesive tale.  One that goes well beyond pushing the pedals of my bike, and explores the inner me that journeys through life.  I’ve learned that the bicycle is the vehicle, not the real focus.

Less than half of what I first wrote remains in this new version.  But so much more is woven in between those pages.  I’ve delved into my past, dug into my innermost desires, scrutinized my motives and exposed my biggest failure.  There were times when writing felt like therapy sessions.  But I could see how it all began to weave together.  I could feel it working.  Maybe.

I feel as though I’ve taken it as far as I can on my own.  I could spend months tweaking and fine tuning, but it would all be for naught if I’m not on the right track.  I’m yearning for that professional guidance and tutoring specific to my writing, to my project. I’m ready for another check-in with my coach.

As I prepared for the October start to our next engagement, I looked back on the notes I sent her the first time around.  Specifically, I read through an exercise focused on Why am I Writing this Book?  I was amazed to find that my original reasons no longer hold true.  My purpose has changed.  The themes have shifted.  The points I want to make are vastly different.  I think it’s progress.  I hope she thinks so too.

Yesterday I took my document to the printer, and came home with 320 double-spaced pages.  Nearly the same size as last time, but not at all the same inside.  This time I’m willing to call it a manuscript.

I’m both eager and nervous to get Mary’s reaction to the transformation.  I already know she will be encouraging no matter what.  But I have no illusions that I’m close to done.  I trust her to guide me from here, and teach me the techniques and nuances that will take this to the next level.

Mary is still the only other person who has read this volume.  I’ll keep it that way until I’m good and ready, until it’s good and ready.  I know I still have plenty of work to do.  So here I go again.  Coaching round 2.Life Cycling manuscript

Loon Swimming Companions

For three years running I had a feud with the loons. We battled one another for my swimming space in front of the cabin, and invariably the loons won. With their fancy dances and alarmist yodeling, they drove me away. Away from swimming my laps. Away from their young chicks. Unseen but undoubtedly nearby in their nest.

I never did figure out where that nest was. But in loon logic it was too close for comfort. Too close to let a swimming human any closer.

By now I have been well trained. Starting each July, I scan the water for loons before pushing off from the dock. I double check the area as I near the widening in the reeds. The loon parents have radar and will speed in from the middle of the lake to fend off my advances. But not this year.

So far I have yet to encounter a single loon while swimming. Sadly, I know it means they have no chicks. Or perhaps they have moved their nest further afield. I hope it is the latter.

This morning a loon pair float into my space as I begin my swim. Hesitantly I breaststroke, keeping my head above water, my eyes trained on the loons. They remain calm. Floating, dipping their heads in the water, looking for fish. I try shouting to drive them away, but they ignore my silly cries, only giving a mild yodel to acknowledge my presence. So I swim on.Molly swimming with loons 1Molly swimming with loons 2

This is nothing like the protective threats of yore, which instilled a healthy fear and retreat. I know not to cross that line. But this feels different. I engage full lap swimming mode, crossing from one side of the reeds to the other and back again in a strong front crawl. Without the line in the bottom of a swimming pool, my laps tend to stray off course, so I steal looks now and again to make sure I am not veering closer to the loons. Still they float nonchalantly, willing to share the space.Molly swimming with loons 3

Underneath my minor victory lies a good dose of discomfort. They are still wild birds, after all, and unpredictable. I head for shore while I’m still ahead on this round. I send my loon friends a silent thanks for their company and forbearance. For letting me swim with them.

Next year the feud may resume.  I do want their chicks to survive. Just not near my swimming spot.  I would miss my loon swimming companions.Molly swimming with loons 4

All photos by Rich Hoeg, 365DaysOfBirds.com

Note: The telephoto lens makes the loons appear closer to me than they really were – they were about 5 yards away.