Nightdark loonsong heartswail

4 am and the fog has lifted. I can see the shore, across the bay and out to the islands. A westerly wind lifts the leaves of the trees and two or three frogs throat in the pond, but the water in the cove is mirror flat.

The air is damp and ragged edges of cloud bloom and bleed along the horizon. No dawn light yet, but ambient scatter beneath low clouds illuminates the edges of a farther world than we’ve seen for days.

I let out the dog and stand in the air, inhaling lungfuls of land and sea smell. A damp breeze circles my ankles. Suddenly nearby a loon cry and then another and another.

On this shore we say that means a change in the weather. Usually rain. But I also hear: company in the darkness so eloquent that at once it pierces and names your loneliness. Loonsong the stitch that knits life and death and every isolated sorrow, the sound for which I’ve forever waited at the water’s edge, neither coming nor going nor yet surely staying.

I think some language must have a word for that sensation, the way that according to Robert MacFarlane in Landmarks, taghairm is Gaelic for “noise; echo; type of divination by listening to the noise of waterfalls” or for Manchan Magan, Irish word collector, adhantach (illustrated by a twisted weathered barnacled tree) means “apt to kindle, thoughtful, lightheaded, spirited.” Where there is branch, there must also be root. And spark.

Later I reflect that where words fail, there poetry enters. How do you say nightdark loonsong heartswail? How do you say this way breathstopping loss but also life?

To cry out means to carry on even in a depleted and broken world.

Looncry: rain spits into an inky sea.

Morning and the fog is back, thicker than ever.

Notes

All photos taken in West Quoddy Nova Scotia, July 2021.

Robert MacFarlane, Landmarks. London: Penguin/Random House UK, 2016: 123.

Manchan Mangan (@manchanmangan) “Adhantach” Thirty-Two Words for Field. Instagram. 26 July 2021. With thanks to Aoife Mac Namara, who introduced me to @manchanmangan.

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