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Widow presents her late husband’s tribute to loons

  • An adult Loon and a chick swim in Paugus Bay on Thursday, July 1, 2010. According to Vincent Spagnuolo, field biologist on Lake Winnipesaukee who is working with the Loon population, this is the first confirmed Loon chick to hatch this year.<br/><br/>John Tully / Monitor Staff

    An adult Loon and a chick swim in Paugus Bay on Thursday, July 1, 2010. According to Vincent Spagnuolo, field biologist on Lake Winnipesaukee who is working with the Loon population, this is the first confirmed Loon chick to hatch this year.

    John Tully / Monitor Staff

  • An adult Loon and a chick swim in Paugus Bay on Thursday, July 1, 2010. According to Vincent Spagnuolo, field biologist on Lake Winnipesaukee who is working with the Loon population, this is the first confirmed Loon chick to hatch this year.<br/><br/>John Tully / Monitor Staff

Is there anyone who has heard the loon’s wild, eerie cry and not felt goosebumps?

Laconia’s Larry Cox first heard that haunting, mournful sound as a young teenager. That experience launched his lifelong fascination with and passion for these mysterious birds. He spent his life observing them, learning about them and writing about them, intending to someday publish a book. Unfortunately, he died before his dream could be fulfilled.

His work lives on, however, through the efforts of his widow, Charlotte.

Charlotte Cox had seen some of Larry’s writings, and had read through an early manuscript. She refrained from commenting, since it was still a work in progress.

“It’s a little dicey critiquing your spouse,” she said.

While going through his papers after his death, she was surprised to find the completed manuscript of Close Encounters with the Common Loon, which even included a preface and author’s note.

She also discovered that Larry had already contacted two local photographers, John Gill and Wendy Richardson, to inquire about using their photographs, and that he had been working with Harry Vogel at the Loon Preservation Center to make sure that his facts were correct. He had intended to self-publish the book, as he had done with several memoirs in the past.

“It was all there – it was ready to roll,” Cox said.

At first, to honor her husband’s work, Cox planned to simply read through it and find a local press to self-publish it.

“As I was reading through it, I thought, ‘This is pretty darn good!’ ” said Cox, a retired editor. “And then I thought, ‘It deserves a wider audience.’ The stories are about loons in many parts of the country, but there are a lot of loon lovers here in New England. Why shouldn’t a lot of people share it?”

Cox began editing the manuscript in what she called “a close, intensive way” and spent the next year searching for a publisher. She found one in North Star Press, in St. Cloud, Minn. There was a catch, though.

“They expect the authors to get involved with the promotion of the book, and so I became my husband’s stand-in author,” Cox said. “He’s the author, but I was committed to helping them promote the book. I’ve been doing readings in various bookstores in the area since July.”

Cox describes her husband as a hiker, canoer and fisherman who wanted to see these beautiful, mysterious birds up close to learn as much about them as possible.

She spoke of the chapter “Getting Taken for a Ride on Emerald Lake,” an amusing recollection of a lesson she and Larry learned early on: Loons grow disturbed if you get too close, and you have to give them their space.

“They’re very clever about leading you astray if they don’t want you to come near their young,” she said. “One of the parents will scurry away with their young, while the other one will dive and pop up a few yards away from you in the other direction. Then they’ll dive again and pop up another few yards away, and pretty soon you’re on the other side of the lake following the one that’s diving, and the babies are safe.”

Some of the stories are more personal.

The Coxes spent many years exploring the outdoors together, and shared numerous loon encounters. On a camping trip in 1974, the couple awoke to the thrilling sound of a loon duet. Larry recalled this event in chapter three, “Visitor at Sun-down, Serenade at Sun-up.”

“While we now know this tremolo duet was possibly a territorial alarm between rival loons,” he wrote, “it seemed to us at the time to be an exuberant serenade, a joyful celebration of life. . . . This whole loon duet serenade before sun-up lasted for perhaps only four or five minutes. But for us, it will last a lifetime. In that brief close encounter, those loons out-performed Mozart, Bach or Beethoven on their best days. In our hearts, we believed it was sung for us alone.”

In a touching tribute to their shared experiences, Larry dedicated the book “To my best friend, editor and mate for life, Charlotte – for her love of loons, her expert loon calls, and her tolerance of my looniness.”

The book is about more than one person’s loon stories, though. Cox described her husband’s journey, from simply admiring the birds to learning about them and, finally, to feeling a responsibility to preserve their future. He wanted others to take this same journey, she said.

He wrote in the foreword to his book that loons are “a connection to a primitive era before human beings had even a toehold on this earth. Symbols of a vanishing wilderness, in their adaptation to us they seem to demand that we accept the responsibility to help them carry on – honored, cherished and protected.”

Charlotte Cox is determined to carry the banner for this cause.

“He wanted people who read this book to pay attention to what keeps loons alive and what endangers them, through fishing or tourism on lakes,” Cox said. “And to make sure that we assure their future, because they are the oldest living bird on the planet, still in existence today in their original form, and we want them to stick around for another 6 million years.”

Charlotte Cox will present Close Encounters with the Common Loon at Gibson’s Bookstore tonight at 7. For information, visit gibsonsbookstore.com or call 224-0562.

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