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Totems: Loon

by Cie Simurro, a.k.a. Thunderbird Starwoman

My song summons primordial urges, as little else does in these times. Your people used to honor my people for our beauty and our Medicine. I AM LOON, the voice of the wilderness. In the dark summer’s night, you hear me mourn the death of our pure way of life. Take a time apart to search your heart for lost dreams and for new guidance from conscious dreaming. There is treasure there. If you can dream it, it can be. What does it feel like? Does it make you happy? Join my clan. You will never be the same after hearing me. We will take you into the depths of mystery.

We have just moved into 2013. The 2012 Apocalypse turned out to be an urgent invitation to discover our connectedness with all life. Loon’s desolate, haunting call evokes primal feelings older than time. Loons are the oldest birds in North America, and one of the oldest on earth. Imagine: 60 million years – humans less than 200,000. Loon has longevity medicine. Loon’s ancient wail brings us to the edge of our dreams, reminding us to make our dreams real – one act at a time. To get away from so-called civilization, nothing will link you to vastness and the eternal like the song of loons.

As I crossed the street for a meeting, I noticed the plum-colored uniform of a meter-man. He went directly to a car whose meter had expired. On a whim, I asked if I could put a dime in the meter. He said yes and moved off, so I had the exhilaration of prolonging a probable destiny for one of possibility. I put in two dimes. Why? Why not? I would be ecstatic if someone did that for me. Besides, it was fun to do - totally serendipitous. Let’s dream a new dream.

It’s time for us to swim like loon toward our goals. Loons are deep divers. Also, they are possibly the fastest fresh-water swimmers around. Folks with loon as a power animal often do competitive swimming and diving. They usually get where they want to go, because they persevere under all conditions. Unlike other buoyant marine birds, loons have dense bones, which helps them dive to a depth of up to 200 feet. They can also alter the amount of air in their feathers, lungs and air sacs by compressing them, permitting them to sink without a ripple, like a submarine. Talk about breath control! They can remain submerged for anywhere from 1-10 minutes, avoiding danger or pursuing fish, their favorite food. Loons also eat frogs, crayfish, mussels, leeches and aquatic insects.

Why are loons so distinctive looking? A quick glance reveals a duck-sized bird riding low in the water. However, loons are more powerfully built and streamlined than ducks, with striking ruby-red eyes, a greenish-black head, and a long, dagger-like bill. Those red eyes come from a pigment in the retina that aids night vision and filters out yellow, red and orange light, allowing loons to see beneath water. The black and white striped, spotted and checkerboard body feathers are significant. If loon is your totem, curb a propensity to look at things as either black or white, for that will cause you to curtail nuance and subtlety. Try to see all aspects, knowing that everything is itself and its opposite.

The Common loon, (Gavia immer) is the only one that nests in the continental U.S. In spring and summer, one finds loons in northern woods near freshwater lakes, rivers and estuaries. 90% of their time is spent in water, their preferred element. With legs set way back on their bodies, they are awkward on land, and at risk to predators. People with this powerful medicine enjoy spending time in water with its fluidity, interpenetrating character, and ability to adapt its form as needed.

The opening shot of the film, On Golden Pond with Henry and Jane Fonda, and Katharine Hepburn is of a loon, brilliant red eye in profile. All through opening credits, we see a mating pair… and then the first lines are, “Norman, come here. The loons, the loons! They’re welcoming us back.” Their wail has been compared to wolves howling at the moon, or a child crying. Loons wail if separated from their chicks or are attempting to locate their mates. The wild, maniacal yodel is an aggressive male response when confronted or threatened by a predator or rival. Sounding like demented laughter, tremolos connote alarm. A hoot is instigated by something pleasurable or curious; kwuks are soft tones. Pairs often return separately to the same lake, and prefer the same site each year. Their cries are heard mostly during elaborate mating rituals, and after summer campers are gone. During their time with chicks, loon parents are careful to protect the location of their chicks by minimizing calls around them. Loon inspires us to incorporate sound healing into our lives, which can take many forms: singing, chanting, toning, drumming, singing bowls, sacred bone whistles, rattles, other instruments, and employing sounds of nature like the calls of loon, other birds, and animals.

Some physical behaviors involve standing on water while doing a “penguin dance”, where wings are tacked to their sides. It occurs during extreme agitation and is often accompanied by vocal distress calls, like the tremolo. The “one-foot waggle” is when loons roll on their backs in the water in order to preen their undersides, with one big, webbed foot sticking up. To dry off, loons appear to stand on the water, with wings extended creating an impressive cameo. If someone close to you has loon medicine and you want to know how he or she feels, just watch their expressive body language.

It’s thrilling watching a loon take off. Despite their size and weight, they appear to run across the surface of open water for a quarter mile before lifting off. Reminds you of Jesus walking on water, doesn’t it? He was able to do that of course, by being one with the elements. It seems miraculous, because most of us feel we can’t do that. Yet despite our own disbelief in ourselves, loon urges us to stretch into what we used to call miracles, because we have not understood the metaphysical laws behind them. As an evolving species, we must now learn to see miracles as natural occurrences.

What has been hidden will come to light in these times, including the Light that is ours under that proverbial bushel basket. Light is an apt description of these new times. Such intense influxes of light are not always comfortable. Certainly though, this is a case where “resistance is futile.” The world is changing at a fantastic pace. A quorum – that magical number that tips the scales – is forcing us to examine our lives to see if we are living in awareness of our truth, and more so, acting on it consciously.

We are in a technological age, and scientific discoveries are paradoxically leading us back to what First People the world over have always known – that we are One, meant to connect with and assist, those with whom we share this planet. What is new is that we are becoming able to do this with ever-greater skill and precision, like loon accelerating after its prey. These new abilities may be developed or honed for movement into new areas. What would you love to do? Play a musical instrument, sing, learn to ski, develop a new skill set to help you navigate your everyday world? If you are vibrating at the same frequency of the thing you want to become or do, it will inevitably be yours. Don’t worry about the “how.” Stay in the “I’m already there” vibration. When swimming after fish, a loon doesn’t ask itself if it can do it. If it did, there would be fewer loons.

There are dangers to which loons are pre-disposed: predators - dogs, raccoons, skunks, minks, weasels, and even fish like pike. The Inuit legally hunt them in the thousands every year. Because loon nests are often mere scrapes or slightly hollowed mounds of aquatic vegetation at the water’s edge, boat wakes can wash eggs right out of nests. Gulls, ravens and crows rob eggs and hunt unattended chicks. Illustrating the protective quality of loon medicine toward offspring, if either male or female nesting loons sense danger, they will slip into the water and submerge to keep the nest location a secret. A most endearing sight is seeing a chick ride on the parent’s back. This affords protection from predators and allows chicks to conserve body heat and energy. This teaches that no effort is wasted; eventually everything is useful, and most importantly, if you believe in your hopes and dreams, ultimately they will take off and be successful.

Recently, the NRA and its friends in Congress tried to push through a bill that would prevent the government from regulating lead in hunting ammunition. They failed. If you fish, please use non-lead fishing tackle. If loons eat fish that have ingested tackle left by anglers, they get lead poisoning. Even one lead sinker can kill a loon. Pebbles are part of a loon’s diet. It helps them digest. They can mistake sinkers or jig heads for pebbles. Be aware of oil rings or spills from boat motors. And during migration, one oil spill from a tanker or oil rig can be disastrous, killing untold numbers of loons and other creatures. Every year there are fewer loons. If a loon survives the multiple threats of predators, boats, water-skiers, floating oil, campers, acid rain, toxic waste, mercury poisoning, and also shoreline and island development, they can easily live 20 years.

Following ancient impulses, in late autumn, before the first freeze, loons will gather on a large body of water to fly south at speeds from 60 to 90 m.p.h. to winter in the Great Lakes or off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, and the Gulf of Mexico before shedding their grey-brown winter plumage for their striking black and white summer garb. Immature loons spend two to four years before returning north to mate.

There is no doubt that loon is a totem that is associated with the moon. Though the word looney originates from lunar and lunatic, a “looney” is also a Canadian $1 coin, depicting a loon on the reverse. “Crazy as a loon” may refer to loon’s eerie tremolo call. Loon helps us have the courage to examine what has been submerged. Long-suppressed desires may come to the surface. When things come to light in the soft, silvery light of the moon, they lose their power to control. Loon reminds us to honor Grandmother Moon’s power in ceremony and song.

Cie Simurro ~ Thunderbird Starwoman has been a healer and writer for almost 40 years. Her work is to bring forward and disseminate the healing arts and ancient universal wisdom through writing, teaching, and healing, facilitating the mystical reunion of humans with Source and Nature, in all directions, allied with the Elements, acknowledging the divine within all. For 12 years, she has been a contributing writer in Wisdom Magazine.

For healing for you or your animal, spiritual training, to invite Cie to bring her presentation: "Our Partnership With Nature" to your area, or purchase her book, Totems for Stewards of the Earth ($22 to PO 295, Shelburne Falls MA 01370), call 413 625-0385 or email: cie@ciesimurro.com

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