At my writing retreat in northern Minnesota, which overlooks a small lake, I sat down to do some work and heard the cry of a loon. It was such a beautiful, mournful sound that I began crying myself. Sobbing, actually. Great, heaving waves of raw emotion rose up from some bottomless sea of despair inside me, crashing on the rocks of my tattered soul, spraying plumes of briny tear mist all over my computer screen.
Just when I thought the crying might stop, a mourning dove chimed in with its funereal coo, and suddenly I was bawling again. My nose filled with snot, mucus dripped from my mouth, my face turned red, and I could barely see through the relentless gush of tears. Wad after wad of Kleenex was insufficient to stop the flow, so I buried my head in a beach towel and wept some more.
Right about then, I came to a sudden realization. What the hell, I thought, I don’t need this shit. It’s 7:30 in the morning, and I’ve got work to do. Who gave that stupid bird the right to sit out on the lake and make sad sounds all morning long? If that isn’t the saddest goddamn sound on the planet, I don’t know what is. Listening to those birds is like having Albert Camus perched in a tree in your backyard, encouraging you to go out to the garage, wrap an extension cord around your neck and end it all.
What do these birds have to complain about, anyway? Loons live on lakes where the property values are skyrocketing, and they basically swim on top of a fully stocked grocery store. I don’t know what mourning doves eat, but the food can’t be any worse than the stuff other birds eat. You don’t hear robins and cardinals complaining all day that their life sucks; they’re happy and chirpy all the time. But these loons and doves—my god, you’d think the world was ending tomorrow the way they go on.
Honestly, I’ve never seen such narcissism in the animal kingdom. Please, loons, shout it out, because everyone wants to know how much pain you’re in! So what if you’re avian existence feels meaningless? Join the club. We all feel that way sometimes. But you don’t see me out on the deck wailing my sorrows to the world. Not anymore, anyway. So shut up and let some happier birds take over for a while. Nobody needs this crap first thing in the morning.
After that, I felt a little better. I got the sobs under control and made myself a cup of coffee. I went out onto the deck and peered out across the lake, which shimmered in the morning sun. Out in the middle of the lake, a lone loon bobbed around on top of the water, its long beak pointing the way toward some unknown destination. As I sipped my coffee, I thought: If that stupid bird opens its mouth one more time, I’m going to swim out there and strangle it.
That image gave me a sense of peace. Rejuvenated and restored, I went back inside and got back to work.