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Max and the Midnight Loon

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MAX silently plied his paddle as Mr. Rosiello steered the canoe from the stern. The lake was quiet now. All the summer people had left. No ski boats, no laughter around the docks, no early evening lights twinkling along the shore.

As the bow cut easily through the still water, Max thought back to his first canoe trip three years before, when Mr. Rosiello had taken him to his fishing camp on Lovejoy Pond. He remembered how his paddle kept banging against the canoe:

``Sta' zitto! - Sh-h-h!'' Mr. Rosiello had whispered. ``We'll scare 'em away if you keep makin' all that racket!''

But just then, about 10 feet to the right, a charcoal-black head popped out of the water. Its wild, cranberry-juice eyes did not blink. Neither did Max's as the duck-like body rose silently to the surface. Two wavy black-and-white vertical stripes wrapped each side of its neck; black-and-white checks feathered its back; underneath, polka dots covered its sides and tail.

The mixed designs would have looked comical in color. But in black and white, the bird was magnificent.

Max had never encountered such a perfect creature. Never had nature created such tidy patterns - as though a master painter had drawn lines without any mistakes on the first try, and then carefully colored them in with finepoint oil markers.

Then without a sound the bird sank like a submarine and disappeared.

That was the first time Max saw a loon.

``Bravo, Max!'' Mr. Rosiello called softly from the stern. ``After three summers you're a real paddler. Maybe it's 'bout time I tell Wendell you and I are a team.''

Wendell was the self-appointed president of the Loon Society. The club never held a meeting, never published a report, never mailed letters. And none of the members knew who the others were. They were just a loose group of lake people who were worried about loons disappearing on account of crowded lakes and acid rain. Every fall they counted the loons and hoped their number would be a little larger. So, after Labor Day, Wendell roamed the lakeshore camps in his green pickup with Burr, his black Lab, in the passenger's seat and handed out assignments to club members.


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