Loon Decoy, Nova Scotia
One of my liberal college classmates was recently ranting about the terrible growth of Inequality over the whole post-Reagan period of the ascendancy of Conservatism in American politics, which roughly coincided, interestingly enough, with most of our own real, post-age-30, adulthoods.
Another classmate effectively rebutted those assertions of declining middle-class economic well-being by pointing out how much had changed with respect to lifestyle and expectations in America during that time, as well as over our own lifetimes. We approaching-age-60 adults can remember not only a world with no personal computers, no cell phones, and no multiple family automobiles. We can remember the time of no televisions, no air conditioners, party-line telephones, and a lot of people owning no automobile at all.
One can see the dramatic impact on human life of the economic growth produced by the free economy just by looking at antique artifacts of everyday life. Those charming collectible pieces of folk art being sold at auction for high prices to serve in future as decorative art not so terribly long ago were practical tools.
Take the charming, somewhat primitive, stark and streamlined decoy above, found in Nova Scotia, going on the block at a Guyette & Schmidt Auction later this month. Someone will be proudly displaying it soon in his living room or den but, less than a century ago, it was bobbing in some cove or inlet along the shore as a hunter was trying to shoot… a loon.
The common loon, Gavia immer, is protected today, and most people would find the idea of shooting one of these iconic symbols of the Northern wilderness sacrilegious and the idea of cooking and eating one even less appealing.
Loons are pretty much the lowest evolutionary form of waterfowl, the most primitive and the boniest, featuring the toughest flesh and the fishiest taste. No one would eat loon if he could get coot or even merganser.
Loons were so renowned for their lack of gustatory appeal that a whole genre of loon recipes taking roughly the following form are traditional jokes.
Catch a Loon Duck. (Black Lake Loon’s are best). Pluck and clean. Boil well. With sharp knife, split duck down the belly. Splay it on a well soaked hardwood plank. Nail it good and wire it securely. Place upright on plank in front of hot coals on outdoor fireplace. Cook well for about two hours. When done, throw that fishy duck away, and eat the plank!
But, in the old days, people really did hunt loons in order to eat them. There would be periods of the year when the more migratory waterfowl were not present and available in the North Country. Ducks and geese would have flown South, but you could still find loons.
Even in Nova Scotia, I expect it’s been a long, long time since anybody was reduced to dining on loon.