Friday, September 27, 2013

Dark Water (Part 1 of 3)

On most backcountry camping trips I’m ready to crawl in the tent and sleeping bag soon after darkness settles in, maybe reading for awhile, but tonight will be different. The moon is high and bright, and the sky is clear, so I’m going to take advantage of it by walking back out to my kayak and paddling around Fontana Lake for an hour or two. This will be the first time I’ve done a night paddle, so I’m a bit apprehensive, even though there’s no rational reason why it should be risky. Nevertheless, darkness adds a sense of uncertainty to just about any activity, even more when that activity is paddling in a kayak on a cold, deep lake, alone.

As I walked out of the woods and into the muddy expanse, the silver glow of the moon gave the landscape a lunar look – silver, bare, alien. But the moon was so bright that it gave me an unexpected sense of security. My apprehension disappeared as soon as I stepped into the moon light and realized that visibility would not be a problem. My shadow dropped solidly behind me as I searched for solid spots in the soft, black dirt.

After about 10 minutes I reached the kayak I had wedged between some exposed rocks a few feet above the shoreline. As I picked up my kayak, it banged against the rocks, scaring an animal in the woods about 100 feet away. It sounded loud enough to have been a bear, but I’ve been fooled before by the sound of a squirrel bounding through dry leaves. I’d guess that if the sound of thrashing leaves lasts only a few seconds, then it’s a squirrel who quickly found safe haven in a tree. If the thrashing goes on and on, it’s probably a bear or deer running for its life. It’s almost always a squirrel, which a little disappointing.

I perched like a clumsy heron on a small, shore-side rock and set the kayak in the water, parallel to the shore, never perpendicular with one end on land and the other in the water. That’s a lesson that’s quickly learned by every novice paddler, hopefully at a time and place with no witnesses. This is the only tenuous moment because I’m trying to stay on this small rock to avoid the knee deep mud at the water’s edge. Stepping into the kayak, it wobbled a little, but it’s a very stable craft so there were no Wile E. Coyote moments.

I pushed out into the still water and noticed for the first time that a slight breeze has been blowing from north to south. I didn’t even have to paddle. I let the breeze push me slowly, almost imperceptibly, down Forney Creek’s flooded channel and toward the main channel of Fontana.

The main sound of the night was the rush of the creek flowing into the lake behind me. There were also the usual sounds of various insects and tree frogs. We’d had a few cold nights so far, but not enough to shut down their chorus for the season. There was also the sound of the breeze in the trees, rattling the drying leaves, but it was still too early in the season for there to be a heavy shower of leaves falling to the ground.

In the distance I hear an owl. It’s a Great Horned Owl asking, “Who, who’s awake? Me too.” It’s the classic owl hoot, and I consider hooting back, but before I can begin I hear another Great Horned answer from the other side of the channel. I listen to them ask and answer for several minutes. I’d like to think that they are reassuring each other that they are not alone in this big, cold world: “Be of good cheer; there are other kindred spirits haunting the dark woods.” But I doubt that owls are that poetic, and knowing what I know about animals (including humans), it’s more likely that they are taunting each other, establishing the boundaries of their territory – like gang graffiti sprayed on walls in rough, urban neighborhoods or bellicose politicians threatening one another. Fortunately, no fights break out tonight. Peace reigns on the lake. Although behind the scenes in the depths of the forest, mice and moles are dying at the hands of owls and foxes. We live in a fallen world where death and domination are the rule, not the exception. It’s a jungle out there, but the water ahead of me is dark and still. [To be continued]

Getting There, Up Forney Creek's Channel

Taking a Break

Muddy and Barren Landscape When the Water is Low