Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Dark Water (Part 2 of 3)

On the water tonight, things are calm. I feel the breeze on the back of my neck. It’s strong enough to push me along in my kayak, but not strong enough to blow my hat off my head. The scene gets quieter as I glide 50 then 100 yards away from the mouth of Forney Creek. The sounds of moving water are disappearing in the distance, and the quiet of the still water is taking over.

The channel is about 50 yards across, and there are small ridges on both sides of me – I’m in a river valley, after all – so there’s not a sense of vast expansiveness. That’s a feeling that you get only on high mountain perches with those vast, panoramic views. Nevertheless, tonight my personal space is huge, having expanded from the few square feet of civilized life to a few square miles, thanks to being on a mountain lake at night.

The feeling in these flooded creek channels is one of length, height, and depth, but not breadth. I am actually sitting where the treetops should be. I imagine the rocks and logs and fallen timbers below me. Snuggled down in my kayak seat on the surface of the lake, I am actually up high, and my view is that of someone who has climbed to the top of a tree in a river valley to survey the landscape.

Of course, the night sky provides a sense of expansiveness above. The moon is bold and dominant, enhancing the wildness of the scene, but at the same time it gives me a sense of security, like a little boy with a night light in his room. Sure, it helps you to see in the dark, but it also provides a sense of safety far beyond its tiny glow. It keeps the monsters in the closet where they belong.

Drifting on the lake at night is like a dream. The breeze creates a slight ripple on the surface of the water, and the glow of the moon on the ripples gives the effect of thousands of tiny flashbulbs – an array of random flashes, not quite simultaneous, a glistening that lasts and lasts and lasts as long as the breeze blows and the moon shines. Staring at it creates a psychedelic effect, so I stare for awhile and time stands still.

Over the years since this Forney Creek trip, I’ve experimented with moonlit and moonless nights on Fontana, and I’ve come to prefer a bright moon. The reason is not entirely for the security of the night light to keep the monsters at bay. When I go out on the lake without a moon, I am hoping to experience a starry, starry night on the lake. I want to see the constellations and maybe a few meteors. I want to be overwhelmed by the Milky Way and the Big Dipper and all the other nighttime sights.

But moonless nights on the lake aren’t quite as overwhelming as you’d expect. Sure, they are great, but the view of the stars is actually better once you get back on land and away from the lake. The reason is that the lake surface is like a mirror; yes, a dim mirror, but definitely a mirror. It creates a glow, not a bright distracting glow like city lights, more of a background ambiance that just sort of gets in the way. The stars can’t quite blaze and dazzle because of the interference from the lake’s surface. It’s like trying to watch a movie while some guy in the audience is whispering to his buddies. You can see and hear the movie, but you also hear the low pitched drone of his voice, and you can’t tell where it’s coming from. It’s somewhere between subliminal and peripheral.

So, to get the full effect of the stars, stay on dry land. To get the full effect of the brightness of the moon, go to the lake. [To be continued]