Sunset, Moonrise, Dawn

(July 2013)

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The moon this July has been extraordinary. At home it rises over Mount Dean Stone like a plate of ivory, climbs through the branches of a black ponderosa, and throws a wave of light against the south-facing shop where I build my furniture. For a couple of years I have wanted to do another night paddle, perhaps in moonlight. Before driving to Colorado to see family, Joyce and I quickly pack up the camping gear, secure a sloping site at Big Arm and eat a dinner we prepared at home. I sit facing the lake so that I can judge the conditions. Under high atmospheric pressure the lake basin receives a breeze out of the north that sweeps around Wild Horse Island and aims its energies toward the bottom of Big Arm bay. I watch as white caps lose their crests and the wind gradually lessens, leaving waves about a foot high.

I launch from the beach where Fish, Wildlife and Parks docks its big aluminum-hulled boat with the 200 horsepower Honda outboard. The contrast in vessels strikes me as humorous. If I were ever to need a rescue I might see all that power differently. Once in the water I enjoy releasing the energy of anticipation as I face the waves and wind. Bluebird splashes onward toward Wild Horse Island in progressively calmer conditions. In the lee of the island the water is much quieter. As I begin the paddle around the island, I notice a few landowners leaving the shade of their cabins after a day in the mid-90s. They come down to the beaches and docks for a swim. At Driftwood Point I pull into the snags of dead junipers and pines and read a FWP sign saying that a bear has been seen recently on the island. Perhaps the bear, too, wanted to cool off with a swim.

As the sun disappears over the horizon I paddle up the eastern shore of the island. In the distance The Missions have turned a pale violet, rocks near shore the black of silhouette. One crescent south of Osprey cove I hear a commotion over head. I see the middle act of the eternal drama between osprey and bald eagles. I look up in time to see the eagle bear down on the osprey from above. The osprey rolls onto its back. The birds lock talons and lose altitude. Then I see the eagle pumping toward me, fish in its grasp.  I can’t tell for certain who caught the fish first—probably the osprey. Next,  a second eagle pursue the osprey while the first eagle rises to its roost. Again, the osprey is the loser, beaten by size and weight. In Darwin’s terms, this is the struggle of existence.

In the growing darkness I continue paddling north, close to the rocky shoreline and at a slow pace. I would love to see bighorn sheep or the island’s mule deer, or something as secretive as an otter near shore, but the island does not reveal these inhabitants. Travelling along what is now the back of the fish-shaped island, I begin to look for a place to rest and wait for the moon. I find a deep cove with a beach of small pebbles and pull ashore. It feels good to get out of the boat, to step into the coolness, to feel rock under my feet. After the windy crossing and the paddle north I go for a swim in the darkness. I am refreshed by immersion.

I change into dry clothes, eat one of my two cinnamon raisin bagels, drink a quart of water and guess where the late-arriving moon will rise. If I had come a few days earlier, the rising of the moon and the setting of the sun would have occurred simultaneously. Tonight, I must wait for the moon. Around 11 p.m. it rises over the tops of the island trees to my right. Two or three days past full, it fills the forest around me with white corridors and long shadows and takes over where the sun left off. Trusting the light and the dark, I nestle into the stones beside a long straight cottonwood that has fallen parallel to shore. I sleep for a few hours and wait for the approach of dawn.

The sun rises like a trumpet blaring over The Missions. Feeling the heat of the day the moment the sun appears over the range I gather my gear, eat a duck egg, an apple and my last bagel. I launch in the early light to complete the paddle and have morning tea with Joyce. I head out of the cove into gently flowing air and calm water. After rounding a couple of points, I see the moon again, four fingers above a ridge. I am surprised by how glad I feel to see it again. It seems like a friend departing for another land. Something in me wants to wave goodbye. In the quiet of early morning I paddle past six sailboats tucked into Skeeko bay, two of them tied head to toe, silence suggesting that everyone is still asleep. I continue slowly along the west shore of the island, hoping to see the animals I could not spot last night. At the tail of the island I look southwest and try to locate the campground three miles away.

In the strengthening light I begin the crossing. About a half hour into the process I see jet skiers, camped along the shore, begin to cast their wakes into the air as they take advantage of the calm conditions. Though I do not enjoy the whine of their engines, they help me locate my landing. I paddle on, spot Joyce’s wave, step on shore. I feel happy to have paddled through sunset, moonrise, and dawn and all the subtle variations of light. I put down paddle, pfd and skirt, and come to the table for tea.

Summer light can seem almost garish in quality as it glances off the water. Convection raises wind and waves that fill the shore with noise. All the people, desperate for the cooling effects of water, and needing distance from the heat of home, add to the activity along the lake’s perimeter. All of this helped me feel drawn to the afterglow of sunset, the quiet of the night, the subtleties of moonlight’s shadows, the first hints of morning light before the sun claims the day. I timed my exploration of this other world well. Everything has been gentle, even in July. I have lived into the Celtic Blessing:

 Deep peace of the running wave to you,

Deep peace of the flowing air to you,

Deep peace of the quiet earth to you,

Deep peace of the shining stars to you,

Deep peace of the gentle night to you,

Moon and stars pour their healing light on you.

Deep peace to you.

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