Full Moon Paddle

Posted by Robert N Pruden on Sep 30, 2004

I thought I'd post a trip report here since they seem to be rarities. Enjoy!

Voices of the Ancients Whisper While I Paddle Through Black Mercury

Two nights ago I went for a nighttime paddle. At 9:30 p.m., I drove the car to Islet Lake through a shadowland edged in silver. The moon was full with the air still, clear and warm at 11 C. On the roof of the car the VJ sliced through the autumn air as easily as it soon would the living waters of the lake. This lake is located within the boundaries of the Alberta Blackwater Grazing and Recreational Grounds, a public access land owned by the Government of Alberta.

A Texas gate protects access to the grazing grounds. The gate has heavy metal tubes forming a bridge joined by a fence on either side that cloven-hoofed animals cannot cross without serious injury. When I arrived at the gate I was forced to stop and wait for two skunks to cross the gate and disappear into a ditch under the gate. I was very patient with the skunks because I was sprayed by a skunk once and knew how sticky and persistent that skunk stick can be. Once the skunks were well out of the way I made my way along the winding access road to the main parking lot.

The graveled lot was bordered by tall dark stands of cottonwood, aspen and evergreen trees. As I stood in the lot I took a moment to absorb the serenity I sensed around me. The moonlight was so bright tonight that it washed all of Edmontonís reflected incandescence out of the night sky. The air was so clear and surreal that it seemed as if I could reach up and touch the moon, swirl its light with my fingertip and send ripples of silver spiraling into the infinite reaches of space. The edge of every shadowy object was gilt by silver. The nearby water was as flat and reflective as a lake of black mercury.

The aura of this night energized me: I was eager to get out on the water. I unloaded the VJ from the roof rack and prepped her for the water. I emptied the holds of everything that could possibly make noise. I decided to wear only my nylon vest for warmth, leaving the drytop and pfd in the car. They both make swishing noises any time I paddle: I wanted to be as stealthy as I could possibly be on the water tonight, to melt into the night as if I was only a shadow that the wildlife could peacefully ignore.

Once I launched the VJ into the black waters I eased my blades into the water and made easy strokes, dipping the blades so as to make no noises. Tall stands of cottonwood trees stood sentry duty along the shores, seeming to either block the moonlight from touching the lake or boxing it in so the lake could absorb it into itís inky depths. The air was heavily scented with the smell of autumn that was accentuated by the humidity rising off the lake. The surface of the water was so smooth that the slightest stroke with the paddle seemed to propel the VJ forward that the bow seemed to float over the water rather than slice through it.

As I paddled I heard quiet whispers of what sounded like snippets of conversation. I realized that the water swirling off my paddle blades was causing this sound. As I paddled along I let my mind drift off into the past. I thought about the possibility that this nights paddle was just one of many done a thousand time over in a thousand years. I imagined that the snippets of conversation I was hearing were the ancient echoes of the voice of the land. With reverent thoughts of the ancients in my mind, I stopped paddling, set the loom across the deck and let momentum carry the kayak forward until it stopped. I sat idle for long minutes and listened to the land speak to my soul. I felt intense joy to be out there, so alone yet so filled with such a powerful sense of the continuity of life. After long silence, I heard a large animal suddenly trumpet a bugle call then trounce heavy cloven hooves against the soft peat ground as it fled through the forest somewhere nearby. Was a moose or elk suddenly startled into fleeing for itís life by hungry wolves that followed their instincts for survival? I had heard dogs barking, maybe it was wolves communicating the animalís location, Iíll never know but the animal fled and I heard it go. A duck quacked then skittered away after it was startled by my presence. I had been sitting idle for some time now so it must have either just turned and spotted me or decided after a while that I was a threat after all.

I began paddling again and headed for the southeastern shore, which was shrouded in darkness. The dark appealed to me as a place where I might be able to surprise some unsuspecting wildlife and get in close. As I neared the shore I was startled myself by a beaver that I didnít see in the shadow. It slam-dunked into the depths just as I was paddling beside it. I was fortunate enough not to have a seriously strong startle reaction or I would have been caught in thick weeds under the surface of the water. From that point on I was leery of the beavers that would slam-dunk every three to five minutes that I was out there. I was reminded of how a beaver did that near me all night last year while I was camping within its territory during my cross-Canada kayaking trip. Kept me awake most of the night. Beaver can be so annoying.

While I was paddling along the dark shoreline an amazingly brilliant streak of light caught my eye. I peered up to see the most awe-inspiring streak created by a meteorite falling through the night sky. I thought it would be a simple blip in the night as most falling starts are. Not this one! As I watched it streak across the sky itís light overwhelmed all other sources. The streak thickened as the meteorite became visible as a violently red mass at the front. The streak of blindingly white light lengthened. Just before the streak appeared as its maximum length I saw a smoky tail for in the waning light. Wait a minute, a smoky tail on a falling star? Damn! Not only was this a huge falling star but it was very close to the surface of the earth. In all my years I have seen many falling stars but never, never one so brilliant for so long and never have I seen the meteorite itself. It is possible that the glowing red mass I thought I saw was a merely the leading edge of that amazing show of energy, an optical illusion. The falling star lasted at least 7-seconds before it broke apart. It faded from view in a 2-second time frame. I was witness to what is described by astronomers as the astronomical addition of new mass to the planet Earth. I should have had my digital camera rolling to record this but I was too awed by the display to think beyond opening my mouth and staring dumbly. I honestly thought this one was going to strike the earth this night. That would have been cool.

After the falling star show I was lost in thought. I had recently read that astronomers had located a star nearby to our solar system that is similar to ours with planets around it like ours. My eyes wandered the night sky searching through familiar constellations with wonder laced with hope that one day soon we could finally find and communicate with life on another planet. Yeah, Iíve always loved watching Star Trek because Iíve always believed that the show was no stretch of the imagination, just another science fictionesque predicate that we simply need more time to discover. Because the moon was so bright, the dimmer stars were not visible so it was not long before I got my mind back to Earth and started easy paddling again.

I paddled towards the west end of the lake making every effort to absorb the ambiance of the evening. My mind was drifting into the night when a damned beaver slam-dunked exactly beside the portside bow. That beaver sprayed my face with water as it fled my quiet intrusion. I almost went over as my startled reaction caused me to lean to the starboard side. I think I swore a little before I chuckled to myself. From now on, I pledged to myself, I would try not to let my mind drift so far away that those furry little tree-biters.

As I continued on I could see that I was nearing the west end of the lake. Suddenly I heard a watery commotion somewhere in the shadows ahead. It was a very large animal struggling in the water while grunting loudly. I suspected that it was a young moose that had been grazing on the waterweeds and was now trying to get out of the water. I increased my paddling speed to try to get to where I thought the animal would be. I was just starting to see the west shore when the animal must have escaped its watery trap and scurried to shore. I heard the deep tramping of hooves on the forest floor as the animal stormed away. Sigh! I was hoping for a close encounter, guess that will have to wait.

After reaching the west shore I turned north and followed the shore back towards my put-in point. At that point I was paddling with the full moon in my eyes. The sight was amazing. Islands were dark and foreboding. Of course, that was where I wanted to paddle so I headed straight to the darkest island I could find. The island turned out to be one that I have photographed before, during last autumn and the winter. I photographed it this night but the image is difficult to see. I paddled around the island amidst the repeated slam-dunking of beaver on different parts of the lake. It was almost as if the beaver were using their tails to engage in friendly chat from the distance.

By the time I rounded the island I was near my put-in point. Originally, I was worried I might not easily find it, that concern proved unfounded. The moonlight illuminated the hard-packed ground at the boat launch so well that it appeared as a bright gray slant on the ground that was a cinch to spot. I paddled to the ramp slowly to absorb a little more of the night air. I took in long breaths of the autumn-scented air through the nose and exhaled through the mouth. When I made shore I was ready to go home and enjoy a deep sleep.

This night was one I would remember all of my life and I knew it while I was out there. The heightened clarity of my senses that this nightís paddle brought ensured that during my darkest hours, I would be able to return to Islet Lake and relive this amazing experience in my mindís eye. The lake is not large but when the moon is full and the night is calm, the experiences can be as big as an ocean of thought.

Robert N Pruden

Pictures By Full Moon