Rochester, New York City Guide
Rochester, NY City Guide

© 1996-2015 Max Lent Communications

      

  

 

 

Moonlight Canoeing On Canadice Lake

©1996 Max Lent

August 22, 1994

Trying to recreate a wonderful experience is dangerous. Many times, I have overheard conversations where one person said to another something like, "Isn't this great?" and the other person replied "Well, it's all right, I suppose. But, it is not as good as it was twenty years ago." Once an experience exists all other similar experiences are compared to it. It's involuntary, like hearing. So, the question arose. Would this evening's moonrise be as beautiful as the last one we saw a month ago or the one a month before. How could it be. The last moonrise was the most beautiful I had ever seen. Well, almost the most beautiful. There was the spectacular moonrise that woke Tina and I up while we were camping on an island in the St. Regis Canoe Area of the Adirondacks. And before that there was the combination sunset and moonrise we saw while photographing the Pinnacles in the Mojave desert. Come to think about it, I can remember a moonrise I saw as a child from aboard an evening cruise ship on the Potomac river near Washington, DC. It was hopeless. This moonrise couldn't be as spectacular as the one we saw last month. canadice2.jpg (13959 bytes)

We got an earlier start this time. We knew which road to turn onto to go to Canadice lake, which saved us a almost twenty minutes of backtracking. We were better prepared. We had more cookies and a larger bottle of wine. Judy brought two books to read from. We brought more warm clothes, because we knew it would get cold later. The weather report forecast temperatures falling into the low forties overnight. Our friend, Gordon was invited, but couldn't come. We would miss him, again. The weather was perfect. There was little wind, no clouds, and the air was pleasantly warm. Because the weather was perfect, it was also not as perfect as last month's trip. There would be no huge cumulonimbus clouds in the sky for us to admire. There would be no seeking of calm waters on the lake. There would be less drama. We could have used these imperfections as reasons not to go, but we didn't. We held out hope that something would make this moonrise special in a different way. We were not disappointed.

The lake was calm when we arrived. Judy and I discussed taking the cellular with us phone to call someone from the middle of the lake. Judy thought about calling her father, who was in a nursing home, but decided against it. She said that he probably wouldn't be able to hear the sounds very well because of his poor hearing. She also said that he might be asleep by the time we were in the middle of the lake. We left the phone in the car.

Getting the canoe off the car and into the water was easier this time. We were creating and learning a ritual. The portable toilet smelled strongly, but of fruit scented disinfectant this time. Taking turns, we used the toilet. I jokingly commented that the little sink (A urinal.) never had much water in it and that it was hard to get a lather from the little bar of soap. We didn't miss the gunshots we had heard before. There was only one other canoe and a couple of fishing boats on the lake when we slid our canoe into the water. Within an hour everyone else left and we were the only people on the lake.

Feeling the urge to get away from the boat launch and shore quickly, we paddled straight out from shore again. On this evening, we were on the lake almost an hour earlier than last month. This enabled us to see more of the shoreline before dark.

Judy expressed disappointed that we didn't have a dramatic cloudscape to view. She was comparing this trip to the last one, which invited disappointment. At that moment, she thought that the current trip was something less than the one she compared it too. Her impression would change.

Paddling southward slowly and close along the shore, we looked at flowers, trees, and rocks. Judy was enamored of the organic shapes formed by partially submerged trees and stumps of trees along the shoreline. The water was still enough to create mirrored images of partially submerged trees on the water. An eerie sound came from the forest. At first we thought it was a Loon. However, it was coming from a hillside above the water and deep within the trees. It wasn't as loud as we would have expected from a Loon. Was it a deer, a small mammal, or a bird. We couldn't guess. A little later, the sound was joined by another slightly different in tone. Then, the sounds stopped, leaving us wondering.

In the dimming light, Judy read "Little Miracles Kept Promises" by Sandra Cisneros from issue 36 of Grand Street Magazine. We discussed whether author had committed a sacrilege. She had collected very personal prayer notes from Hispanic roadside religious shrines, translated them from Spanish to English, and published them. The notes were written to saints to ask for blessings or to offer thanks for miracles. Tina and I agreed that the notes were not written for us and that we should not be reading or listening to them. We recounted how awed we had been by the spiritual power of the healing chapel at Chimayo, New Mexico. We spoke of how we were unable to think of taking our cameras out of our camera bags in so personal and spiritually powerful place. Judy said that she hadn't understood the context in which the notes were written. We were quiet for a while.

Hundreds of bats began swooping all about us. They were after small white insects that were flying near the surface of the water. To our untrained eyes these looked like mayflies--in August? Below the surface of the lake fish were also hunting for these insects. Fish came to the surface to snap at the insects in every direction we looked.

We became aware that we were a part of several kinds of motion at the same time. The canoe was moving across a fluid surface. Celestial bodies were moving on concert above us. The sun was setting behind the mountain on the western shore and the moon was slowly rising from behind the mountain to the East. A breeze was gently blowing from the South. The sensation of motion was subtle, but omnipresent.

The further we went the darker the sky became. By the time we reached the south end of the lake it was dark. The darkness between sunset and moonrise. There was just enough light to show the silhouettes of the mountains. Simultaneously, fog began rising from the shallows of south shore. The lake water was warm to touch. The air was chilly. The two coming together created a translucent light wispy fog. It rose in poorly defined columns and swirls to a height of about four feet. Although there was no obvious breeze now, the fog flowed Northeast and hung close to shore. We shined a flashlight through the fog and watched its growing swirling columns drift away. The motion of the fog was rapid and much more dramatic in the light that it felt in the dark.  

Drifting silently in the fog, we waited for the moon. There were fewer bats in the fog, but the ones we saw flew close. We could hear their wings and feel them stirring the air close around us.

The Eastern horizon lightened a little, signaling an imminent moonrise. I turned the canoe away from the moonrise and paddled toward the center of the lake. From our new vantage point, we watched the disk of the moon appear above the eastern hills. The brilliant light of the moon was such a great contrast to the velvet darkness that preceded it that it was startling. We poured wine and toasted the moon, the night, friendship, and being privileged to be where we were. The water had stilled to the point that it became a perfect mirror of the heavens. We could the moon, stars and planets in the sky and again reflected in the water. I silently recalled reading stories by sailors where they told of being becalmed on the ocean. They described not being able to tell where the ocean ended and the heavens began. They described being unsure which way was up and how disorienting that was.

Judy read "Teaching a Stone To Talk" from Teaching a Stone To Talk: Expeditions and Encounters by Annie Dillard. Dillard's story was cosmic, beautiful, touching, spiritual, and fit the moment completely.

When the wine was consumed and the air began to chill, and we had had our fill of cookies, we began paddling back toward the boat launch. At first, I paddled alone. I practiced my paddling technique using the J stroke with some success. Along the way I found myself talking about computers. It disgusted me, but didn't stop the flow of drivel from my mind and mouth. In, not soon enough, time I changed the conversation to the topic of our being lost. We paddled North along the eastern shore and couldn't see much because the shore was in moon shadow. I steered the canoe just off shore enough so that moonbeams flowed through the tops and in-between trees casting rays of light on us and the water.

The air was turning cooler and the fog on the lake was migrating North with us. I remarked that unlike the last canoe trip, I would not have liked to spend the night in the canoe. It would be cold, damp and unpleasant, another comparison. The effects of the wine was wearing off and the energy from sugar in the cookies we ate was running low. We were up past our bedtimes and beginning to feel it. I was beginning to tire.

Judy suggested that we had probably gone too far and that we had probably missed the boat launch. She repeated her concern for each of the three points of land we passed. At each of the points we stopped and shined our flashlight toward shore looking in vain for overturned rowboats and the boat launch. All along I knew that we were not far enough, but not exactly sure how far we needed to go. Tina and, especially, Judy were enjoying the drama.

Earlier, while paddling across the lake from the boat launch I saw a communications tower on the top of the mountain to the west. I memorized where the tower was and its relationship to the boat launch for later reference. When we eventually found the launch site, by a piece of reflective material nailed to a tree, the tower was exactly where it should have been. Had I followed my instincts I would not have been lost. I knew where we were, but doubted myself. I do this often. When I don't trust myself, I often get into trouble.

Getting the canoe off the water and onto the car was smoother this time. Each time, the process becomes more routine. This time, however, my arms were tired. I wondered how many times canoers ended up spending nights in their cars because they didn't have the strength left, after a long strenuous day of paddling, to lift their canoes over their heads.

Judy performed what looked like an American Indian shuffle dance to keep warm while I lifted, strapped, and tied the canoe onto the car. We said aloud, so that we would all be reminded, that we would bring much warmer clothes for our September outing.

We all agreed that this was the best moonrise ever.

Comfortably inside our car, with the heater turned up, we drove back toward the city. But, the adventure was not yet over. Instead of getting on the expressway, I drove on to Geneseo where I hoped that a particularly good doughnut shop would still be open and making doughnuts.

The doughnut shop was open, but doughnut making had ended several hours before we arrived. Also, the doughnuts were not as good as we had remembered. They were not as puffy as they should have been and they were covered with too thick a glaze. Even with these failings, they were about the best doughnuts in the region. Judy, bought a veggie bagel for breakfast and had a bite of each of our doughnuts.

Postscript

The day after the trip I recollected my emotions on the lake and my feelings about reading as the moon rose. My feelings were mixed. I asked myself if we weren't missing something by turning on our flashlight, thus blinding ourselves to our surroundings, by speaking out loud and filling our ears with our own sounds, and by filling our heads with the thoughts of others? I wondered if we really needed to go on a moonlit cruise at all, if that were all we were going to do? I wondered what Annie Dillard might have done if she had been with us? Would she have said turn off the damned flashlight and shut up? Would she have asked to borrow the flashlight so that she could write in her notebook? Would she have told us all to shut up, open our eyes, unclog our ears, sniff the air, and feel our skin? Or would she have lit up a cigarette and asked for another cup of wine? The question remains unsettled. I enjoyed hearing the words of Annie Dillard read by Judy, but also disliked missing out on a moment of the moonrise and our experience on the lake.

Other Visions

The following is Tina's and Judy's accounts of our evening on Canadice Lake. All three of us wrote about our experience and all three accounts are quite different in form and content. When we read each other's accounts we were amazed at how different they were.

Full Moon in August

© Tina Lent 1996

1.
On warm summer nights when the full moon rises,
Judy, Tina, and Max remove their disguises
Of city folk and urban dweller,
To harmonize with nature, both lunar and stellar.

2.
The canoe was transported (and we found the right road),
To the waterfront place where our car dropped its load
Of jackets, and hats, and life saving devices
And Orange Milano cookies for those midnight hunger crisis.

3.
We got into the boat without wetting our feet,
After visiting the latrine which was smelling so sweet,
Just like wild cherry syrup made by the Smith Brothers,
Or maybe like strawberries, opined one of the others.

4.
We paddled across to the opposite shoreline
To admire the trees there, both standing and supine.
Above us the planets, the Jupiters and Venuses
Lit aquatic pink plants that looked just like small penises.

5.
We admired the hemlocks and poplars and willows
And flowers that lay on the rocks as on pillows.
We saw remnants of bridges and long rocky stairways
That people had built there in long ago yesterdays.

6.
A crying call sounded, a descending tremolo
What was it, we wondered, that cut thru the air so
Our neck hairs arose, the primeval seemed near.
Was the haunting weird cry from a bird or a deer?

7.
Or did it come from the spirit of the forest ahead
That was now a large part of the city watershed?
Oh well! There were herons and fish eating gnats
And the disconcerting swooping of low flying bats.

8.
By dark we arrived at Canadice's end,
Where swirling fog clouds seemed to portend
A miraculous event that would happen quite soon.
And lo! as Max paddled back, up rose the moon.

9.
It was a glorious sight coming over the hills
And maybe its grandeur, or cool air, gave us chills,
That we soon did dispel with cookies and wine
And comments again, that a wonderful time

10.
Was had by us all, as we drifted and nattered
About all kinds of things that hardly mattered,
About pasts and futures, and certainty and doubt,
And could we find in the dark where to take the boat out?

11.
Judy read a short essay writ by Annie Dillard
About the silence of nature, but I admit that I still heard
The weird haunting cry of the mysterious soul,
Despite tales of odd trees and stones with strange goals.

12.
We had eaten, and drunk, and talked to our fill
And began our return with the lake clear and still.
With the beauty around us--stars, dark, dome-like sky,
And found it hard to believe how much time had gone by

13.
Since we had left our original canoe put-in site,
Which was impossible to locate in the dark of the night.
So we paddled and paddled with flashlight aglow
Each one assured that, yes, they did know

14.
Around which little curve or which little bend,
We would find evidence signifying our night's journey's end.
Three coves after Judy knew we'd surely lost our way,
There glittered on the shore, in a tiny little bay,

15.
The boats and the road and a shiny metal reflector
That marked our destination. And like a protector
The trees hung low and beckoned us ashore,
To the welcoming aroma we'd smelled there before.

Second moon-canoe trip with Tina and Max

©1996 Judy Levy

Version 1

Like an Egyptian queen on the Nile, l move without effort and run a movie with my eyes as though my life was made of it. Single roots and branches, boned white, line up and mark intervals in the thick dark water. Coming out to meet their reflection from the shoreline, all shapes of leaves, all shades of green, all densities and angles of nature's particulars adjust themselves into exquisitely detailed tableaux. We move with our movie eyes along the water's edge. Such paintings! Thousands of leaves attached to their places, thick arrows of lined bark, aerial clusters of blue-green needles, occasional lunges into shadow-space, glowing arcs of yellow or orange carefully sprayed across the darkness. and skinned bright branches mimicked by their ordered reflections. Then these are replaced by thousands of other leaves attached in different greens, bird-flutter, pulsing white mushrooms, and high angular arches fastened into the water. Under their protection moves a meandering procession of angled leaves, flattened on the water like pointed napkins o, a table top. Sporadically among them, tiny flowering cones, sharply pink, point upward, penetrating the thickening darkness. Little pink lamps for little white flies that busy the air above the water. Other scenes follow..fir trees and fallen trees, bits of abutments, a single morning glory, striped pink, seeded from the hat band of a single hunter. And these, too, in turn, replaced by a thousand strokes drawn from a slightly darker pen. The artist hastens to get more ink. Ghosts begin to inhabit the precision of his penwork. The leaves lose their facts and become night.

As the trees bond in single blackness, the eye becomes a voice, emerging inside the night, precise and curving, a tremulous arch downward, over and over, announcing what is not known, ...something mourned or something sought. Who speaks? A bird, honoring the evening? A deer grieving to another deer? A tree that is reticent in daylight?

Waiting for us, when we turn, are two stars and their two reflections. Waiting for us is the rolled white mist at the far dark edge of the water. When did night actually fall on the world? Were we being held outside of time inside the voice of the forest? We were clearly elsewhere. At the signal the water show begins: the vapors run to cover the water..they twist, lean, circle and run. The caller is deep in the heated water, the caller is agitating the fickle flow of the earth's breath. We feel it. We see it by starlight. Suddenly the flashlight, the devil's eye, strategizing the vapors in the straight shocking line of his sight. Here. And there. And then satisfied, retires. Darkness speeds by us in the dark, breezing our heads, skimming the bow, outlining our hands. In our softened sight, a radar-built army of bats rushes on speeding missions to raid the camp and feed the soldiers. We are their inconvenience, their decoys, but we have gotten out of hand. The fish are flying too. They have taken what is theirs.

We wait now for the featured player, due some time ago, but not an easy catch. Invisible stage-lights brighten the sky behind all the now-black mountains which circle us. Impatient, creatures of our time, we move our seats to seek her out. And, as suspected, she is there, framing her beauty between the black forked branches at the edge of the mountain. Our moon has come. Caught, she moves up the sky with dignity, face forward for the painter. Only the sassy moon on the water makes eyes and undulates. Then, that too is replaced by a path of tiny line-dancers, obedient, and good-natured.

It is time. We take our priestess out of the book, and do our part.

Version 2

Second moon-canoe trip with Tina and Max

Like an Egyptian queen on the Nile, I move without effort and run a movie with my eyes as though my life was made of it. Single roots and branches, boned white, line up and mark intervals in the thick dark water. Coming out to meet their reflection from the shoreline, all shapes of leaves, all shades of green, all densities and angles of nature's particulars adjust themselves into exquisitely detailed tableaux. We move with our movie eyes along the water's edge. Thousands of leaves attached to their places, thick arrows of lined bark, aerial clusters of blue-green needles, occasional lunges into shadow-space, glowing arcs of yellow or orange carefully sprayed across the darkness. and skinned bright branches mimicked by their ordered reflections. Then these are replaced by thousands of other leaves attached in different greens, bird-flutter, pulsing white mushrooms, and high angular arches fastened into the water. Under their protection moves a meandering procession of angled leaves, flattened on the water like pointed napkins on a table top. Sporadically among them, tiny flowering cones, sharply pink, point upward, penetrating the thickening darkness. Little pink lamps for little white flies that busy the air above the water. Other scenes follow..fir trees and fallen trees, vestige abutments, a single morning glory, striped pink, seeded from the hat of a hunter. And these, too, in turn, replaced by a thousand strokes drawn from a slightly darker pen. The artist hastens to get more ink. The movie keeps going. Ghosts begin to inhabit the precision of his penwork. The leaves lose their facts and become night.

As the trees bond in single blackness, sight becomes sound, a voice, emerging inside the night, precise and curving, a tremulous arch downward, over and over, announcing what is not known, ...something mourned or something sought. Who speaks? A bird, honoring the evening? A deer grieving to another deer? A tree that is reticent in daylight?

Waiting for us, when we turn, are two stars and their two reflections. Waiting for us is the rolled white mist at the far dark edge of the water. When did night actually fail on the world? Were we being held outside of time inside the voice of the forest? We were clearly elsewhere. At the signal, the vapors run to cover the water..they twist, lean, circle and run. The caller is deep in the heated. water, the caller is agitating the fickle flow of the earth's breath. We feel it. We see it by starlight. Suddenly the flashlight hits the water, strategizing the vapors in the straight shocking line of its sight. Here. And there. And then satisfied, retires. Dark armies speed by us in the night, breezing our heads, skimming the bow, outlining our hands. In our softened sight, the bats race across a graph of invisible lines to raid the camp and feed the soldiers. We are their inconvenience, their decoys, but we have gotten out of hand. The fish are flying too. They have taken what is theirs.

We wait now. Invisible stage-lights brighten the sky behind all the now-black mountains which circle us. Impatient, creatures of our time, we move our seats. And, as suspected, the moon is there, framed between the black forked branches at the edge of the mountain. Our moon has come. Caught, it moves up the sky with dignity, face forward for the painter. Only the sassy moon on the water makes eyes and undulates. Then, that too is replaced by a path of tiny light-lines, rocking in tandem to our feet.


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