Rochester, New York City Guide
Rochester, NY City Guide

© 1996-2015 Max Lent Communications




Moonlight Canoeing On Canadice Lake

Return to Canoe Stories

©1996 Max Lent

May 2, 1996

Spring was, and still is, late and wet this year. According to newspaper reports we have had only one precipitation free day in four since the beginning of the year. The prospect of having a clear moonlit night was slim. The weather forecasts for the day of and the day after the full moon were uncertain with leanings toward clouds and precipitation. With only about a dozen hours notice, we opted to go out the night before the true full moon. It seemed to be our only hope of seeing the moon and not getting wet.

I invited everyone I knew who owned a canoe or might be willing to rent one to join us. No one accepted and I wasn't surprised. The invitations were mostly part of a running joke. It is always interesting and sometimes amusing to hear the excuses. Excuses I might make up if someone asked me to do the same thing. Two friends, recently returned from Europe, seemed like they might join us and had gone so far as to reserve a rental canoe. However, our moving the planned evening from Friday to Thursday because of poor weather caused them to take a rain check until another evening during the summer.

My self doubt associated with moonlight canoeing gets tiresome. It's always the same. I know that every evening we paddled our canoe on the Canadice Lake was wonderful. I know that this night will be wonderful too, if I can bring myself to go. Still the same old gremlins arise and lead me to question whether it was worth it to go canoeing. If we went, this would be the earliest we had ever gone. We weren't absolutely sure that all of the ice had melted from the lake. It would be cold. It might be rainy. It might be cloudy. It might not be fun. Of course, it might be lots of fun. Sometimes I wonder if this self doubt over the simplest adventure is metaphor for life. The risk taking involved with spending an evening canoeing on a lake is infinitesimal compared to deciding on a mate, a career path, or changing jobs. I can't help but wonder if I shouldn't be more courageous and more of a risk taker in my everyday life. Should I pick up and move to New Zealand, join the Peace Corps, go back to school in a totally different field, become a full-time writer, become a chef, or retire from everything and just live every day one day at a time. Even if I knew what to do, would I have the courage to do it. Based on the difficulty of deciding whether to go moonlight canoeing, major life decisions become imponderable. Alternately, getting up the courage and overcoming the inertia in order to go to moonlight canoeing helps me understand these negative forces. Understanding those forces empowers me to overcome them at times.

Running a little farther, exercising a little harder, canoeing a little farther, or just going canoeing or skiing at night are a means of setting new obtainable goals. The elation of obtaining these goals carry over to everyday life. Understanding the value of setting and achieving obtainable physical and psychological goals, it is easy to understand why outdoor organizations like Outward Bound are so successful.

A last minute cancellation by our friend Judy left us without a passenger. A new friend Cathy Silibian stepped in to fill her place. Cathy, also a writer, had never been on one of our outings, so it would be interesting to hear, and more interesting to read, what she thought about moonlight canoeing. Cathy invited us to her house for a quick eat-and-run dinner with her house mate Don McClimans. The dinner was scrumptious. We felt badly about not sitting around for hours enjoying it and Don's company, but we had a mission. After some discussion over what and how much to wear, Cathy put on extra clothing and brought everything she might need for a walk in a snow storm.

Driving south toward Canadice Lake, we worried about the darkening clouds and the strong wind. We speculated if we would remember the right turn off to take. Most of the travel narratives I read over the winter started out with accounts of the misgivings of authors about whether to go on their adventures. This knowledge made my fretting a seem little more sane, a little more like simple anxiety. Perhaps it was the same anxiety that influenced our friends to say no to our invitations.

Moonrise was scheduled for 8:30 p.m. Sunset was scheduled for 6:30 p.m. In Rochester that may have meant something. As I mentioned earlier, the sun sets an hour early and the moon rises an hour late at Canadice Lake.


As we approached the boat launch we saw several cars and a Canoe Country trailer loaded with canoes and kayaks. At first we thought the lake might be crowded. We had forgotten that Thursday nights were the nights that Canoe Country brought their canoes and kayaks to the lake for prospective customers to try out. They didn't have many prospective customers on this evening. Aside from a small fishing boat with a small motor being loaded on a trailer, we couldn't see anyone else on the lake. We might have the lake to ourselves again.

The months of working out, between colds, at the gym paid off. Getting the canoe off the car and near the water was easy. I mention this more often than I should. Every year, I wonder if I will still be strong enough to muscle the canoe on and off the car. Age makes me worry about these things. Getting our gear into the canoe, parking the car on the road, and pushing off from shore went smoothly, almost like we had done it once or twice before. What was different on this evening was that the shore was much nearer the ramp than the last time we were at the lake. The water level of the lake was high.

Following our familiar route of paddling west across the lake, we saw that none of the deciduous trees had leaves yet, a new sight for us. The greenery of conifers stood out as the stood among the barren trunks of the deciduous trees. A strong breeze was blowing from the south. Looking south, I remarked that I saw rain falling from isolated clouds beyond the shore of the lake. Cathy was curious as to how I could tell. I explained that the clouds had fairly well defined outlines and detail and that the rain beneath them had neither. The clouds were horizontal at their base and the rain fell in almost vertical sheets. I'm not sure she fully believed me.

Tina and I started telling Cathy of other evenings we had spent on the lake. In retrospect, this may have been boring to her. We should have known better after having bored Gordon with our stories. We babbled on about various kinds clouds we had seen, about having been rained on, about seeing lightening, about swirls of mist, about bats, about bugs, about all of the memories of previous moonlit evenings on the lake. We calmed down after a little while and concentrated more on paddling into the wind. The scent carried on the wind was of rain. The rain falling miles south of the lake created the breeze that we were sniffing. It was fresh smelling and enjoyable.

Although the leafless deciduous trees along the western shore looked lifeless and made the landscape look barren, the sound of water tumbling, gurgling, and dripping into the lake from every gully and ditch made the landscape sound alive. Every place where water was entering the lake had a different sound. In the distance, we could hear ducks and geese. We paddled up to a large great blue heron that took off and flew down the shore from us a few hundred feet only to repeat this pattern again, typical heron behavior. It then took off and flew across the lake. Cathy's jacket had dozens of small insects hitchhiking on it. Most looked like midges. No insects were biting.

Staying close to shore, we were shielded from the wind a little. Soon the wind died down. I commented that it often did around sunset. Soon after my comment the wind picked up and blew harder than before, just to make a fool of me, it seemed. We kept paddling and canoed as far south as we could. Because the lake level was high and because none of the summer reeds had begun to show above the surface of the water, we could paddle further south than we had ever gone. We were less than a few hundred yards away from the foot path at the end of the lake when we had to turn back because of shallow water.

We saw sheltered water near a point and paddled there to wait out the wind and to have hot tea and freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. We drifted amongst sun-bleached white dead tree trunks near shore and listened to spring peepers croak. We could hear two different songs and presumed that we were listening to two different species. The sound of the thousands of frogs peeping along the shore was a strong reminder that we were experiencing spring.

The rain clouds we had seen earlier lazily drifted east without threatening us. The sky began to darken and the first planet became visible. We looked at our watches and concluded that the sun should have set a long while ago and that the moon should be visible. However, the sky was still more twilight than night and there was no moon. We paddled back across the now still lake to the western shore and looked east, but saw no moon. We made jokes about whether I had read the date and time of the moonrise correctly. As we joked one of us turned to the east just in time to see the moon coming out from behind the passing storm cloud.

I've used words like spectacular, beautiful, and awesome to describe moonrises on the lake to the extent that they are now tired. Unfortunately, these are the best words to describe what we saw. Our eyes were becoming accustomed to the dark, so seeing the brilliant radiating ball of the moon come out from behind a dark steely gray cloud was emotionally moving. It was exciting, more exciting than the same moon seen coming up over roof tops in the city or across a farmer's field. The full moon, when concentrated on, is exciting. Concentrating on it from a canoe in the middle of a deserted lake at dusk, is truly awesome.

It was a week night and we all had work to do the next morning, so we started back soon after sighting the moon. I steered us toward the eastern shore so that Cathy could see the moon through the trees, which she enjoyed. Small clouds passed in front of the moon and then drifted on giving us a demonstration of the many subtleties of moonlight and clouds.

Tina set a strong steady paddling pace as we headed back to the boat launch. As we paddled, we kidded Cathy about it being her responsibility to navigate since she wasn't doing any work. I started to facetiously complain about having very poor night vision and about not being able to see where we were going. Cathy took our kidding in good stride and bounced back with good counters. We told Cathy about the time we locked ourselves out of our car at the lake, we remembered good times with Judy, and we thought about how this trip would become a story.

About two thirds of the way back to out put in, we stopped so that Cathy could call Don with our cellular phone. The call went through, it doesn't always, but Don was on another line with a client and couldn't talk. Cathy was a little disappointed. After we put the phone away and started asking for her navigational help, we were back in good spirits.

Back at the boat launch ramp, we ran the canoe ashore, got out, got out gear out, put the canoe back on the top of the car and headed home within minutes. We commented that we are starting to get good at this. The only trauma was unavoidable. There is no way of getting around the fact that we had to break the spell of the night by turning on lights in the car. As always, I didn't want to leave. I would have loved to have spent the night on the lake watching the moon and drifting with the breeze.

Driving home, we looked out of the car windows often and commented on the many variations of clouds were passing before the moon. We chatted about many subjects including life, death, and after life at a depth that was unusual between new friends.


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