Paradise Lost

July 11, 2014. The moon is shy one day of being full and ideal for a moonlight paddle down Cedar Creek. I arrive at South Cedar Creek Landing at 9:00 PM as the last bit of daylight is fading. The katydids are already singing. Cedar Creek is running at 3.1 feet, four inches higher than when I was here on June 30. More importantly, a work crew from the park has recently cleared the downed limbs, trees, and other obstructions blocking the creek. They did a great job.

A couple of barred owls near the landing are making some low perfunctory hoots and cat calls as if warming up for the main serenade later tonight. The almost-full moon is rising over the creek channel’s easterly course but is partially obscured by a light, high cloud cover. As the moon gets higher the cover dissipates, revealing the moon in all its glory. It is so bright that it’s like paddling into the sun. I think of those magnificent lines from Paradise Lost:

Now came still Evening on, and Twilight grey

Had in her sober livery all things clad;

Silence accompanied, for beast and bird,

They to their grassy couch, these to their nests

Were slunk, all but the wakeful nightingale;

She all night long her amorous descant sung;

Silence was pleased: now glowed the firmament

With living sapphires: Hesperus that led

The starry host, rode brightest, till the moon

Rising in clouded majesty, at length

Apparent queen unveiled her peerless light,

And over the dark her silver mantle threw.

I turn my headlight on and see diamond eyes sparkling back at me from the creek bank –hundreds and hundreds of them everywhere – belonging to wolf spiders, in all different sizes. They are at the water’s edge, on tree trunks, even on downed limbs and debris in the creek.

The night is mostly silent except for intermittent banjo-plucking calls of green frogs and a few high trills of southern toads. I also hear occasional begging calls of juvenile barred owls, out of the nest now for about three months. I assume the parents are still feeding them, more or less, but it won’t be long before they will be entirely on their own. A nearby adult barred owl pair calls briefly back and forth to one another but soon desist; afterwards the owls are mostly quiet.

I drift, with occasional paddle strokes, as far as Tupelo Gut before turning back. I’m surprised at how few lightning bugs I see tonight. On the return paddle through Dawson’s Lake I hug the southern shore, looking at wolf spiders, when suddenly I hear the unmistakable “put” call of a wild turkey. The bird is roosting in a cypress overhead, and my headlamp is making it nervous.

The moonlit night is very pleasant, the air almost cool. I’m clad in shorts and a tee shirt and have hardly seen or felt a single bad bug. I hear very little of civilization noise – no aircraft, not even a vehicle from South Cedar Creek Road that borders this edge of the swamp. I get back to the landing at 11:30 and think what a great way to spend Friday night.