Moonrise at Dawson’s

July 30, 2015.  Moonrise this evening is 7:45, one day shy of being full, and I decide on a moonlight paddle on Cedar Creek. When I arrive at the landing at 8:45 the katydids have already started singing, and a few cicadas are still calling at the end of the day shift.


Cedar Creek is low, 1.9 feet, and my paddle touches bottom in places. The creek bottom is filled with old rafts of logs that didn’t make it to the mill a century ago. Presumably they were too green, and heavy, to float. The logs appear to be sound, but many have been partially exposed to the air during droughts and low water and may not have much value as recovered wood.

The shallow creek has a slight fishy smell; it disappears once I reach the deeper Dawson’s Lake. Every once in a while I also detect a faint fragrance of something almost sweet, an odor I periodically smell during the growing season in the swamp but still haven’t been able to pin down its source.

The creek edge is bright with the reflected eye shine of wolf spiders, some of which are a nice size. They are on tree trunks and fallen limbs and logs as well. I see a snake swimming along the edge and paddle closer for a better look. It’s a small cottonmouth about eighteen inches long. It reminds me of how vulnerable kayakers are to a rare but possible poisonous snake bite coming from a swimming cottonmouth since our arms are only inches above the water. Another heads- up situation for kayakers is paddling through shallow sloughs and guts full of logs and debris, places that make ideal cottonmouth resting places. I somehow feel a lot more exposed being at eye level to a cottonmouth rather than looking down at if from five feet, nine inches, away.

Up ahead and coming from the crotch of a water elm overhanging the creek is a bright eye shine that belongs to a half-grown raccoon. It keeps an eye on me as I pass under it.

I make it to Dawson’s at 9:30. The nearly-full moon has finally cleared the trees but is partially obscured by haze and light overcast. Green frogs are calling regularly as is a single green treefrog. The latter’s call, despite coming from a much smaller animal than the green, is loud in the nighttime stillness.

I hear a faint sound coming from the partially submerged top of a nearby large fallen tree lying horizontally in the lake with most of its trunk and thick crown above water. It sounds like the whimper of a child. I paddle over to investigate, and a beaver swims by within six feet of the kayak. It turns and goes back into the cover of the fallen tree, where I see it raise out of the water a little and give the whimper-like call. I now hear another faint sound, almost like something gnawing on wood. Then a small beaver, about the size of a gray squirrel, swims from the tree and right up to the boat (perhaps my headlamp has confused it). It turns and swims around a bit in open water before going back to the security and safety of the tree.

I stay at Dawson’s for nearly an hour. The beavers go silent, and about the only sounds are coming from frogs, the periodic splash of fish, and katydids. I only hear one or two barred owls make brief, one-syllable calls. The only lightning bugs I see are back at the landing.

I get back to the landing at 11:00. On the drive home, I see the moon shining in glorious brightness, the haze and overcast left behind.