I enjoy the woods and water at night. Our Group have done several full moon paddles together. Here is a short tale about a canoe and a longbow I wrote. I have several hunting stories like this I have written in the past to share with friends and family.
A Canoe, a Paddle, and a Longbow
Frank and I had paddled this stretch of backed-up river two days before. The recent torrential rains had numerous trees down and debris floating in the water. We saw a deer on the bank of the river as well as a number of flooded out of their lodges beavers that day. I noticed the oaks and persimmons too. Brant and I had paddled this same stretch the first of May this year and talked with a man that hunted the area. Anyway, it all added up in a decision to paddle in and hunt the place.
It has been many years since I have used a canoe to transport me into out of the way places to hunt. I first used a canoe to hunt wild turkeys along the River Styx near Paynes Prairie FL. Later to cross Little Lake George, a wide place in the St. Johns River, to deer hunt. I would put in before daylight on the outflow of Mud Springs and paddle the crystal-clear spring run to the lake. The last time I used a canoe to hunt was about 20 years ago. So, I was looking forward to being in a canoe with a paddle, longbow, and arrows as companions.
The Landing at the old washed-out bridge on the dirt road was in the first blush of the fall season. The trees were changing from their summer wardrobe into their gaudier fall outfits, a last fling before the much more somber grays and browns of winter. In the Piedmont of SC they only rarely get a chance to put on winter whites. Red Maples, Tulip Poplar, Winged Elms, Sycamore, and Persimmon Trees seemed in the biggest hurry to change while the oaks like to take their time. Of course, the Loblolly Pines refuse to take off their summer greens.
The air was a nice mid-seventies and a clear sky made for a bright fall day. Some wonderful weather to be paddling my old Curtis Solo Tripper. I got out and checked for deer sign and white oak acorns at three different places and surveyed from the water the habitat as I paddled. The recent flood waters had receded, and the banks were scoured of much of the forest floor leaf litter making it easy to see new tracks in the sand and mud. At the last stop I set up and hunted until dark. I entered a narrow tributary creek that was too narrow to turn the 15’ solo canoe around so I would have to back out. The ground went up steeply on one side and several big White Oaks were on the hillside along with various red oaks, Shagbark and Pignut Hickory trees, and Loblolly Pines. The squirrels were everywhere, and a Red Shouldered Hawk flew through which caused the staccato chattering alarm that sounds to me like vile rodent invective. I could hear the fast-swooshing flight of ducks coming into roost on the water.
I love the twilight! The world seems more mysterious as the light dims and turns a reddish golden hue, and the beings of the night begin to stir the leaf covered ground, the air, and the water. Your ears become attuned to the rhythm and melodies of a realm on the other side of day. Twilight is the passage from a world of color where vision is master into the dark mystery which calls us to be more aware of our other senses. A chill begins to settle, and reality is muted, and excitement intensified as you listen and watch while the shadow darkens. It is the witching hour where we cross the looking glass boundary of the sun’s splendor into the preeminence of starlight and moonshine. To quote from a song “Cold hearted Orb that rules the night, removes the colors from our sight. Red is gray and yellow white, but we decide which is right and which is an illusion.”
Disrupting the night with a garish harshness I used my head lamp to secure my longbow and quiver of arrows in the canoe. For me the longbow is truly a magic wand of adventure taking me places I would not normally frequent. Opening life’s secrets and truths to me in the intimate and compelling age-old dance of hunter and hunted. I feel ancient, primitive, in the presence of mystery and magic which is both life and death.
The wary deer lived. I enjoyed the dance, and now was set to pick up a magic wand of another sort. One which contained motion in its static form brought to life in the hands of the canoeist and the fluid nature of water. Oh, the water at night, now there is magic in water, and it is magnified at night. Brought to the surface in the darkness. Illuminated this night by the setting, sliver of a crescent, newly waxing moon. It could be glimpsed between the trees, low nearing the horizon in the western sky. The very image of a full drawn longbow. Surely on this night held in the hand of Artemis moon goddess of the hunt.
As I paddled without the aid of headlamp, I paddled suspended between a pair of star-studded skies. In the one over my head, I could see Cassiopeia (Lazy W), Ursa Major (Big Dipper), Ursa Minor (Little Dipper), and Polaris (North Star). On the water’s surface, the boundary between the two skies, I could see the Big Dipper and Little Dipper as mirror images. It was enthralling. About now I startled a big fish very close by that splashed and swirled at the surface as I paddled past. The adrenaline took a bit of time to wear off, and luckily my abrupt jerk and jump didn’t result in a swimming lesson. Yes, there is wonder tinged with an edginess when alone in the night, in the woods, or on the water. It makes you feel alive with every nerve ready to respond just below your consciousness.
Invariably I would look down from the dark canopy of trees and starry sky to notice another shadow approaching on the starry looking glass. It would be a newly fallen tree or Loch Ness head and neck shape of bare dead branches rising above the water’s surface from long dead and submerged trees. I do alright as long as I can keep the bow pointed somewhere into the narrow strip of the mirrored night sky upon the water. It has the star shine to illuminate these watery phantoms. The moon’s crescent is now below the hidden horizon of this densely wooded waterway, and the stars seem to shine brighter as if they are coming out like the other more timid creatures of the night. The last of summer’s insect songs are being sung in earnest.
A thunderous splash at the rear of the canoe as a beaver tail smacks the mirrored sky. I flinch again, but less this time as the big fish has taught me to expect this type of treatment for so rudely being in their presence. I paddle on looking to my port for a break in the forest’s shadowed canopy, and a turn to the starboard of the mirrored sky on which I travel. This marks the entrance on my port to Big Creek.
There are some big trees down in the water with one extending across the creek. So, the alien light on my head shines my way now instead of stars on the water. Another beaver sees me invading it’s space and slaps its tail, goes under, and comes back up closer to the canoe. Objecting to my stupidity for intruding the beaver heads for the bow of the canoe, and just before running into it slaps its tail again splashing me and disappears below the once mirrored sky. A Great Blue Heron honks its displeasure launching from its roost and flies ahead of me up the creek. They always seem to fly away ahead of you be it night or day. Rarely daring to let you pass.
In the alien light the once looking glass sky becomes a flood muddy water with miscellaneous small leaf litter debris floating on the brown surface. Surprising little greenish and blueish lights appear riding on pieces of this debris. I recognize them as the reflections from spider eyes. As I work my way through an opening in the down tree’s top and come out the other side, I notice that the trunk of the tree acts like a dam holding back a big floating mass of brown dead leaves and sticks. On top of this mass is hundreds of bright little spider eyes shining back at me. I am glad not to be some poor insect rafting on a leaf into this mat of spider infested flood debris.
I land on the muddy bank, and load canoe and gear. The headlights of my car flood the darkness. Just a memory now, I leave the magic of the night behind.