In the days when I lived off Palisades Road, on the north side of Brant Lake, I often paddled across to Sunset Mountain Lodge, the only hotel that still existed on the lake. Once, I set off after dark when a moon barely illuminated the landscape. The location of my house, on a cliff 25 feet above the shore, presented a challenge as I descended to the dock. Although I knew many of the boulders and tree roots emerging from the ground I proceeded slowly until a partially rotten wooden ladder led on to the dock.
Since those were the years before I owned my slick red Mad River canoe I eased into a canoe aptly called the Adventurer, orange with white polka dots. Those polka dots were actually patches of fiberglass covering up gashes where the canoe had hit a rock or gone aground. The canoe itself, although bravely surviving a history of close encounters, rode easily on the water, the stable hull connoting safety.
Within moments of departure into the open waters, I was swallowed up by darkness.
The distance from one side of the lake to the other measured a mile, but at night, without visibility, the distance seemed infinite. I knew that Schultz’s Island loomed to my right. In daytime a sea gull perched on a rock just off the island. Further up the lake, a log cabin on stilts marked the old Camp Gibbons, summer retreat for the Albany Catholic diocese. But these markers only existed when you could see them in the daytime. Now, an impenetrable black extended from the surface of the water into the sky where the moon, although beautiful, was incapable of turning back the opaque world enclosing me.
With the exception of the peaceful sound of my paddle cutting through the water all was still, and the narrow light from my flashlight barely illuminated the ripples spreading on either side. I felt disoriented, wondering whether I might have veered towards the left. If so the lake stretched for 9 miles. A long paddle. For a moment I stopped paddling and considered turning back or at least changing direction. There was that flash of fear that can accompany uncertainty.
After hesitating, I continued on, until, in the distance, I saw a faint light. I knew that this had to be Sunset Mountain Lodge located opposite the mountain over which the sun set. With renewed energy I paddled and with each stroke the distant light became stronger. Eventually I noticed the outline of a sand beach and within moments I had landed at my destination.
Above the beach, lanterns glowed on the white wood wrap-around porch of the lodge. A screen door opened into a restaurant where visitors drank beer and ate hamburgers. Some guests remained on the porch, rocking gently in the line of green wicker chairs. Pausing, I turned back for a last look at the lake but I could not penetrate the nighttime. Reversing my direction, I focused on Sunset Mountain Lodge, alive with people, with laughter–and with light.
Before I reached the lodge, and still carrying my canoe paddle, I reflected on the night’s occurrence and silently vowed that whenever possible I would paddle towards the light, confident that there is always a new dawn, a ray of brightness, to be found even on the darkest days–if we are aware.
It has been many years since that nighttime journey in the Adventurer, but at this season, as days are short and night sweeps in at an early hour, I remember that time when I crossed over from the dead of night to a world illuminated.
May your New Year be bright and fulfilling.