Six Hundred Moons
Riverdave's Journal
October 2001

      A dozen boats huddle together on the still, night surface of the Eno River
under the assuage of a leaning elm tree. The full moon has just risen over the
south bank ridge and casts its hazy spell on the waters. Moonlit faces gently
glow, attached to bodies lavishly reclining on the cushioned seats of our inflat-
able wafts. Bull frogs groan all up and down the river. The hypnotic pulsation
of katydids rings in the forest behind us. A beaver persistently circles our posi-
tion, slapping its tail on the surface as it dives into mirky depths.

      Such is the context that we often find ourselves in when I offer “moonlight
wafting” trips at the West Point millpond on evenings just preceding the full
moon. This is my twelfth year of leading such trips. I have had to carefully work
with both the public and myself through these years to help evolve this experi-
ence so that we could make the most out of what the river has to offer us at
night. Some of you may have heard rumors about a new emphasis that I have
recently brought to the Eno on my night journeys, so I thought that it might be
a good time to offer some clarifying highlights about what is REALLY going on
out there under the moon with Riverdave

      The announcement of a moonlight boat trip on a river is interpreted in dif-
ferent ways by the public. Since I rely on the gracious, free announcements
that local newspapers carry in their weekend sections to get the word out, I am
limited to a bare bones message that gives no details about how we proceed
on our night expeditions. It is left to inquirers to call in to my office and ask
me personally for details or to bring to the evening their own expectations of
what might happen.

      One expectation that I occasionally encounter from those who show up for
moonlight wafting is the “after midnight, we’re gunna let it all hang down” atti-
tude. After a hard week of work and an eagerness to escape from the confine-
ment and tedium of an indoor job, this type of seeker is ready to have a few
drinks and blow off steam with loud joking and boisterous behavior when ini-
tially confronted with the unexpected exhilaration that the nocturnal river scene
has to offer. The owner of one popular local restaurant once phoned me about
organizing a moonlight trip for his wait staff as a team building experience.
When I described to him what my emphasis was, he declined, commenting
with a sigh that the only kind of “moons” his group would be interested in were
the ones left shining after certain drawers had come down ...

      Another expectation is that moonlight wafting will provide the backdrop
for a true romantic encounter with a partner. Since I place two people togeth-
er per boat in fairly close proximity, this does make for the possibility of inti-
macy. But I have long since stopped matching single people up who don’t
already know one another and now require that everyone come with a partner.
This can also include friends or even parent-child duos. The burden of being a
matchmaker was just too much for Riverdave and I got myself in trouble more
times than not. I am aware, though, of at least one marriage that took place
after I once indiscriminately matched two singles in one boat. They later wrote
me from Paris, happily married and grateful to both me and the Eno for bring-
ing them together.

      I have no problem with the idea of a romantic river encounter as nature
herself is always brimming with sensuous energy. But a strong, interpersonal
focus by couples can detract from our mission as a group. Also, I question
whether those who are intensely centered on one another are really learning
much about the wonders of the night experience on the Eno. Often nature man-
ifests herself in very subtle ways at night. If one’s antennae are not up and
attuned to what is happening all around, one might as well be back home on
the sofa with all the doors and windows tightly sealed and the air conditioner
whirring away!

      Then there are the inquisitive nature lovers, those eager to learn about the
wild creatures that roam at night and the energies of their shadowy world.
These folks seek a night experience in order to allow their wild side to connect
with the moon and the night calling creatures and to discover what message
the evening might hold for them personally. It is for this group that I have tried
to mold the moonlight wafting experience. Yes, the Eno River can be a place
of unwinding for the weary and also a romantic hangout for couples. There is
nothing wrong with that. But I have found it too difficult to orchestrate the
needs of all three types of nocturnal seekers simultaneously and have decided
to tailor my night experience for the last of the three groups described above.

      My night trips began to change in 1997 after I made a solo, two week pil-
grimage in an inflatable waft from West Point Park down the Eno to Falls Lake,
then connecting with the Neuse River and on to the coast arriving at the town
of Oriental 240 miles later. I timed this adventure with the appearance of the
Comet Hale-Bopp. But in the remotest part of the river between Kinston and
New Bern, a second mysterious light appeared to me one evening, hovering
about six feet over the water in front of my encampment next to the river in a
cypress-tupelo swamp. That experience proved to be transformative for me
and my relationship with the river. I realized, as Henry Thoreau did on one of
his wilderness expedition to Maine, that “the woods were not tenantless, but
choke-full of honest spirits as good as myself any day, not an empty chamber,
in which chemistry was left to work alone, but an inhabited house and for a few
moments I enjoyed fellowship with them.”

      Bereft of a scientific explanation for what I had encountered on the Neuse
River, I sought answers in other places. Up until that year I had been taking
ecotourism groups to explore the Amazon River during the winter. While there,
we would always visit a Yagua Indian tribe that lived along the river and briefly
meet with the shaman or medicine man. We would listen in wonder about all-
night ceremonies in which the native river people would participate, where the
shaman would guide the group in how to navigate the night in ways that were
not familiar to me as a westerner. I inwardly coveted such an experience but
realized that it could probably not come to pass within the context of my eco-
tourism forays that were open to the public.

      Soon after my encounter with the Neuse River Light, I decided to aban-
don my winter ecotourism efforts for a while and return to the Amazon with a
physician friend to seek assistance from those folks who might be able to bet-
ter help us interpret the night environment. These Amazon river natives have
inherited an unbroken tradition of meaningful night experiences that have not
been severely altered by the introduction of electricity and all the dazzling,
indoor entertainment that modern electronic media brings. I did find those
remote river people and was fortunate enough to participate in their ancient cer-
emonies, received some help with my concerns and went back again the fol-
lowing winter for more. Then, last year, I invited my Bolivian shaman friend
up to visit me here on the Eno and we did some exploring together in my ter-

      For the past three years I have shifted the focus of my moonlight wafting
trip to include more than just watching for beavers and listening to summer
frogs. While daylight wafting will continue to focus on the natural history of the
river, I am working to transform moonlight wafting into an opportunity for our
community to enhance the inward significance that we find in our relationship
with the Eno River through what I call neoprimitivism. I have encouraged a new
respect for the pandemic, cross cultural tradition of the cosmic tree or axis
mundi - the elm tree as it would be applied in our region of Eastern America.
While reclining in our wafts under the branches of a riverside elm, I teach my
groups how to do an inward journey using the gentle influence of my drum-
ming and the natural elements of the night environment.

      For those who are not able to appreciate this type of encounter, there are
other places for revelers and romantics to have their evening out. But I have
noticed a better focus in my groups as my moonlight wafting experience has
evolved in its new direction over the past three years. I believe our attempt to
rediscover our local river as a place of hallowed pilgrimage can have a pro-
found impact in supporting and establishing our preservation efforts. It is only
when a community sees its own natural places as inviolable, “choke-full of
good spirits as good as ourselves any day,” will it ever begin to take its eco-
logical mandate seriously. And maybe when we find ourselves as content to
face upstream towards the source of the Eno, as we would bowing in our pews
towards “Jerusalem,” we might finally strike a more healthy and natural bal-
ance in our modern American lifestyles.

     After graduating from college I was fortunate enough live in the Middle
East for many years. The community amongst whom I lived followed a lunar
calendar, as opposed to the solar calendar I had been accustomed to as an
American. They celebrated festivals and birthdays around lunar occurrences,
named their children after the phases of the moon, a crescent moon even being
the symbol of their faith. I discovered the lunar calendar to be a very intimate
experience and easily followed by observation. I began to count my own
moons as well. As I write this essay, I am under the influence of my six hun-
dredth moon! If I am good to life and life is good to me, I hope to celebrate
one thousand moons on the Eno River one day. If you are around too, be look-
ing for an invitation to a grand celebration ...
Photo by Riverdave: moon river