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Thunder Moon Rising on West Point Lake

Some words just naturally make me smile.

One of those words is sunset. Another is moonlight. When the opportunity arose for a sunset cruise on West Point Lake, the muscles around this mystery traveler’s mouth started twitching. When the date was set for the night of July’s full “Thunder” moon, I grinned from ear to ear in anticipation.

“No matter how often you have been in, on or around the lake,” my host advised, “you’ve missed something if you haven’t experienced moonlight on the water.”

I don’t like to miss anything, much less moonlight. Come aboard with me as we explore West Point Lake at sunset … and beyond.

Moonrise was set for 8:37 on the evening of our cruise. My genial companions, a peerless pontoon captain and his gracious lady, suggested we head out at 6:30 – after the heat, but in time to savor the sights and catch the sunset before the full moon made its grand entrance.

We had barely left the dock when nature’s colorful show began. I spotted a graceful mimosa tree, heavy with pink blossoms, waving in welcome as it leaned out over the water. I counted at least 10 fishermen of assorted shapes, sizes and skill levels trying their luck from a towering concrete pier. A pair of colorfully dressed fisherwomen shared a red clay bank with a stately white egret whose spindly legs seemed almost as long as the women’s cane poles.

We puttered toward a line of half-submerged trees, planted on a sandbar, I was told, when the 25,900-acre lake was impounded in 1974. As if on cue, a majestic osprey took flight from an impressive nest on the tallest tree. Soaring and swooping, the gorgeous creature complained loudly as we interrupted his quiet evening at home.

“I don’t know why she’s making such a fuss. Her babies have flown the nest,” my escort said.

I tried not to feel jealous when she added, “Last week we saw a bald eagle. It caught a fish right in front of us.”

A motorboat sped past, towing a bouncing, brightly colored inner tube with the word “Airhead” across it. A grinning girl – no airhead, she – waved exuberantly and called out “Hey!” as she bounced past.

We pulled into a western-facing cove to await the sunset. An ever-changing array of clouds threatened to block our view, but added to the scene’s considerable beauty as the sun’s dying rays transformed them into fluffy puffs of pink and purple.

We enjoyed a little music, a little food, a little conversation on the gently rocking boat as the glow intensified behind the clouds.

“Don’t look away. When it goes, it goes quickly,” my host advised, and he was right. In a sudden rush, Old Sol took its final bow, disappearing behind the trees.

The sun was gone, but lingering rays painted streaks of color in all directions. Just above the dramatic, silhouetted tree line, a vivid slash of fuchsia blended into the brilliant blue of the sky. It looked, for all the world, like a priceless painting from the Louvre.

This may be a manmade lake, I thought, but God sure sends off the day in spectacular fashion.

Some of the lake’s well-publicized challenges have been manmade, as well. On this evening, we noticed a few small, floating logs, but marveled at the lack of debris on the water. Visitors over the 4th of July had seen a different lake, marred by trash washed downstream by heavy rains along the Chattahoochee.

The trash field had cleared itself in days, but it took decades, court battles and many dollars to clear the lake of serious pollution that plagued its early years.

“The lake is really a lot cleaner these days,” Henry Jacobs, outreach manager for the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, recently told me as I cruised the lake with him aboard the Miss Sally, a floating classroom used by the non-profit watchdog organization to introduce students and community groups to the lake.

Jacobs said he regularly tests the water. “It’s like a whole ‘nother lake now. The water quality is greatly improved.”

And the views from “Sunset Cove” couldn’t get much better.

“I love that we get a twofer,” my hostess said, “the sunset and the moonrise, almost simultaneously.”

The smooth lake was still glistening from the sunset as we began searching the skies for the moon. Clouds robbed us of its first moments, but the wait only added to the anticipation.

My hostess checked an app on her phone to be sure we were looking in the right direction. “The moon should be at the tail end of Sagittarius,” she said, laughing. None of us had a clue where to find the constellation, but the Smartphone knew. I found myself wondering how generations of Native Americans who lived along the Chattahoochee would have shaken their heads at our ineptitude.

And then we saw it. Not clearly at first, but as a gentle brightening, a glowing round spot behind a cloud. Slowly, slowly the wisps drifted away until – boom! – the moon took charge of the heavens.

Silently, we savored the moment. Words didn’t seem necessary. Besides, unseen frogs along the darkened shore were loudly croaking a joyful symphony.

Soon, reluctantly, we turned back toward Highland Marina, lighted buoys and moon glow guiding our path. As we glided under the final bridge, I said goodnight to the cliff swallows whose dried clay nests cluster like tiny works of art beneath the concrete span.

“Wow!” I thought to myself, “I am envious. Birds and frogs get this magic very night.”

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