April is an excellent time to visit North Bath by canoe via the North End Boat Launch. Paddlers should be competent in moving water because the Kennebec River is tidal and the convoluted course of the river creates strong currents and eddies. The best time to be on the water is within an hour before high tide in Bath and two hours after high tide.

We hugged the western shoreline of the river to mitigate the current and paddled 1.5 miles up around the tip of Thorne Head and into the peaceful confines of Mill Cove. Across the river to the northeast sits the idyllic community of Days Ferry, their classic colonial-era homes nestled together above the river.

Our initial idea was to explore the perimeter of Mill Cove, but since there’s no launch site on the Whiskeag Road at the southern end of the cove, we put in on the Kennebec and paddled around Thorne Head Preserve into Mill Cove. We started at midafternoon to hit the tide right and enjoy the low afternoon light reflecting off the rugged western crags and cliffs of Thorne Head.

There’s no development along the western length of the head, part of an 88-acre hiking preserve managed by the Kennebec Estuary Land Trust. The evergreen forest on the steep slopes transitions into more of a hardwood forest as you paddle south toward the Whiskeag Road. On occasion we heard the happy voices of hikers enjoying a warm, sunny Sunday afternoon in the woods above the cove. We drifted ,by a couple sitting on a clifftop soaking in the soothing sun.

Flocks of gulls splashed about in the middle of the cove looking for fish. A few cormorants lifted off here and there. In the distance, a flock of migrating plovers darted about. As they turned on cue, their white underwings flashed in perfect unison in the sun. Osprey calls drifted out over the cove from a hidden treetop. Black ducks continuously catapulted up into the air on our right and left.

But the showstopper occurred down by the Whiskeag Road dam as we readied to turn and head back. We looked over to a flat grassy banking, and there sat a light brown oddly shaped log. At second glance, we realized it was an animal. I quickly guessed porcupine. We drifted closer and my wife corrected me. It was a beaver fast asleep in the warm afternoon sun. Next to it was an emerging patch of green goodies that had attracted it to its version of a salad bar. Eat and snooze – we all know how that goes.

The beaver opened its eyes and placidly observed our slow approach. It shifted about, all the while keeping its eye focused on our fumbling with the camera. As it shifted, it repositioned its huge black leathery tail, sitting on it like a kid would on a Flying Saucer. Its foot was an impressive engineering tool – strong long claws protruding from a large webbed foot. With those claws and massive tail, it’s no wonder that the beaver is one of nature’s great earth-moving machines. Beavers might be nocturnal, but this first wondrous 60-degree day of spring couldn’t keep anyone inside.

A beaver at the southern end of Mill Cove. Even beavers love the spring sunshine. Photo by Michael Perry

We looped out around Woods Island at the mouth of the cove before retracing our route back along Thorne Head to the boat launch. Red pine stretched skyward from the jagged walls of rock, live trees mixing with a jumbled tangle of fallen trees. From the island, the ridgeline of Thorne Head lay before us, the vibrant green of pine and hemlock accentuating a striking eyebrow of leafless hardwoods halfway up the slope. It was tempting to follow the line of forested islands farther up river toward Chops Point, but early evening was closing in, and there were currents to carefully negotiate to get back around Thorne Head.

Paddling season had begun again. There was much to be happy about.

Michael Perry is the former director of the L.L. Bean Outdoor Discovery Schools and founder of Dreams Unlimited, specializing in inspiring outdoor slide programs for civic groups, businesses and schools. Contact: [email protected] <mailto:[email protected]>




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