Finding a convenient place to paddle in July without having to share it with lots of other boaters can be a challenge. But despite its reputation as “The Crossroads of Maine,” the Newport area offers surprising seclusion and beauty on the eastern arm of Sebasticook Lake. The lake is large and subject to sudden winds and squalls, but the eastern arm is narrow and protected and offers a delightful 5-mile round-trip exploration. You might run into a few bass fishermen on the weekend, but other than that, it’s you, the serenade of songbirds and the call of loons.

The arm is surrounded by a young hardwood forest, with the shoreline lined with vibrant midsummer green cattail reeds and grasses. The southern shoreline offers a mixture of a few more white pine, hemlock and cedar. A soft morning breeze put the shoreline in motion, the 3-foot high wall of green swaying like a cobra moving to the sweet coaxing sounds of a flute. It was mesmerizing.

The primitive boat launch on the Durham Bridge Road just north of the bridge provides access from both sides of the road, offering exploration both up the arm and out into a small cove west of the bridge. The launch site is made available by a generous private property owner. Help keep it open by picking up any loose trash you see on the ground.

Young mallards swim along the shoreline at Sebasticook Lake. Photo by Christine Wolfe

As we headed out into the warming morning sunshine, a female mallard coaxed her eight youngsters up along the shoreline ahead of us. A loon 30 yards to our right had an unusual lump on its back. We got out our binoculars to see what was up. A little brown ball of fluff was hanging on to mom’s broad back for all it was worth. Its world would never be more secure than this blissful moment.

Yellow pond lilies poked up out of the placid water. Dense patches of blue flag appeared up out of rotting stumps and mats of organic matter every few hundred yards. A vast mosaic of light green bur reed leaves floated on the water, like thousands of crazily angled green pickup sticks. White-breasted kingbirds frolicked about, enjoying the ecstasy of their momentary airborne duels with each other, their conspicuous white tail stripes flashing in the morning sun.

A couple miles up the arm, the channel narrowed into a shady enclave. A low wooden snowmobile bridge blocked the way. We got out and enjoyed the cool shadows while debating whether to portage over and keep going. Two hundreds yards later, we would be turned around by a snag of downed trees over the inflow of Stetson Stream. It was time to explore down along the southern shoreline back to the launch site.

A sudden piercing call turned our heads toward the treetops. Nothing. Suddenly out over the water, an immature bald eagle appeared. Rounding a small point, we gazed into the eyes of a young doe standing in a foot of water, nibbling at vegetation growing out of a decaying stump. The doe daintily skipped into the cover of the forest as we passed.

Exposed stumps and roots make for interesting pictures at the lake. Photo by Christine Wolfe

A small cove with many weathered stumps and exposed gray roots provided the opportunity to unleash our photographic skills. My wife has the artist’s eye in the family and became enraptured by the unique forms and patterns. I tried mightily to keep the canoe steady as possible while the camera clicked. A blue heron emerged out of the grasses on our left.

Passing by the only three houses in the arm, we paddled under the Durham Road Bridge and headed toward a conspicuous elongated white boulder across the cove. As we neared, we spied an odd lump on the flat top. We got the binoculars out. A giant snapping turtle filled the lens. On this 80-degree morning, we were amazed at its staying power, baking in the sun three feet above the water. As we neared to take its picture, it scuttled down the slope into the water a few feet away from our canoe. Its powerful jaws were a sober reminder of who eats whatever it wants in this little cove.

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]


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