If you have a dream of paddling in the north this summer, way north into the Canadian Shield, but vacation time is tight, then read on. It’s closer than you think.

Three hours north of Portland and seven miles south of Moosehead Lake lies the boreal gem of Shirley Bog. It really is like going north on a wilderness canoe trip. Instead of a five-week epic we enjoyed a meandering five-hour exploration into pure solitude.

The bog is three miles long, bisected with a narrow blue ribbon of water. You’ll see something you’ve never seen before. For us it occurred near the northern end of the bog.

A half-mile from the end we noted a curious yellow band bordering the shoreline. It seemed odd that a bog environment would have a long sandy beach. It didn’t. As we paddled closer, acres and acres of yellow pond lilies stretched toward shore, densely packed together. There were thousands of them. Their unique earthy aroma filled the cove.

From the put in you will see the hulking profile of Big Moose Mountain nine miles to the north. It will be your constant companion as you paddle up the bog, every paddle stroke bringing it closer to you. The bog features an expanse of open marsh grasses on each side of the water with the forest far removed on each side. Vast patches of watershield floated on the sides of the waterway. Up close the tightly packed clusters of leaves resembled a mosaic of scales on a green snake. As the wind swept down the channel the small lines of waves entering the pockets of watershield made them undulate and ripple magically. As always, Mother Nature is the greatest artist.

We paddled over to a small pocket of larch trees on our right lured by the call of the red heads of pitcher plants poking up around the skinny trees. They looked like large red lollipops sticking out of the grasses. My wife got busy with the camera taking numerous pictures of their intricate flower heads and red petals. Our canoe adventure had morphed into a photographic safari. Then the focus turned to the dainty round white flower heads of Labrador Tea. We made sure we got the identification right by turning over the pointed green leaves and confirming the rich brown color of the undersides of the leaves. Tiny spiked sundews got us back down on our hands and knees one last time.

Halfway up the winding channel we spied a granite outcropping sticking up out of the marsh grasses. We hoped the channel would bend to the left and take us up to it. It did. It was great to get out, lie on the ledge and look in all directions with the binoculars. To our south sat the elongated slope of Breakneck Ridge. A solitary osprey circled far above us. Patches of yellow and orange hawkweed, coupled with yellow dwarf dandelion, dotted the earthen pockets on the ledge. The cool breeze felt wonderful on our backs as the sun warmed our faces. Yes, indeed we had stumbled upon the perfect mid-July day. No heat, no humidity and a crisp blue sky.

On our way back down the channel we stopped again on the ledge to soak in the sun for an hour. At the end of the ledge we dropped into the clear water for a quick invigorating swim. We kicked up lots of organic matter from the shallows and brushed it off after we got back onto the ledge. The cool breeze and warm sun provided the perfect bath towel. We stalled as long as possible before heading back, intently gazing at all the distant views over and over to etch them into our memories.

Consult the Delorme Maine Atlas and Gazetteer (map #41) for help in getting to the town of Shirley via Route 6 and 15 north of Monson. Head west on the Upper Shirley Road through the village of Shirley. The road will turn to gravel west of the village. Follow it for two miles to the small bridge over the outlet stream of Shirley Bog. Put in here or at the adjacent primitive camping site.

Make sure to stop in Monson and poke around. This sleepy Appalachian Trail town is undergoing a significant makeover courtesy of the generosity of the Libra Foundation.

Old vacant storefronts are being rebuilt. Art galleries are opening. There is a new energy and can-do vibe in town.

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]