A sunset canoe tour, with a full moon rising over the Scarborough Marsh Audubon Center. (Portland Phoenix/Shannon Bryan)
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It’s simply light bouncing off atmospheric particles.

Those brilliant sherbet-colored sunsets we ooh and aah over are the result of sunlight scattering across the sky, the varying wavelengths of light knocking into dust, water droplets, and gas molecules.

But wow, they sure are pretty. 

I particularly love it when a small gaggle of clouds gathers ’round to bid the sun farewell, and they too are lit up in spectacular fashion. Or watching the sunset from calm evening waters, the colors multiplied by the water’s reflection – that’s the kind of sight that makes you stop whatever you’re doing and stare for a long while.

Paddlers navigate the calm waters and evening light during a sunset canoe tour at the Scarborough Marsh. (Portland Phoenix/Shannon Bryan)

During a 90-minute sunset or full-moon canoe tour at the Scarborough Marsh Audubon Center, you’ll paddle your canoe on the winding Dunstan River, watching egrets and glossy ibises stand watch over the tall grasses of the marsh as the sun goes down and the moon comes up. 

The Scarborough Marsh is filled with all sorts of wildlife, and your tour will be led by a knowledgeable guide who can help you spot and name the birds and fish as well as the stars and planets in the night sky once it gets dark enough to see them.

Once you’re checked in, waivered up, and adequately life-jacketed, the Maine Audubon staff will give a safety talk and then begin helping everyone into their boats. 

After pushing off from the hand-carry launch at the Audubon center, it’s a leisurely paddle through the marsh with ample opportunity to look around and appreciate the slow pull of the tide, the golden glow of a setting sun on marsh grass, and the uniqueness of this beautiful place.

Black ducks quack their hello and sandpipers bounce along the muddy edge of the river. The moon might make an early appearance, rising from the east before the sun has even had a chance to say, “I’ve got to get home, thanks for having me!”

If conditions are right, you’ll be treated to one of those spellbinding sunsets, where the sun’s wake is lit up in bold oranges and pinks and purples. No doubt there will be something beautiful to see in every direction. 

And when the sky grows dark and the stars grow bright, you’ll find your way back to the Audubon center by the light of the moon (and your guide will make sure everyone finds their way back together). 

Freelance writer Shannon Bryan lives in South Portland and is the founder of fitmaine.com, where she writes about the coolest ways to be active and get outdoors in Maine.

The view from the bow of a canoe during one of Maine Audubon’s Scarborough Marsh tours. (Courtesy Maine Audubon/Ariana Van den Akker)

Row your boat

The Scarborough Marsh Audubon Center is open daily beginning June 19 and hosts sunset and full-moon paddles throughout the summer. Cost is $14 for sunset tours and $16 for full-moon tours (discounts for Maine Audubon members), which includes all the paddling essentials: A canoe for two to four people, personal flotation devices, paddles, and guidance.

No previous canoe experience is necessary; tours are open to paddlers of all levels, and kids are welcome – you’ll be in good hands on mellow waters, and staff will give pointers on proper paddling and will help out on the water, too, if needed. Advanced registration is required (tours tend to fill up well in advance, so be sure to book yours sooner rather than later), call 207-883-5100 to reserve. 

Full-moon canoe tours are available June 22-24 and July 21-23, 8-9:30 p.m., and Aug. 20-22, 7:30-9 p.m. Sunset tours are scheduled July 7, 7-8:30 p.m.; July 30, 6:30-8 p.m.; Aug. 6, 6:30-8 p.m.; Aug. 19, 6-7:30 p.m., and Sept. 5, 5:30-7 p.m.

If you prefer a self-guided tour of the waters and wildlife, you can also rent a canoe or kayak. Rentals are available 9 a.m.-4 p.m.; the cost is $20 an hour with a reservation.

FMI: maineaudubon.org/visit/scarborough-marsh/ or 207-883-5100.

— Shannon Bryan