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Retired publishing executive ecstatic with the idea of spending most of his time on the coast of Maine

Sunday, October 28, 2012


I should have known as soon as I saw the cement truck idling on Lucia Beach Road, just where it turns from two lanes to one lane, more or less. But there was no sign of anything different in the neighborhood, and I kept walking. When another cement truck came roaring toward me, sounding like a fighter plane invading a peaceful country, taking the whole road and forcing me nearly into the woods, and the first truck came roaring behind me a couple of minutes later, then even this innocent got that something was happening at the beautiful little pocket beach at the end of the road.

It's a visceral reaction, an unexplainable and naive and sophomoric despair. I can only think of the trees that were cut down to make room, to make timbers; the lime dirtily dug to make concrete, the iron to make steel, the coal to make electricity; the sand melted to make glass; the petroleum refined to make plastic and tiles and the gas to bring all the machines in to dig and cut. This house-building is a brutal thing, and indeed brutal is the way we build most everything. A new house in such a gorgeous place seems only a crude apprehension of our grasp on life.

I don't think of the people who will live there and enjoy the surf, the birds, the always-changing marriage of sky and ocean, like I do. I can only see the scarred earth, the naked struts, piles of waste. Mine is a victory of imagination, a failure of empathy. I'd rather the carousel of development stop and let me off, even though I'm on it and enjoying the ride.

At least the new house is contained on a small lot close to trees, at least it's being built near the few other houses ringing the beach. At least no one cut down six acres of trees for the benefaction of a single dwelling. That happened a couple of years ago farther up Lucia Beach Road, and on my way back home to my own collection of insults to the earth, I walk past those acres, still scabrous and scrubby, and look for signs of the trees taking over again.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Climate control

At the national Land Trust Alliance meeting in Salt Lake City a couple of weeks ago, I heard a myriad of inspiring stories - land trusts in every corner of the country are conserving and preserving huge ranches, little urban parks, farms, wetlands and woodlands and badlands and uplands from development and for people. There was a lot of talk of climate change also, fairly depressing stuff, in fact, including an image now indelibly imprinted in my head: those countless rich-people developments of big houses in Florida that, all through  the hot season (which is half the year), are continuously air-conditioned, even though NO ONE IS EVER THERE in the summer. Why the air-conditioning? Because if the houses weren't cooled, mold and fungus would take over and the houses would soon fall down. What a culture! Pun intended.

I'm even more depressed to realize, as many people have now pointed out, that in nearly 5 hours of national debating, the four gentlemen on the tickets have so controlled themselves as to mention the issue of climate change not once. Sacrifice, foresight, prudence, investment - these are now irresponsible words in a time of continuous economic crisis. In a hundred years, humans will curse us for ignoring this great threat to the life in which our spirits, our art, our happiness and our very genes thrive: storms, heat, food shortages, water where it shouldn't be, not enough water where it should be, loss of life in a scale approaching all-out war. Perhaps our descendants will like their big heads, puny bodies, respirators, body armor, indoor climate-controlled immunity bubbles - somehow I think not.

So this afternoon I split wood for an hour, that helped some. Then I sat down by the shore to watch an ocean storm building; the wind blowing from the southeast whence much of our best drama comes, the clouds of a rainy warm front overtaking the blue sky, whitecaps building in the bay, the strong surf of high tide roaring on the rocks. That helped even more. And when a bald eagle flew by right in front of me, I was almost cured. Almost.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Cats and dogs

I got up to get another cup of coffee and stopped, as I always do, to look out the kitchen window. Something a bit different this morning: a fox was standing in the driveway. Magnificent character: shiny coat, long tail, handsome face. We have not been in Maine for a few weeks so perhaps Reynard and clan (there's a den near the abandoned house two lots north) have become used to wandering around the place undisturbed. Not to be undisturbed this morning, although I for one was motionless and respectful - a cat came into the picture, prowling along the edge of the woods some 20 feet away.

Soon enough cat and dog became aware of themselves. Proto-dog remained more or less still  Fully evolved feline assumed the crouch, then the slink low along the ground, advancing to within ten feet. Another pause. Various things twitched. Cat then performed a short run, stopping prudently short, at fox, who flinched, backed up two steps, held its ground. More twitching, more of a conversation than a confrontation.

After about five minutes of this, the cat slowly and gracefully walked away. Reynard also departed the field of battle with grace, ambling into the woods. Of course, it was no battle, much as I expected the fox to employ its five-fold advantage in size and at least terrorize, and maybe atomize, its fellow warrior. No ancient rivalry today. It appears our wild neighbors are being civilized, or at least evolving from slyness to shyness. I wonder if he would allow me to pet him tomorrow morning.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The color of canyons

Back from 10 days in Utah: a couple of days at the Land Trust Alliance convention in Salt Lake City, and the rest in the south around Bryce and Zion Canyons. It was of course hard to leave New England at this time of year, but I expected the colors of the canyons and high desert to rival our hardwood foliage. And they did, almost.

In the categories of grandeur and weather, I must admit the West won, and handily. The walls of Zion Canyon alone are much higher than Maine's biggest coastal mountains, and we were ecstatic to exchange the cool and rainy of last week in New England for warm and sunny. In the matter of color, it's probably silly to compare - the two places are so different. The thousands of canyons show such an astonishing range of shapes - especially Bryce with its dense population of hoodoos - that you want to explore every one of them. Their colors too are amazing: shades of vermilion and pink and rose and dark red and off-white and light brown change hourly as the sun strikes a new angle. The desert floor is more monotonous, red sands mixed with white, the muted grays and greens of tough plants, and the dark green of stunted conifers, with occasional shocking pink flowers of the prickly pear and tiny bright red and yellow flowers widely scattered and almost invisible. Each primary color seems just a couple degrees off true, paler than we're used to, due to the scarcity of water, I assume. The sky, however, was as bright blue as anything anywhere, and much bigger than we normally see.

Yet we do compare. For all the wonders round every corner, and glimpses of Western animals (buffalo, antelope, tarantula, lizard, jackrabbit), and massive doses of photo-therapy, we were ready to come home. The lack of water is the ultimate challenge for people from the east - we must have some kind of gene that makes us crave big trees and lush vegetation and armies of birds and ever-present rivers and lakes and ocean. And, of course, the loud, brilliant, fully charged reds and yellows and oranges of the New England hillsides.