The master bedroom in my Victorian-era house is on the second floor (under the eaves) and has two south-facing, 6-foot-tall windows.

That was helpful during the Ice Storm of 1998, when my husband, Paul, and I lost power for nearly a week. It was the warmest room in the house.

But, as we had quickly learned when we moved into the home in 1988, it was a hellish place to sleep in the summer.

We didn’t have a room air conditioner at the time. No one in our neighborhood had an air conditioner. As far as I knew, no one I knew in Maine had one.

But my mother, in southeastern Massachusetts, did. She used it in her bedroom, which had windows facing directly south and west. When she got a new one, she offered us her old one.

Hey, that was a good idea.


We had come to Maine from southern New England, and expected both winters and summers to be colder here. Air conditioning was not on our minds.

Over time, Paul and I noticed more and more air conditioners popping out of windows every May in Augusta. In 1986, we moved to Maine without AC. In 1988, we gave in to AC. By 2003, AC was everywhere.

For years, the proliferation of room air conditioners has been my marker for the progression of climate change.

But my handy-dandy anecdote has now been replaced with a truly scary bellwether. We have been going to the same vacation rental on Penobscot Bay for 20 years. This year, the owners installed a heat pump. Primarily for cooling purposes.

I repeat. Cooling is now needed for a cottage located on a bluff directly on the ocean. In Maine.

I don’t have a scientific or mathematical mind. I just notice air conditioners, and in the past couple of years, heat pumps. I notice when my lavender survives the winter, as it did in 2021, and when the lilacs bloom a week early, as they did this year.


I read, of course, about catastrophic wildfires and floods, and about airport tarmacs melting in England. And I nearly wept listening to an NPR story about a heat wave in Greenland.

But what disturbs and saddens me the most are the simple signs around me that Earth is in serious trouble.

So now, a heat pump in the cottage. It’s a good idea — it’s just the reason why that upsets me. The house has lots of windows, and ceiling fans in nearly every room. We initially went there without a thought of sweating. But we had found, as the years went by, that it could get hot in the cottage. Sleeping could be difficult. We’ve always had dogs with us, dogs that were used to sleeping in an air-conditioned room in the summer.

Just an aside here: Our dogs have always eagerly run up the stairs on July and August nights to get to the bedroom, which we refer to as the “cool zone.” They know. They want it.

We do put in a downstairs unit when the temperature becomes truly uncomfortable, as it did a couple of weeks ago. I am talking about the morning when it was 80 degrees at 4 a.m. This we turn on as necessary in the late afternoon for an hour or two, primarily to give our 13-year-old dog a break and make the kitchen bearable for supper preparations.

At this moment, it’s not surprising we need to cool down a city house in the hottest months. But the oceanside cottage? We are Vacationland in large part because, traditionally, Maine summers were pleasantly cool, her ocean waters bracing (to be polite).


My father loved to tell the story of how he and his pals followed my mother and her friends up to Old Orchard Beach in 1955. Showing off, Dad ran into the water, only to be shocked by the frigidness. Cold water gave him hives. My mother married him anyway.

I still find the water at Popham Beach to be chilly (usually). But Old Orchard Beach, in the 21st century — not so much.

This year, we were lucky with our week at the cottage. The temperatures mostly were in the mid-80s, and cooled right down at night. There was one day when it got to 90 and we thought we might need to use the heat pump at night. We had to set up a tabletop fan for our dog, Martha, in the late afternoon.

But we were glad we didn’t have to rely on the heat pump, as night fell and pleasant temperatures returned.

We always feel a deep connection to nature when we are at the cottage. The bay is right in front of us. Herons and eagles fly by. Pogies pool and jump.

We can see storms coming. This year, a rainstorm was followed by a double rainbow that arced over Sears Island — that wonderful, wild place that has been saved from development.

The full Buck Moon rose over the water, and the tides were astronomically high.

It was a blessing to sleep with the windows open and the sound of the sea in our ears. But always, for me, is the question: For how long?

Liz Soares welcomes email at [email protected]

Related Headlines

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: