Dana Wilde and grandson Silas at the brook in Troy in 2019. Photo courtesy of Jack Wilde

There used to be houses here. You can see where the road washed out years ago, the foundations in the reed grass.

It wasn’t that long ago, either. I remember Pop saying they used to drive from Unity out to the beach in the summer. Sunburns were worse than when he was a kid because of the ozone depletions. Luckily that was one thing they did something about. When my dad, Jack, was a kid his sunburns were more dangerous than Pop’s when he was a kid almost a hundred years ago. But my sunburns were no worse than Dad’s.

If they could cut the ozone depletion, why couldn’t they cut the CO2? Why did they keep driving gasoline-engine cars? They knew what was happening, but kept doing it. The same as in the 1800s — why did they keep buying and selling slaves? They knew it was destructive, but kept doing it. Fuel for historians figuring out mass psychology, I guess. That’s if there are any historians left a hundred years from now, at the rate colleges have been going out of business.

We drive out here on rainy February days to see if we can figure out by eyeball how far back the beach has eroded since the 2020s when we were kids. They knew then that the ocean was swelling. The water absorbs heat from the air and gets warmer. When water gets warmer it expands. Then you have the glaciers melting more water into the ocean than anyone thought probable this soon. So the ocean is larger in volume. Climbing higher up the beach. High tides are almost 3 feet higher than they were when I was born. Arrowsic’s roads are inundated in high tide storms. You used to be able to drive across a causeway to Deer Isle. That causeway is gone, and rebuilding it is the least of anybody’s worries. Portland puts billions into walls to keep Bayside from becoming part of Back Cove.

And all we can think is, if they had just stopped using gas-engine cars and oil and coal furnaces in the 1980s the sea rise wouldn’t be as high and those houses built beside this beach in the 20th century would still be here.

And higher-ground Phippsburg would still be distinguishable from the Jersey shore. Pop said the south coast was already starting to look like Massachusetts in the 1980s. Fields and woods transforming into housing developments.


Before that, Maine had a natural barrier to overcrowding — winter.

There was still snow on the ground all through January and February then. Who wants to wrestle boots and parkas on and off for months at a time to go out clambering over ice piles and shell out thousands to heat the house? People who thought Maine was a postcard of a lighthouse came for a winter or two, realized February wasn’t July, and went home.

But in the 1980s and ’90s, winter started scaling back. (This is what Pop told me, anyway. Except for the fact that he was a crank and a pessimist, I have no reason to doubt him.) By the time I was born the temperature records were kicking up year over year, and winter and spring were at least three weeks shorter than in the 1950s. That natural insulation against demographic invasion melted.

The hotter it got down South, the more people poured north. Now Massachusetts-style suburbia has crowded all the way up the coast beyond Machias. Except for swatches of mansionland set aside by wealthy people for private misuse. People from galaxies far, far away, whose only connections to us are wormholes that suck money out of our bank accounts and into theirs.

In Washington County housing developments replaced blueberry barrens. Maine is in a no-man’s-land of weather. To the north heavy winter rains and occasional wipeout blizzards. To the south drought and sick humidity. All this was ramping up when I was a little kid. Wetter, warmer winters withered the blueberry bushes, so the owners sold the barrens to developers. Good money if you can make it. Most of it found its way into the wormholes.

It’s not just blueberries that are scarce. The water got too warm for lobsters decades ago, despite the biologists’ hopes. Cod, haddock, herring—meager catch. You can see the black spruces already beginning to thin Down East. The foresters I used to work with in The County have been complaining about disappearing hardwood for 20 years. Like me, they’re mostly out of work now.


Pop said that for most of his life, just about any food you can think of was available all the time. When I was a kid the interruptions started, and it wasn’t just because of the pandemics. Out West, the Colorado River, the aquifers and the Rocky Mountain glaciers simply ran dry. No more almonds, oranges or avocados flowing in from California. Half the state is either burnt over or dried up. Unless you’re straight-up wealthy, you’re lucky to get a head of lettuce here in January because the local greenhouses can’t keep up with the demand. Cabbages and potatoes are better for me and you.

You don’t want to live around the Great Lakes because the water wars have turned into riots. Or the Plains states. Not only have they dried up, but the chances of your mobile home getting obliterated by a Category 4 or 5 tornado are way beyond not impossible. Basically year round now.

We try not to think about what the droughts have done in Central America and the Middle East. Monsoon floods have practically erased whole countries like Bangladesh. Heat and humidity killing thousands of people summer after summer in South Asia. The mountain glaciers are mostly gone, and so is their drinking water. The whole place has been ready to go up in war for years. How all that turmoil over heat and water and drought inevitably leaked refugees into Europe, I can’t even talk about. What’s happened in Hungary and Serbia. We don’t like to think about it.

We could have had a full-blown solar-power economy by Y2K. But then less money would have been sucking through those wormholes.

Here in 2057, at the age of 40, when the power blackouts roll over the rural areas and the house gets cold I borrow the neighbor’s rickety old gas hybrid pickup and drive out to Popham to look at the swollen ocean. Why did they leave us this mess?

They knew what they were doing, and kept doing it.

Dana Wilde lives in Troy. You can contact him at dwilde.naturalist@gmail.com. His book “Winter: Notes and Numina from the Maine Woods” is available from North Country Press. Backyard Naturalist appears the second and fourth Thursdays each month.

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