My wife and I made our annual trek to Brunswick, Maine earlier this week. We spend the summer in an old cottage by the ocean. We have been coming here for almost 30 years, the last 10 for the whole summer, enabled by retirement for both of us. The place sits on a peninsula, called Mere Point, about 20 feet from Maquoit Bay. The bay is one of many such water bodies formed when the retreat of the Ice Age glaciers carved out the peninsulas. I can look out over the water and see the mainland which forms the horizon for the setting sun everyday. We are in one of the very rare places on the East Coast where you can witness the sun going down over the Atlantic.
After all these years of coming up to open in mid- to late-May, the scene was quite familiar. We cleaned out the shredded sheets that the mice used to keep warm during the winter. After a disastrous mice season a few years ago, I sealed up the linen closet, or at least thought I sealed it. But this year when I took off the tape around the bottom of the door, I noticed that some of the stuff stored on the shelves was on the floor. A few minutes later while I was going for the broom, I heard my wife shriek. As I arrived, she said, “Look it’s moving.” Sure enough, on closer attention, we found two very young squirrel babies amidst acorns and shredded bedsheets. I gathered up the sheet and carried the two outside, and left them for the parents to find. After a careful search, I found the quarter-sized space that they must have used to enter. I missed it when I sealed up everything else. Maybe the parents were the same ones that left all sorts of acorns and other debris in several cabinet drawers. They can find their way to the strangest places
The eiders are here as always with tiny ducklings that can’t be more than a few days old. They flock in the bay and entertain us with their antics and quacking. The white-plumed males are still hanging around, but they will soon go off somewhere, leaving the mothers to care for the young. It is truly a scene right out of Make Way for Ducklings with a straight line of about a dozen little ones trailing after a few of the females. A distant loon added to the sounds of early summer. The hummingbirds are back. It takes only a moment for them to find the freshly filled feeder. Our (note the possessiveness) chipmunk was back, begging at the kitchen door for the sunflower seeds that fill her mouth almost to bursting. She often sneaks in looking for the seed jar when we leave the screen ajar. I want to believe that it is the same one that got so tame last year. I do think so.
This is why I come back each summer flushed with the knowledge that some things never change even as they may be different on the surface. My pleasant thoughts have been disturbed by what has happened on another part of the oceans far from here, but still intimately connected. The phone rang this afternoon with a call from a dear friend who just wanted to talk about the blowout in the Gulf of Mexico. He, as I have been, was very sad, asking whether our incessant quest for oil and other fossil fuels is worth the risk to nature and humans. I know I am a beneficiary of this quest as I rely on gas and oil to get me to Maine, bring food to the table and just about everything I do. I am ramping up my work to reduce my energy footprint.
George, my friend, asked whether this was an apocalyptic event. Not quite, I think, but close. The world will not come to an end as a result of the spill, but it will irreversibly change the world in the region. The dissembling and misleading statements by just about everybody involved are inexcusable. Are they all afraid that we might finally wake up to the folly of playing around with nature, especially in situations where we are taking big risks?
The the reality of the loss of a massive habitat abounding with marine life was driven home today far from the scene of the disaster. On the way back from taking two of my grandchildren to the farmer’s market this morning, they asked if they could come to the cottage and jump in the bay. Too cold we said, so they settled for dangling their feet over the edge of the dock. As we walked down the ramp, we saw jellyfish, not the stinging kind, everywhere. They ran to get a couple of nets and pails, and went after the fish. They put a few in the pails to look at, including a very small one. Soon they became more curious and reached in and touched it, and, then, picked it up. I expected a sound of disgust, but I was wrong. The next thing I knew was that each held the slippery, slimy creature and studied it. It’s not easy to hold a jellyfish. All I could think about at that moment was how lucky we are not to have oil despoiling these waters that can create such wonder. Like my friend, I will be sad for some time to come.

2 Replies to “Lost Wonder”

  1. Thanks, John, for very insightful thoughts about Mere Point and the oil spill in the Gulf. I have been going to Mere Point in summer all my life and live in Tallahassee, FL, only a short distance from the Gulf. We are safe so far from tar balls washing up on the shore but eventually it will come I feel certain. Your account of the mice and squirrels getting in to the cottage during the long winter reminds me of the mess we found each summer upon arriving at the cottage. We are not owners anymore but still come and rent a place each summer. Don’t have to deal with the acorns in the drawers anymore but still can enjoy the sunsets! Thanks for reminding me.

  2. Thanks John for yet another timely blog entry.
    Earlier today I had a conversation with a friend who studies economics (I am an engineer) regarding the risk, uncertainty and reward of drilling for ever more difficult to extract oils. We wondered if this terrible incident would lead to such endeavours being classed in a more high risk category and affect pricing. We suspected not. At least not in any substantial “game changing” way.
    A further factor has since become apparent though after coming across this article
    from the Guardian in the UK.
    I can’t effectively compare the different incidents but through reading it and many of it’s comments highlighting other spills/accidents, it appears that much more attention and activity is being devoted to this spill than countless others around the globe.
    Is this one bigger or more important than the others? Will their cumulative weight and other impending issues change our minds and behaviour, and finally could we break free of the “addiction” to fossil fuels even if “we” decided it was prudent?
    I’m not sure any of the answers are positive at this stage. Will keep reading the blog and the book to look for inspiration though.
    Many thanks for your sharing your thoughts,
    ps Very impressed by your grandchlidren – I have a fear of jellyfish and squirm even when seeing them on the tv screen!

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