How climate change has transformed Maine, a place I love
Every morning I walk my border collie across our driveway to a field next door. I don’t own the field, but it’s obvious nobody’s come to visit in years. A small red cabin sits in the distance, the door is locked and you have to duck under a drooping power line to peek in the windows. Hawthorne is starting to take over all around it. This is where I complete a monotonous first task of the morning, throwing a tennis ball and waiting for my dog to retrieve it.
What’s great about having a dog is that they always get you out. I’ve noticed so much about nature by just being with my dog. When I take him to run in this field, one thought plagues me each day, especially now that it’s the second week of February.
Why isn’t there any snow?
This time last year, I was somewhere in the southwestern United States, driving to Mexico with my boyfriend. When we returned home in spring, we were told that we missed a shitty winter — there wasn’t any snow, it was rainy, wet, and cold every day. No point in going out.
Something about Maine that you have to get used to when you live here is that people talk about winter all year long. In July and August, people are talking about January and February. This summer, we all had high hopes for a snowy season — the Farmer’s Almanac had called for one.
But November, December, and January have gone by and there’s been limited snow. If we do get a small storm, it burns off in unseasonable heat the next day.
Is it climate change? Is the earth just on some kind of cycle? Does it even matter which? The truth is that Maine is now different and our seasons are disappearing. That’s been the case for at least a few years, or my entire lifetime. Older Mainers claim they’ve been noticing these changes for decades on end.
When I asked my boyfriend how he has seen Maine transform in his lifetime, he said: “When I was a kid, I had to wear a snowsuit on Halloween. This year I went swimming.”
Maine’s temperature has increased three degrees since the year 1901. Alaska has experienced the same increase in the same amount of time, even a little more. Maybe three degrees doesn’t seem like a lot on paper, but if you live here, you’d have to be in denial not to notice the difference.
The absence of a Maine winter is not the only thing that makes me think climate change has taken a hold on this place. The one thing my mother loves to do is garden. And she’s been in Maine for 40 or so years longer than I have, digging in soil that she claims has transformed drastically. When I asked her about climate change, she talked about her plants.
“These past few winters the ground has varied from not freezing at all to freezing shallow. Adding to that a longer January thaw and earlier spring thaw have let the underworld of soil pests and disease flourish. I’ve not had storable apples, flea beetles wreak havoc on my newly planted veggies, while various fungi diminish my tomato and squash yields.”
My friend Molly is a head gardener on a Mount Desert Island estate. I asked her the same question and she brought up pests as well, claiming they return earlier in the season and with an even bigger vengeance than the year before.
Maine is a lush, biodiverse place. It’s not the desert. But my mother says the dryness in mid-summer has caused her to seek out flowers that are drought-tolerant so she can prioritize watering her vegetables in August.
When I drove across the country last winter, I spent days and days driving through arid, desert land. It made me think about home, and how lucky I am to be from a place that despite popular belief, can host pretty much any type of plant — my mother has grown anything from peaches to kiwis without any issue. And Molly has told me that because of Maine’s temperature changes, she was able to plant tomatoes outside on Memorial Day weekend last year, and they did really well. Usually, Maine farmers would wait until the end of June to bring their tomatoes outside, so there might be a way to work with these newfound differences. As I was driving through those desolate landscapes, my mother was probably back home placing a Fedco seed order for echinacea, snap-dragons, and marigolds.
When I hear about the changes my fellow Mainers have watched within their lifetimes, I wonder if within my own I’ll see Maine transform into that same dry landscape I saw out west.
Molly and my mother bring up pests, and I’ve noticed them myself. From July until November I was camping out on my property with my dog. Each night before bed, I had to wrangle him to the ground and sit on top of him so I could locate ticks and throw them one by one into the fire. Each night I picked off at least twenty, easily. I stopped counting after that because it was too disgusting for me to imagine all those little animals trying to suck him dry. In recent years, Maine moose have been found dead in Northern Maine. Their cause of death: sucked dry by ticks.
The whole life of a tick is centered around finding a warm host before winter. In the fall they can be found at the tops of long blades of grass, with their arms spread open, hoping to catch a ride on someone bigger. We’ve always depended on a cold winter to kill them off, but that hasn’t been the case for several years. There are two types of ticks in Maine: dog ticks and deer ticks. One out of every five of the latter carry Lyme Disease.
I hadn’t even heard of Lyme Disease until my early 20s. Last year, I had to be treated for it.
So what should we do with all this evidence of climate change? Should we ignore it, chock it up to a ‘cycle’? Or should we place it far off in the distance, something that will happen to our grandchildren’s children’s children, even though it’s happening to us right now?
I think we’ve come too far to just see what happens. The most we can do is stay on top of the political system, calling your representatives each day to remind them that there’s a natural world outside their offices. And it’s suffering. The very least we can do is control how we live our personal lives. How we buy products, which companies we choose to support, whether or not we challenge our family members who deny that climate change is real.
When I think about climate change and its impact on my home, I feel worried. I don’t want this place to change, I want the Maine I signed up for when I put a down payment on a piece of acreage this past spring. But I know we’ll persevere, even if the deserts do reach us eventually.