::Literate Blather::
Monday, August 28, 2006
Essay: Ayuh, Wicked Hot Up Herah!

The alarming statistics in Al Gore’s movie “An Inconvenient Truth” readily provide some insight into the effects of global warming:
  • The number of Category 4 and 5 hurricanes has almost doubled in the last 30 years
  • Malaria has spread to higher altitudes in places like the Colombian Andes (7,000 feet above sea level)
  • The flow of ice from glaciers in Greenland has more than doubled over the past decade
  • At least 279 species of plants and animals are already responding to global warming, moving closer to the poles

But you don’t have to watch Gore’s documentary or head to North Pole to see melting glaciers to know that global warming is real.

All you have to do is vacation in Maine.

My family has owned a small pine cabin nestled in a hemlock forest on the shore of a small lake in Maine since 1978. The joke used to be that Maine had two seasons: Winter and the Fourth of July. That’s because Maine is a cold state – vicious, snowy winters that begin in October and stretch out until late April. It’s a rugged state Maine – rocky, moss-laden terrain, jagged hills, thick dark forests, and a coastline battered by a cold ocean.

It used to be that Maine never really shook winter. Its icy grip clutched to summer through the fireworks on Independence Day and the dog days of August. An average summer day had temperatures in the high 70s and early 80s with a drop of a few degrees when you wandered into the shade. At night going to the drive-in required long pants, a sweatshirt, and socks to keep away the chill. Stargazing was best done under a blanket. And then there were those cloudy days when the temperature fell into the 50s (the average low in July and August in Portland, Maine is 56 degrees).

And, of course, the lake never lost the cold – especially when you dove down a few feet and the icy water bit your skin.

Packing for vacation was always difficult – because you needed to be prepared for two seasons – daytime at the beach and night time everywhere else. But this was the beauty of a vacation in Maine. Vacationers got relief from the heat and pollution of the city for the crisp, clean air of northern New England.

Not anymore.

Summer in Maine has shaken off the bully winter. In fact, summer has knocked off winter’s hat and pushed it into a mud puddle. Summer has taken lessons from Charles Atlas and is now the one kicking sand. My suitcase for my weeklong vacation this year didn’t include any long pants, only running socks, and one sweatshirt (which I never used). It’s was warm enough to keep the windows open and on two nights it was uncomfortably humid.

Some of the changes are manmade. Our cabin shares a windy, tar roadway with 20 other cabins – but most of these cabins have been upgraded by the owners. New floors and additions have been added, foundations built and garages and bunkhouses constructed. As a result, many (too many) conifers have been cut down to make room for this “progress.” This has caused an increase in sunlight – which used to be blocked by the thick pine canopy.

As a result – our specific area is hotter because there’s not as much shade. Amazingly, some of the new owners have installed central air conditioning and my nights on the screened porch, which used to be filled with the peaceful sound of crickets and the haunting cries of loons, are now interrupted by the drone of air conditioners. These owners, who have cabins just a few feet from the lake, now sit in their temperature-controlled cabins with every window and door sealed tight. They might as well live in a plastic sandwich bag.

But the removal of the trees and the resulting increase of open space is only part of the story. The lake temperature has spiked considerably. The water can feel like a bathtub and even diving deep gets you only a minor difference in temperature. The day time temperatures are regularly in the high 80s and even the 90s. At night, you don't need the extra layers.

It’s hot.

And that may be why Gore’s movie was such a success this summer. Global warming can no longer be ignored . People, regular folks, are beginning to experience its effects first hand. You don’t need to be a scientist to realize that you used to have to wear a jacket to the drive-in when you were 13 and now your only need a t-shirt and shorts. You don’t have to be a climate control specialist to notice the temperature is consistently creeping up to the 90s. You don't need to be an environmentalist to realize that the water is warmer.

All you have to do is summer in Maine.

Read our essay on slowing down

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