Commentary

Editor’s Notebook: Five days at the edge of the world

July 27, 2022 5:40 am
A placid ocean under a mostly blue sky, with a boat and peninsula in the background

Bar Harbor, Maine, just before sunset on Saturday, July 16. (Dana Wormald | New Hampshire Bulletin)

Earlier this month, on the day the Bulletin published the first of two Amanda Gokee stories about how climate change is already affecting coastal communities in New Hampshire, I drove northeast for nearly five hours with my wife and daughters. 

We were headed toward the sea – not for science but spirit.

Every day there is a new story about how the planet is struggling – record temperatures, forest fires, rising seas, drought. Every day the losses mount. But for five perfect days on the Maine coast, paradise seemed to be holding up just fine. Every morning the sun climbed above the harbor, thrilling the gulls and terns. Every morning there was zest – and gratitude.

One day, as the tourist boat docked outside of our hotel left the harbor for its morning run, I thought about Leonardo DiCaprio’s closing line, wistfully delivered, in “Don’t Look Up” – a comet disaster movie that’s really a climate change disaster movie: “The thing of it is, we really, we really did have everything, didn’t we? I mean, if you think about it.”

We really did. We do.

There was a tiny pond on the land where I grew up. In summer, I would spend long hours building Huck Finn rafts out of waterlogged tree limbs and baling twine, and dream of all the potential adventures to be found at the far edge. I didn’t know it then but that little pond – or large puddle – was my first sea. It is where I began thinking of wild water as the passage to everywhere and everything.

With that same spirit, I explored every bit of the much larger Dodge Pond up north in Lyman, which had its own uninhabited island where one could pack a survival lunch and become Robinson Crusoe. And years later, in the twilight of childhood, I at last found my way to the edge of the world – an entire summer on the beach in South Carolina. It was magical – even the part where I scrubbed pastry pans for hours before I was free to swim once more in the tepid Atlantic. Don’t read that as a complaint – I would sign up for that deal again in a heartbeat at half the pay and double the work.

But that was long ago, and in the years since it’s been difficult to find my way back to the sea. There’s always a reason not to head east – too much work to do, too little money, too many cars fighting for too few parking spots. And then, just days ago, there I was front row in the salt air to watch the sun climb above the harbor – with encore shows the next day and all the ones after. There I was, serene. 

I haven’t recovered from the trip as well as I had hoped. Every morning since we got back I’ve checked the weather app to see what kind of day awaits the harbor. Twice in the past week I steamed clams just so I could taste the ocean. When there’s a breeze, I close my eyes and imagine I’m once again standing where the world begins and ends.

It’s a popular time to be in Maine, so I assume the room we stayed in has new occupants. I wonder if they’re watching a gull take flight and disappear into the morning vapor, or if they’re trying to breathe in so deeply that the ocean air becomes part of them. I wonder if they’ll go even farther than we did and set sail. 

And I wonder if the revelation will wash over them: We really do have everything, don’t we?

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Dana Wormald
Dana Wormald

Dana Wormald, a lifelong resident of New Hampshire, has been a newspaper editor for more than 25 years. He began his career on the Concord Monitor’s news desk in 1995 and later spent more than a decade at the New Hampshire Union Leader. In 2014, he returned to the Monitor to serve as opinion editor, a position he held until being named editor of the Bulletin.

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