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Let's Talk About the Weather

I went for a walk in the woods for New Years. A woodland walk is not a rarity to celebrate the holiday, but it usually requires snowshoes or cross country skis, or at the very least a pair of crampons and a thick winter jacket.

This year I set off in boots and a light parka, and came home with a tick attached to my skull.

As the Maine CDC says, ticks can be out any time the temperature is above freezing, so wearing tick protection on a warm winter day is a sensible thing to do. Usually, though, the temperature isn’t above freezing on January 1. Ticks winter just below the soil, so often a layer of snow and ice prevents them from bothering you in January and February.

A few wintertime ticks is the least of our concerns, however. Maine has suffered two battering storms in the past months, with winds in excess of 60 or 70 mph and heavy rainfall. The conditions are hurricane-like, and Maine is usually a safe haven from tropical hurricanes. If we get a weather maker this time of year, it is a dumping a foot or two of snow on us, a likelihood we are prepared for with snowplows and salt trucks lined up. Maine has a whole industry built around its famously snowy winters, from ski mountains to snowmobile clubs.

After the first astonishing storm shortly before Christmas, where more than a quarter of a million Mainers lost power, at least one person remarked that while the weather might get crazy again this winter, surely we would not have another storm with those temperatures and high winds. And then, less than three weeks later, another storm did less damage to the power system but far more to Maine’s working waterfronts, with entire buildings being swept away in high tides.

The state snowmobile association told local news that entire bridges have been washed away from their trail systems, been replaced, and been washed away again. Those bridges cost the local clubs tens of thousands of dollars, and the only way to get multiple trees out of the trails is through hundreds of volunteer hours. And while this may seem like unimportant leisure, snowmobiling is a tourist industry here upon which restaurants, small motels and inns, and clubs in the northern part of the state rely on to stay in business.

Along the coast, it’s an even more devastating story. This latest storm left multiple waterfront restaurants throwing out waterlogged carpeting and chairs, heavily damaged by flooding. The pier at the Landings Marina in Rockland was destroyed. In Owls Head and on an island off of Georgetown entire buildings were destroyed and washed away — fortunately with no one in them, but several people had to be rescued from rising waters in various towns along the coast. 

Maine’s catastrophes often pale when compared to the news we see from around the nation and the world. This is hard, but it isn’t an earthquake or a wildfire. But there’s something particularly halting when it is happening in the place you grew up — the weather patterns you’ve known and built your life around for thirty years. It’s places you’ve known forever floating away, and it’s little traditions like a January walk in the woods that are being disrupted.

Forecasts call for a similar storm with rain, wind, and an astronomical high tide over the weekend. It may not be our last one this year. Meanwhile, today I took the dogs for a little walk down our country road. A flock of robins darted and hopped around me. Like ticks (and this is their only similarity to the horrible arachnids), it’s not unheard of to see a robin or two in January. A whole flock is rare. But they are considered Maine’s “sign of spring” bird, appearing in flocks around my birthday in early March. It appears that this year, they have had no reason to fly south in the first place.


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