The Universal Notebook: Maine slips south

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Driving into Portland last week I was struck by how the traffic was clogging I-95 for no other reason than too many cars. When the speed resumed, drivers were weaving in and out, changing lanes without signaling and, once in the city, routinely running red lights.

What’s going on here, I wondered? Then it occurred to me that what I was witnessing was Maine turning into Massachusetts, I-95 turning into Route 128.

Edgar Allen BeemAggressive driving is just one of several signs, behavioral and environmental, that Maine is headed south, as in becoming a mid-Atlantic state, as in going downhill fast.

Wet, warm early springs are harbingers of Vacationland slipping southward a zone or two. It won’t be long before climate change will wipe out the ski and snowmobile industries.

We’ve all seen how the green crab has taken over the coast, scuttling northward as the ocean warms and destroying mussel bed and eel grass. Rising sea levels, ocean temperatures and acidification are driving marine species north in search of colder waters.

Scientists say there have always been great white sharks in Maine waters, but, as a lifelong beachgoer and body surfer, I have never seen so many shark sightings and warnings. In 2020, Maine had its first fatal shark attack. That’s the sort of thing that happens in Cape Cod, California and Hawaii — not Maine.

I also don’t recall so many black bears prowling the area. Daughter Nora and family have had bears in their house and car just over the border in New Hampshire, and our neighbors at the lake have had their bird feeders raided several times this summer.

Of course, one of the first signs of this geographic drift was the disappearance of the white-tailed deer from northern Maine, an artifact of coyote predation, loss of habitat and inhospitable winters.

Now we have an over-abundance of deer in southern Maine and with them have come deer ticks and Lyme disease, the curse from Connecticut.

Another curse from southern New England is an overheated real estate market as out-of-state buyers drive up demand and prices for Maine homes, displacing local folks with their funny money from away, paying cash for Maine homes sight unseen.

Our house has doubled in value since we bought it nine years ago, but that appreciation doesn’t make me happy because it means first-time Maine homebuyers can’t compete. And anyway, where could you afford to live if you sold your Maine home?

The housing shortage and the lack of affordable housing caused by people from the cities to the south wanting to escape to Maine is also a contributor to the problem of homelessness in Maine. There have always been street people in the Forest City, but we didn’t have tent cities like in San Francisco. Portland officials struggle to address homelessness, but the immediate answer might just be to create a campground for tent dwellers replete with toilets, showers and supervision.

One thing is clear, however. The free market is not the way to address social problems like homelessness and lack of affordable housing. Portland is plagued with short-term rentals and a waterfront ghetto of hotels, signs that the city exists to serve visitors from away, not local residents.

And if you want to see where local folks are living these days, take a drive out to the former Scarborough Downs where the race track has been replaced by a townhouse tenement development that looks like it belongs on Route 128 in Peabody.

Edgar Allen Beem has been writing The Universal Notebook weekly since 2003, first for The Forecaster and now for the Phoenix. He also writes the Art Seen review column.

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