Preserving The Past

January 24, 2024

This winter has been a strange one here in Maine. We haven't had much snow, it's been warmer than it normally is, and to top it off, we've been getting hammered with vicious nor'easters that have battered the towns up and down the coast. Since December 19, three storms have battered New England, and set records in Maine for highest tides. I don't want to get into the argument over whether climate change is man-made or not, but we are absolutely seeing the effects of climate change in these storms. We are also seeing unprecedented damage some of our beloved landmarks due to these storms.

Portland Head Lighthouse during a December nor'easter.
December Gale

Portland Head Lighthouse stands atop a cliff, defiant against the raging nor'easter. Huge waves crash over the rocky shoreline, while the lighthouse's bright beacon pierces through the storm's darkness, offering hope and guidance. It is a mesmerizing portrayal of the resilience of human engineering in the face of nature's raw power.

You can view video from various locations during one of these storms on NewcenterMaine's website, to give you an idea of what things were like. I ventured out in one of these storms, braving 60mph wind gusts and driving rain to capture the stormy images attached to this entry. But I also wanted to show what was lost, so there are two photos below that highlight two of the most dramatic losses. My fear is that these storms continue to hit us with the same ferocity, forever changing the landscape and our homes.

Spring Point Ledge lighthouse, marking the entrance to Portland Harbor, is awash in the waters of Casco Bay as a nor'easter pummels Maine's coast on a December
Fury at the Harbor Gates

Spring Point Ledge lighthouse, marking the entrance to Portland Harbor, is awash in the waters of Casco Bay as a nor'easter pummels Maine's coast on a December evening.

Below you'll see a photo of Fisherman's Point in South Portland, Maine. Fisherman's Point is well known around here, especially to photographers who are often seen making images of the famous fishing shacks that sat on the rocky ledge that juts out into Casco Bay. Those shacks had been there for over 100 years, but sadly, did not survive high tide during the last storm. There are plans to rebuild them, but I have concerns about that, if these storms are to become more regular. In the span of three weeks, three of these storms slammed into the Maine coast, and two of them were within four days of each other. For now, I mourn their loss.

Sitting at the south end of Willard Beach, Fisherman's Point is bathed in the last rays of the setting sun.
Evening Glow at Willard Beach

Sitting at the south end of Willard Beach, Fisherman's Point is bathed in the last rays of the setting sun.

Another iconic building that was lost is the bell house at Pemaquid Point lighthouse, seen below with the iconic bell hanging from the structure. Earlier this year, the bell had been removed out of fear the structure had weakened and the bell would eventually fall. However, nature took matters into her own hands, and almost completely destroyed the bell house during the storm on January 10th. This damage is even more shocking to me. If you've been to Pemaquid Point, you know that the Bell House sits well away from the water even at high tide, and well above the water on top of a promontory that is 41 feet above sea level. It's almost inconceivable to me that the water made it that high with enough force to knock down the brick front of the bell house. Overall damage to the town of Bristol's parks, where the lighthouse is, is estimated to be about $1 million.

This is not the first time the bell house has been damaged however. The bell house was completely destroyed in 1991 by Hurricane Bob, and was rebuilt in 1992. I'm hopeful it will be rebuilt again.

Pemaquid Point Lighthouse and its bell house stand atop the rocky promontory watching the turbulent waters of Muscongus Bay and...
The Bell House & The Beacon

Pemaquid Point Lighthouse and its bell house stand atop the rocky promontory watching the turbulent waters of Muscongus Bay and the Atlantic Ocean on a spring evening.

This brings me to one of the major reasons I photograph. I don't consider myself a documentary photographer by any stretch. I take quite a bit of liberty in my work when editing, that doesn't fit the documentary style. I choose to depict my scenes in a more idealistic way, adding my own feelings to the scene to convey some emotion to the viewer. However, one of my aims in photographing is to preserve the scene and the emotion I felt when viewing that scene in person, and to convey it to my viewers. I have this fear that one day, some of these places will be gone, or at least, dramatically changed from what I see now. For me, photography offers me a way of saving those places to show future generations, even if they are just generations of my own family.