House at Ballston Beach on January 27, 2022, after first high tide of blizzard.
Anyone following my Instagram knows I’m a bit obsessed with the fate of this house. As one of the final vestiges of the Pamet River Life Saving Station, I’d like to see it saved from the sea. But I’m sober enough to know that all buildings on the Atlantic edge are transitory, and moving it back (again) is just a temporary measure. I’ve also thrown some shade on Instagram this week (which cross-posted to FaceBook). The comments on my posts about this house have piqued my anger more than once. There’s the usual inanity of social media — stating the obvious or asking easily Google-able questions (or just read the comments, people!) — and quite a bit of ecological hysteria. But the thing that really pushed me over the edge is the obvious and petty class animosity toward the owners of this building (and frankly extending to all owners of coastline dwellings). The intensity of schadenfreude pushed me beyond sad. I get the way that gentrification has changed this place, but there are moments when greater forces are at play. And this is one of them.
House at Ballston Beach on January 28, 2022.
The drama swirling around the politics of this building’s possible move and possible destruction obscures what the erosion is showing us. This is a moment when we can observe and witness how the forces of nature shift our landscape. Yes, it’s possible to see this on the unbuilt areas of the coast, too, but you have to be a close observer. Pitch pine looks like pitch pine and we don’t see the inches, feet and yards swallowed by the sea. We see the change because we recognize it in relation to our built environment. And it also calls us to consider the human culture that’s being erased with the dune. This house, these storms, this moment offers insight and invites reflection. Are we thoughtful enough to embrace the invitation?
House at Ballston Beach on January 27, 2022.
Sigmund Freud taught us that psychological breaches allow us to see the structure beneath the surface. And he theorized that when we understand the structure healing is possible. That’s the dynamic here, too. We’re seeing the literal structure of this dune and this house, but we’re also seeing the psychological structure of our social ecology. Perhaps the forces propelling both ecologies are bigger than we are. But rather than build or debate sea walls, I think our energy will be better spent trying to become a more compassionate and reflective society. Nature remains our best teacher if we’re willing to be students.