gratitude & regrets

Ballston Beach, 2 February 2022.

Yesterday, I stood on the beach, in fog and drizzle, for the better part of six hours watching in rapt amazement. In a single day, an incredible crew moved this house off pilings to solid ground. Many people have commented that the plight of this building feels metaphoric for contemporary American life. If that’s true, I hope we can also take the lesson that impressive things are possible when we decide to get moving.

Ballston Beach, 2 February 2022.

I remain torn about the reaction my photographs have generated. I’m grateful to the people who’ve followed in awe — and who’ve looked beyond politics to search for larger meanings. It’s easy to take shots at people who live on the coast, but the forces of nature are simply unmistakably apparent in this instance. New York City — as we learned after Hurricane Sandy — isn’t in all that different a position than this little house. Should we say that the West Side of Manhattan should be condemned and torn down? Or any building along the East River? I can make both arguments more persuasively than any I’ve seen in the comments to my photos, but I also know that our climate is changing and this is a moment of profound witness. That kind of conjecture and opining is really counterproductive and culturally destructive. 

Ballston Beach, 2 February 2022.

Following that point, by far the largest vitriol tossed onto my feeds were thinly veiled class antagonism. Blame for this situation was assigned to individuals (rich people, specifically). That’s the force of the spectacle at work — and I’m concerned that I allowed / enabled it. Climate change isn’t the work of individuals, and blaming and shaming individuals for the location of their houses (especially houses that have been in a locality for 170 years) only obscures our collective responsibility to change corporate and public policy that creates climate change. 

I also know that this is a complicated situation with a lot of actors acting in a lot of ways. So what? That’s everyday life. An ‘easy answer’ — it was the owner’s fault! it was the fault of the regulatory system! — only further obscures the climate issues. Maybe it was the fault of the carbon emissions from you last flight to France? That’s easy! Now we can move on to buying more plastic shit… Complexity is difficult to hold, to live with, but that’s our situation and the sooner we understand that, the more likely it is that we’ll find a way to move forward productively.

Ballston Beach, 2 February 2022.

By far the thing that exhausted me the most about the comments was/is the relentless demand for more information, insider perspective, and for decisions that were/are currently being discerned by the owners and the town. I’m a relatively bright guy, if I didn’t post something it’s because I didn’t have definitive information or chose not to provide fodder for the spectacle. I understand now that my strategy of trying to let the photos tell the story backfired and that I fed the spectacle by not acting as a journalist. I regret that. 

But I want to end this on a positive note. This little building is the last vestige of the Pamet River Life Saving Station. Built circa 1850, it served as a utilitarian building for the better part of a century. It’s later been a summer home. According to local lore, it’s been moved several times. It now has another chance to remind us of the remarkable history of the Pamet Valley — as both a community of maritime protectors and ocean lovers. 

4 thoughts on “gratitude & regrets

  1. Pete, I want to thank you for bearing witness to all this. As you know, I have a personal connection to the house, but you did all of us a tremendous service. I believe your vigil for the plight of the imperiled house could have played a role in saving it and at the very least, raised awareness of the impact of erosion and climate change on our coasts.

    The Globe story must’ve been picked up nationally, as my dear friend and former owner of the home read about it in her local paper in Florida.

    Thanks again.

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    1. Thanks so much, Linda, for sharing your experience and your photos. It means a lot to me.

      The story’s gone international. Someone sent me the wire piece from the India Times!

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  2. No doubt some of those comments stem from the frustration and fear of long time, year- rounders who are struggling to keep an affordable roof over their heads. Misdirected anger but a possible reason for some of the responses.

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    1. I have no doubt that some of what you say is absolutely true. However, some of the snarkiest comments have been from people with enormous privilege and secure housing. Crisis always reveals people, and this is one of those moments… it’s just reminded me of my fears about humanity.

      I feel badly for ‘working this out’ on this journal, but this is part of Cape Cod’s social ecology… and I suppose apropos for the project.

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