Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Beginning All Over Again

I drove up to Moosehead Lake on Sunday, for the penultimate night of 2007. It's odd that, for all the years spent leading trips in Maine, I'd never been to that particular lake, even though it occupies a central place in the state's identity. The lake always lingered in the outskirts of my imagined geography: a place far to the north and remote. Turns out it's only three and a half hours from Portland. After two bleak hours on Interstate 95, you take four different state routes (7, 23, 6, and 15) in a vague diagonal through Newport, Guilford, and Greenville before arriving in Rockwood, which sports a Half Dome-like geological feature rising out of an island on the lake. I've always loved how one gets from place to place in rural Maine, town-hopping via 20-30 mile stretches of two-lane.

Moosehead is also at the center of a debate which divides the state into a few camps. Plum Creek Timber Company owns over 8 million acres (!) of timberland in the U.S, of which 928,000 are found in Maine. Since timber is getting cheaper and cheaper (one of the results of globalization), timber companies have been looking around a bit furtively for ways to keep their land holdings profitable. They have, effectively, become giant real estate companies. This is not good, because the timber companies, believe it or not, were actually pretty good stewards of the land (I know clearcuts are ugly, but most TCs figured out that sustainable forestry was the way to go, and those clearcuts are mostly leftovers from an earlier period). So instead of protecting their resource (the now un-valuable timber), Plum Creek is trying to develop 20,000 acres of timberland around Moosehead. Here are the basic parameters of the plan:

20,000 acres zoned for development (nearly double the development acres of Plum Creek’s 2006 plan)
• 2,315 subdivision lots and resort units
• 975 subdivision lots
• approximately 300 shorefront lots on Moosehead Lake, Brassua Lake, Long Pond, Upper Wilson Pond
• approximately 675 lots not directly on shorelines
• 1,050 resort units and subdivision lots
• Unlimited employee subdivision lots & units (estimated at 190) and “affordable housing” (estimated at 100)
• 4,443-acre resort on Big Moose Mt., Moosehead Lake, and Burnham Pond with 800+ housing units

• 725-acre resort on Moosehead Lake at Lily Bay with 250+ housing units
• 2 remote satellite resort development zones (162 acres) on Indian Pond and Lily Bay Mt.
• 33 miles of shoreline in development zones
• 90-acre industrial/commercial development zone
• 5 development zones for commercial uses (433 acres)
• Miles of roads to access subdivision lots and miles of utility lines to service subdivision lots and resorts

Plum Creek submitted this plan to the Land Use Regulation Committee (bearer of the weird and unsettling acronym "LURC") in April 2007. An organization called Restore is fighting Plum Creek, trying to get the word out about the timber company's proposal. You can help by attending the last public hearing about PC's proposal, on January 19th in Greenville, Maine.

So where am I going with all this? On Saturday (that would be the anti-penultimate day of 2007, for those of you keeping count) I ran a volunteer swim clinic for Brunswick Multisport, a triathlon shop in Brunswick that I've talked about before. I've had a long relationship with them, and I try to give them something in return for all the help they've extended me in the past. Jim, the store's owner, wasn't sure how many people were going to show (Saturday evening, big Patriots game, lots of parties, etc...), so we were surprised when 28 people came to hear me (me!) talk about swimming. I'm not a great swimmer (it's one of my chief foci of this coming year), but I'm good enough to help out some fair to middling age group triathletes. The short of it is: I had a blast, and I think, from their response, they did too. I was reminded of how volunteering returns so much to the volunteer, that when you offer some time and expect nothing in return, you actually get more out of the act than the people who are supposedly benefiting from your "expertise." A few swimmers dropped their stroke count drastically in just an hour, and I left feeling like I'd broken some kind of record. So as I drove north to Moosehead, I thought about volunteering more often, and how, in these darker days late in 2007, the world needs this kind of assistance more than ever. I passed a Plum Creek sign on route 15, north of Greenville, and I thought about ways I could help Restore in their battle.

On the radio today, as I came back to Portland from skiing, I heard, in succession, these stories:

1) an hourlong documentary on disappearing sea ice (climate change)
2) dispiriting news from Pakistan, in the wake of Benazir Bhutto's assassination last Thursday
3) a report on obesity, which is chasing AIDS as the chief killer in Africa.

It's easy to despair, to think that we're running this world on a deficit policy. But despair is probably a good thing, if we do more than sit around and cry. Hope, in these situations, is actually worse, because it leads to complacency, as we sit around and decide that others are fighting the good fight for us. If you're reading this blog, you're probably doing alright. Having the time to dedicate to endurance sports puts you in a pretty comfortable tax bracket. And I just signed a deal with a new, sweet triathlon team that's going to give me a good amount of support in 2008. That's going to give me more time to think about training, but it's also going to constantly remind me of how good I've got it, how lucky I am to have a functional body that will do what I want it to (I'm knocking on wood right now). I rode back from Moosehead with a good friend, and we kicked around some ideas for our Life Lists. Some of her highlights:

Volunteer in the Dominican Republic for two years
Learn how to play the piano
Become fluent in some foreign language
Go WWOOFing again (World Wide Opportunities for Organic Farms)

Up near the top of mine were:

Start a writing/tutoring center for city kids who don't have the resources of my students in Vermont
Top Ten Hawaii Ironman and 70.3 World Champs
Learn how to play the piano
Stop climate change

Yeah, idealistic, but isn't this the time of year for idealism? Last night, instead of going out to bars and getting wasted and watching a silver ball slide do a pole dance almost 400 miles away, I went sledding with a bunch of people I used to work with at The Chewonki Foundation. We still hoisted a glass at midnight, and I'm still feeling happy today to see the holiday party season go its merry way for a year, but the gathering felt different, felt the way the world might, if playtime were a daily reality for everyone in the world.

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