Spring 2024 Issue:

A Maine Life



By Ron DePaolo ’64, Spring 2024

The first car I remember was Dad’s LaSalle, a step below Cadillacs but above Buicks, status-wise. General Motors’s lock on the voracious automotive aspirations of millions of Americans was a primordial force in the economy for decades. And in keeping score on the social side of things: “Look what’s parked in their driveway. They must be rich.” Tailfin envy.

But suddenly there were no more LaSalles or Packards, Studebakers, Nashes, Hudsons, DeSotos, Edsels, Kaiser-Fraisers and Crosleys, Mercurys. Pontiacs and Oldsmobiles—finito, extincto, existing only in memory like 25-cent-a-gallon gasoline and nights at the drive-in not watching the movie.

These disappearances make economic sense in our capitalist way of life. But other vanishings don’t fit into that simpler sort of explanation. And they scare me.

I came to Maine 20 years ago to a house in the woods, alone—or so I thought. When the first frost came in mid-October, mice, voles, moles, and their kin decided to visit. Many mousetraps later, I was again alone. Every fall since, until this last, the rodent invasion was so predictable that I set traps before the first frost warning. Then nothing happened. No fuzzy marauders scurrying. All traps remain unsnapped. No takers. Where are they?

My first few summers here, bats were everywhere. As I was fishing on the nearby lake at night with ultralight tackle that bat sonar couldn’t detect, they kept flying into my line. When a bat hit my hat, I decided to let them enjoy the night without me. But as of five years ago, no more bats. Where there had been thousands squeaking through the summer nights, no more. A virus virtually decimated the population, and only mosquitos cheered.

Red squirrels had established dens in the attic and basement when I first got here, and after prior costly encounters with squirrels trapped inside my former home, I got busy evicting them. A Have-a-Heart trap baited with peanut butter worked wonders—54 squirrels in two weeks, all transferred intact five miles away to a pine and oak forest. They haven’t returned en masse since, just a rare stray every week or so. Why? Maybe a rodent plague, which quickly and silently wipes out entire populations? We humans hardly notice, unaware of nature’s drastic and deadly culling, but I’m kind of relieved; no squirrels in the attic chewing power lines and setting homes aflame.

For years, every time I mowed the lawn on the west side of the house, deer flies would attack. Deep Woods Off would briefly keep them at bay, but they always managed to discover the one place I missed and start munching. Deer fly bites hurt, their biting equipage on the order of a Great White shark’s, and they attack in relentless swarms. Their only virtue in fly terms is that they are slow and eminently swattable. Small comfort.

Some research claimed they are attracted to movement, so I on my riding mower was a prime target. They also adore the color blue, heaven knows why, and they are very difficult to purge. Nevertheless, I had to fight back or lose a lawn (and some blood) so I created my own special deer-fly nemesis: a straw farmer’s hat with a blue plastic Solo cup sewn to the crown and coated with Stickum. During the first trial run, after I explained my weird chapeau to my neighbor (and once he stopped laughing), I had gone 100 feet when I doffed my sombrero for a look. I lost count at 95 flies stuck on the cup. The following May, I readied Solo cups and new Stickum for my annual skirmish. But there were no deer flies all summer. Unmissed! Why, no one seems to know. Or where bumble bees or hornets or even black flies have gone. All have vanished.

Nor do I know the precise reasons why leopard frogs and toads and salamanders have gone. Or the fireflies we caught in bottles on summer nights or monarch butterflies. Or garters or any other kind of snake. I have a growing sense of despair that these innocent creatures, untold billions of them, are gone, maybe forever. That’s a heavy weight for us humans to bear, we self-appointed guardians of the planet. Of all Nature’s creations, we are the ones who knowingly can change our ways and try to fix things to ensure the survival of these unwitting victims. But is it too late in the survival game for many of those species we ignore or overlook and don’t even miss until they are no more? Is it too late for the many we do see? For those still undiscovered? I hope I am wrong, but I fear I am not.

They are gone, like those gas-guzzling dinosaurs, which may be just one of the reasons why, 50 years or more after they disappeared, their legacy lingers and affects our lives in the slow-motion, omnipotent tragedy called climate change, an alteration of our world with terrifying prospects for human life and for all those creatures with which we share the Earth, those innocent victims whose existence ended without a trace, unmourned.

Ron dePaolo ’64
Penobscot, Maine

1200 Main Street
Bethlehem, PA 18018
1 800.441.3191
FAX: 610.625.7930

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