The Beach Went Thataway

ONE of these artful developers bought a strip of shore land with malice aforethought (as we shall see), and after he ``improved'' it he sold lots to what are now known as ``urban suckers.'' Lately, this has been going on in Maine, and it seems there isn't much anybody can do. The law, of course, persistently makes boneheads out of good judges, and the customs and attitudes of the countryside for the past 300 years have no clout when somebody can tuck away millions with a small investment. By the time the gentlefolk of a Down East community realize they are being abused, the game is over, and nothing from the past forewarned that mischief was afoot. It seems safe to say that if a man has money enough he can yank up your drinking well and put in his game room, and make you go down the road to buy water. No? Well, try this for size:

Once this oceanside land is ``improved,'' it is offered for sale lot by lot down in the cities in a lively manner, and people with the price are invited to participate. This developer I speak of had a videotape made, and seemingly his tape was so convincing he found a buyer who didn't even come to look at his lot.

The customer agreed, and plunked down the considerable moolah, and when he did come to Maine to take a gander at his big bargain he felt that there had been a kind of misrepresentation. He complains (and has no redress) that the videotape that persuaded him into drooling desire was made at high tide, and nobody told him there is a recurring intertidal interval of something like twice in every 24 hours and 50 minutes.

It seems to me this was artful of the developer, and lays him open to some criticism for sharp tactics, but what it does to the caveat emptor will keep folks in this area smiling for a long time to come. There has got to be something, whatever it is, about anybody who wants to live on the Maine seacoast and expects the tide to be high all the time.

The highest tides in the oceans of the world occur in the Bay of Fundy, between Maine and Nova Scotia. Tides of 50 feet occur, but are not every day. Distance westerly along the Maine coast diminishes the rise and fall, but here at Back River we get 8 and 9 feet, and more with a full moon or a northeast storm.

So, this poor chap who believes in videotapes found that his shore lot was indeed beautiful if he chanced to look out at the right time, but otherwise the ocean had retracted and gone down around Franklin Island to disport and cavort until it was time to reappear. Instead of the deep blue beauty of boundless expanse, he had a gooey, glueful, ooze that nobody had hitherto called to his attention.

Without applauding the developer's methods, I will offer that the word ``sucker'' is perhaps not unjustifiably applied to the buyer by my resident neighbors here who have filled me in on certain details.

Yes, indeed. Life along the Maine coast rises and falls with the tide. Those of us who don't depend on the tide as do the sailors and fishermen are still aware of its schedule, and when my cook deigns to boil off a few lobsters I don't go for a bucket of sea water until the tide serves. When the tide is slack we see plovers feeding along the eelrut, and maybe a great blue heron stepping off the distance to the next edible kayak. Mallards frisk by times, and spring and fall we get Canada geese who will, if we toss down some corn, come up under our sink window. So this newcomer urbanite doesn't really know all the things he's bought. Like clams.

That ooze that he feels unsightly has its value. Right now the Back River flats are closed in a conservation cycle that lets the wee ones grow. A lawful clam won't pass through the 2-inch rings all clam diggers have on a string around their necks, and along about next August our Back River tots will be big enough to go to market, when the flats will be ``open'' for a few weeks.

The Maine clamhod, into which a digger tosses his clams as he finds them, holds a half bushel, and lately the buyers have been paying better than $50 a bushel. So a man can make a day's pay, and when the tide serves twice a day, morning and evening, a digger smiles muchly.

But the flats don't go with the lot. The public domain starts at high water, and the urban sucker has no title to his flats. He can dig clams, though, if he has a resident license, a hod, some boots, a ring, and a rake. All the other things can be had right away, but for an urban sucker, the resident license takes about 85 years.

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