Preserving Mystery on a Complicated Coast

I’ve always felt that of all the states’ landscapes, Maine’s is one of the trickiest to wrap one’s head around. You can get a pretty good understanding of Massachusetts or Ohio by driving across them a few times, but Maine’s most distinctive and remarkable spaces lurk far from its most well-traveled pathways: they’re in the soggy forests of the Hundred Mile Wilderness, in the yawningly expansive potato fields of Aroostook County, and—perhaps most saliently—along the salt-battered crags of its idiosyncratic and complexly serrated coastline.

Maine’s coast itself isn’t easy to get to know, particularly by land, and that resistance to casual familiarity is probably behind its coy appeal. The reasons for the coast’s mysteriousness are inherent in its basic geography: far from an orderly parade of beaches, Maine’s ragged edge is instead a 3,500-mile fractal riot of nooks and crannies. There are very few smooth and clean transitions from land to water, and no matter how intensively one explores, there seems always to be another corner of shoreline to uncover.

The coast morphs impressively from estuaries and sandy beaches in the south to gnarled and severe cliffs on the downeast coast, with rocky islands irregularly speckling the waters offshore. In most instances, the end of land tends to come abruptly: forests and fields shudder suddenly and dramatically into ocean, and the wide, salty water often arrives as a surprise. Even after one has spent years probing inlets and outcroppings, it can be hard to shake an eternal sense that you haven’t quite seen it all, which of course you haven’t—there are just too many corners to peer around.

Public accessibility is not at odds with a sense of mystery; rather, it can help to cultivate it. To love a place, one must have some sense of having gotten to know it deeply, if incompletely—and Maine’s coast stands to gain a lot from allowing more people, each in his or her own way, to know it, to love it, and to add to our evolving understanding of it. To protect our collective ability to wander through and wonder at this place is to do important work toward preserving its magic.

Ben Cosgrove is a traveling composer-performer whose work explores themes of landscape, place, and environment. He has collaborated extensively with a variety of environmental organizations and has performed live in 48 states.

This piece is part of Voices from the Coast, a collection of writing, art, stories, and images offered in celebration of the Maine coast and launched in 2020, Maine Coast Heritage Trust’s 50th year.


More Stories from the Coast