Down East 2013 ©
There’s always been a certain voyeuristic aspect to the World Wide Web. It’s most evident these days in the endless queue of homemade videos — often embarrassingly personal — that people upload to YouTube. But back in the days of HTML 1.0, the little team of developers who created the Netscape browser set up what I suppose must have been the world’s first live webcam.
It was a classic techie innovation: amazing, pointless, irresistible and boring, all at once. It invited the whole world, 24 hours a day, to witness the goings-on in a fish tank in some Silicon Valley back room. Because in those days almost nobody had a high-speed connection, the cam served up not a live feed but rather a series of small static images, refreshed (if memory serves) every 15 seconds. It was curiously soothing. People confessed to leaving a browser window open for hours at a time. Four times every minute, a fresh look at the same fish.
Now I am happy to report that, in these days of dizzying technological upheaval, the live webcam scene remains pretty calm. You can still look at things happening slowly from a great distance in the comfort of your home. Only you’ve got a much vaster menu of things to look at. I thought this morning, with May in the offing, we might have a brief tour of Maine via webcam.
Wells  is a nice place to start. This live cam has the homey, hand-coded feel of the early web, when most sites were created via some individual labor of love. The view is of the Rachel Carson Wildlife Refuge as seen from the roof of someone’s house. You can click to peek inside the house, learn about “Our Favorite Places,” sign a guest book, or e-mail the host. There is no commercial content. The way webcams should be.
Cushing Island  is alike in spirit, only with a very cool twist: you can click to view a time-lapse record of the same view over the last 24 hours. The webmaster provides, among other personal touches, a link to a page about his beekeeping exploits.
No trip to Maine would be complete without a run through Acadia. The National Park Service has set up a camera looking northeast from McFarland Hill  with a visual range, under clear conditions, of 25 miles. Better still, the Acadia Haze Cam  uses two separate cameras to create a wide-angle composite view, accompanied by current weather data and an index of air quality. (As I write, the view is hazy but the air is clean.) Closer to town, there's a nice glimpse of Bar Harbor  over rooftops and a playground.
Of you can go off the beaten path. Mars Hill  — a place worth visiting on the basis of the name alone — has a wonderful view from a wind farm. "Trenton Bridge  Lobster Pound's own Tide Cam!“ provides a fetching image of a tidal cove. You have to update this manually. Higgins Beach  gives you a fairly dizzying array of six distinct ocean views updated every 10 seconds. Take your beta blocker first.
From Southport Island  you can gaze (in daytime only) across the water toward New Hampshire, a nicely domestic vista featuring someone’s old-fashioned TV antenna. On Rogers Point  in Elliot, a ”tidecam“ opens a small but lovely window eastward. At Monticello  you stare placidly across (at the moment) a just-greening meadow to dark woodland, a view right out of Robert Frost.
Now personally, I like my cams with a bit of grit, the always unpredictable human element. Here’s the view of Belfast Harbor  from the back of a local tavern, showing the big Route 1/3 bridge and the wonderful pedestrian bridge. I keep hoping to glimpse a couple of bikers brawling in the foreground parking lot. In Houlton  you can watch the bustle (a relative term here) of Market Square through a cam that updates every couple of seconds, fast enough to watch traffic go by.
Portland , unsurprisingly, gives us the Maine human landscape par excellence, with a battery of cameras pointed every which way about town. Bath  has two cams right on Front Street and a couple more on the outskirts of town. The main drag in Presque Isle  looks a bit like someplace out of the Wild West.
There are more. You can peruse wide-ranging indexes here  and here  -- bear in mind that links have a tendency to go stale after a while.
Enjoy! And remember to wear a sweater, it’s still nippy out.
Novelist Richard Grant lives in Lincolnville and is a contributing editor to Down East.