I apologize for the gap in the appearance of this column. The deep-freeze jammed up the controls on my borrowed H.G. Wells time machine, and the combination of cold air and rich holiday foods left me in a state of hibernation too powerful to allow me to attend to its repairs.

Fortunately, a thaw this week made it possible for me to take the old beauty down to the harbor, where I sat staring at the docks and the pleasure boats and slowly pulled back on the lever to start us on our trip back through time.

It only took a matter of seconds, of course, for the sign off to my right on Water Street to turn from the unimaginative DST to Boston Financial to MBNA. Then in a flurry of time-lapse reversal, the lovely harbor boardwalk splintered away and the great industrial hulk of the former Fisher snowplow plant returned. Ah, back to when I started my career here in the late 1990s.

Backward we travel and arrive in an arctic chill on Monday night, Jan. 21, 1985. I stop here and walk down to the South End, where I find the deserted Holmes Packing Co. lighting up the sky in a massive fire. The locals used to call it "Holmes-ez," just as we used to call it "Ames-ez" when there were department stores other than Wal-Mart.

Firefighters are arriving from all the local towns, throwing water on the nearly 20,000-square-foot building. The water will freeze in a variety of strange, spiky towers and glaze every surface that survives the inferno, creating a strange beauty to rival even the visions of artists.

The firefighters continue to arrive until they have a small army of about 100. The Coast Guard has boats in the harbor throwing water on the fire from that front.

The fire chief will tell The Courier-Gazette the fire was likely caused by juveniles, who liked to explore the empty plant, a theory based in part on footprints leading from an open door at the facility.

The destruction of the Holmes plant is like the final nail in the coffin, the official end of an era.

Back on my machine, I watch the harbor transform from the pleasure boat and tourist center I know today to a waterfront dominated by sardine-packing plants and fish processing. There go Green Island Packing Co. on Tillson Avenue, Port Clyde Foods and North Lubec Manufacturing & Canning. Even as I speed through time, the smell of the fish causes my nose to wrinkle.

But as the Courier editors noted in 1985, it had been a time when there was work for anyone who wanted it. Hard, cold, dirty work, maybe, but a paycheck nonetheless. The people stood for long shifts on concrete floors snipping the heads and tails off the small herring. People all over the eastern seaboard took those cans of sardines to work with them for a simple, cheap, ready-to-eat lunch.

In the old days, the sardine plants had whistles, like fire whistles, that would go off to let people in Rockland know a boat was coming in with fish to pack.

"You'd be home," Lanny Willey once told me. "They wouldn't call you. You'd be listening for the whistle. Green Island was two long and three short. And you'd know it was Green Island, or Holmes. They had their own signals. You'd have to count them."

When the whistle sounded, buses would go around town picking people up to go work in the plants.

With the end of that era, the editor of the Courier noted in 1985, it was more important for young people in the Midcoast to concentrate on their educations. They could no longer rely on the fishing industry to provide jobs to any and all who wanted them.

Meditating on this, I zone out until I realize I've zapped all the way back to 1898.

The harbor is busier than I've ever seen it, full of ships and boats powered by sail, and not one of them for pleasure.

Now I see Rockland Harbor, the granite and lime-shipping capital of the world. The last lime-burner will not shut down until October 1958.

As I watch the boats navigating the choppy seas, I know many men are chipping away with pickaxes high up on the walls of Rockland's quarries, where the limestone deposits are being unearthed. The limestone is burned in kilns to make lime needed for the creation of plaster.

I can see the wharves piled with cords and cords of firewood, brought in by sloop from all over the coast to keep the kilns burning. The barrels of lime — barrels built on inland farms — are being lowered into holds below decks.

Ships are leaving for Boston, their sails snapping tight against gray skies. I wonder how many will burn before reaching their destinations.

I pull the lever back and back until there is nothing but the rocky shore, the birds picking crabs out of the seaweed and tall, dark trees swaying in the wind. The salt smell is still there, but the air is very clean.

Sitting there, I think I know what the future will bring to this patch of Maine's coast.

And yet sitting here, I wonder what the future will bring us next.

Editor Daniel Dunkle of The Courier-Gazette lives in Rockland. Send in your stories, photos and memories via email at: ddunkle@villagesoup.com; or snail mail to: 91 Camden St., Suite 403, Rockland, ME 04841.