Need something? Drive the roads Downeast, you’ll find it.

Feeling a little hungry? Perhaps you need a little kindling for that campfire, or maybe you are looking to add some interesting perennial plants to the front yard? No worries! Just scan the roadside for all of these fixings, and when you find them, know you are Downeast.

One thing I always notice when I drive along these back roads is the amount of people and households living a life of self-sufficiency. I have written about this before many times. One off shoot from self-sufficient living, of course, is having too much to consume or use personally. So what does one do with the excess? Place it roadside, throw a sign over it and put with it a box or some sort of container to hold the money and let nature (human) do its part.

Everything from fresh blueberries, free-range chicken eggs, perennial plants, honey, firewood, vegetables, and every now and then small household items can be found along the roadside of Downeast Maine. The items are there, found, paid for and used while providing the people selling them with money to go find something they need and drop the cash into someone else’s life. That’s Downeast supply and demand at its finest! But, and here is the spoiler alert, you need cash. No credit or debit card machines will be found out in front of anyone’s home around here.

This type of exchange, I admit, seemed foreign to me. Lets face it, this never happened where I grew up in Pennsylvania. I mean even the lemonade stand had someone sitting there in the hot sun all day long. But here along these roads you take what you need and you leave the proper amount in the basket, wooden box, whatever the vessel, and trust it gets to the proprietor. A true honor system at work, and according to the many people I have spoken to, it does.

The closest thing I could come up with in Pennsylvania to this common mode of exchange of goods demonstration is when milk was delivered door to door. I think many of us remember those days when the milk and sometimes packages of doughnuts were left in the tin box outside on the doorstep. If the bill were due, then cash, check or the apologetic “get you next time” note would be left waiting there for the deliveryman.

I know this because, truth finally be told, as boys would be boys, when we had the chance and were thirsty enough we would help ourselves to a glass bottle or two, drink it down and then feel guilty for the remainder of the week. But we never took the money! Come on, we were thirsty boys, not criminals! And now that I have confessed, I am certain, I will in due time receive a phone call expressing dismay and consternation from my mother.

Photo, Paul Bukowski/Times Union

Those days and the many services that came with them are long gone now. Today, it is all about securing one’s possessions and continuously adding to them as we go about our day-to-day business. It is a “push this” and “swipe that” technological amusement ride world we live in. And in the end we usually realize, if we’re honest with ourselves, that we never really needed what we accumulated anyway. It was for me a hurry-up and get-it done world I lived in and the ride was too long and too repetitive; hence, why I now live Downeast.

Perhaps this roadside honor system, along with all the other things I have witnessed and written about, the people waving, the patient waiting, the friendly support of friends and neighbors when someone is hurting, the morning rituals, town government, fathers and sons, fisherman stories of work and sometimes painful loss, and the common everyday Downeast flair for life in general, is what makes this place so very special. I do believe and take solace in that everyday and am reminded of it even now as I pull the truck to the side of the road, place the bills into the box, load up on some fresh produce and head on home. No doubt, there is a message waiting for me on the answering machine from mom.

RJ Heller

About RJ Heller

Having arrived here from Pennsylvania over a year ago, there has been plenty to learn and even more to observe. This place is different, but I mean that in a good way. Born and raised in Pennsylvania, I am a college graduate with a teaching degree, a business founder and seller, and a father of two children with my wife Stephanie; life has been full and somewhat adventurous, but finding Maine remains a high watermark in my life.