Celebrations bring out the best Downeast

Another Fourth of July has come and gone and I saw myself enjoying it this year in Eastport. Having been there a few times, it still amazes me when considering the thought and preparation that goes into this celebration. From my perspective, these Downeast celebrations bring out a special essence or feeling, if you will, that I am certain exists in many small towns across our country.

Throughout the country, Fourth of July celebrations are plentiful and as varied as the landscape across this great nation. And, given today’s political uncertainties and fast moving news stories, tweets and a perceived general uneasiness with it all, I look forward to slowing it down a bit every now and then to take part in a celebration of people looking to enjoy the moment in a safe, sometimes historic and always inviting place.

When this time of year rolls around it has me thinking about the first time I was asked to stop in Cutler and snap a few photos of their beloved lobster crate races. Being somewhat new to Downeast life at the time, and being from Pennsylvania, I have to admit I had no idea what a lobster crate race was all about. In my mind I pictured hastily designed carts with wheels, fashioned from old wooden lobster crates, sitting on a hill with children in them waiting for gravity to take hold.

So there I am, in Cutler to photograph the festivities without a hill to be seen or a cluster of kids in carts to be found. Cutler has a long history of throwing quite the Downeast celebration, and, as I drove in, activities were abundant. When I stopped I saw people gathered at two piers. They were connecting wooden lobster crates together with rope creating a long line of crates in the water.


I watched as people helped each other slowly pull these crates out across the harbor from one pier to the other. I called down from the top of the pier, “Why is this being done?” An older man looked up, and I could see his eyes smile under the brim of a salt crusted hat, “It’s all for the kids,” the man says. “Young and old run across these boxes in the spirit of fun, it’s what we do on days like this, and we’ve been doing it a long time. It never gets old, and I think all of this, today, keeps us young,” he said.

I stood there for a moment and thought to myself: maybe these crates are like life, and everyone participating is trying to catch a little bit of their past childhood, or perhaps, trying to hold onto it just a little bit longer. No matter the reason, the activity, the smiles and laughter, the good-natured jab at silliness filled the air. And for just a moment, it seemed for everyone there, the uncertainties of life were forgotten and placed aside, if ever so briefly.

And there it was, the essence or feeling one gets of why this place is so special. People coming together year after year, doing something together, something they love to do, in memory of both time and place. It is a feeling that is rejuvenating and exciting all at the same time, because it is a shared experience.


I now know that this feeling is only palpable if you look for it. Downeast places, such as Cutler on this day, absorb moments like these and give them back, year after year, to those looking for them. Sometimes they are there in the eyes of an old man stringing crates together, or in the laughter of a small child watching an older brother or sister run the crates, or in the splash of body and water, or in the laughs that quickly follow on land and on sea. The essence of a place is real, and it is made more so, if one takes the time to look, listen and enjoy.


So, next year when everyone is out celebrating the birthday of our nation with fireworks, barbecue, parades and patriotic salutes, I will smile knowing I can sit on a pier Downeast and watch young and old run across crates suspended in water, trying their hardest to win a prize or simply be young again, and know the real prize is something much bigger than all of us. It is simply the freedom to be able to take time, come together, laugh and make memories, and, in the end, say thanks.

RJ Heller

About RJ Heller

Having arrived here from Pennsylvania over four years 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.