OPINION: Going back in time in Cliff Island, Maine

By Stephen Knight

With the fabulous 350+2 Jubilee just nine days in the past, the July 4th celebration of American independence was yet another opportunity to look back over our history as a town and nation. The fireworks display was by necessity held a week earlier, but I hope everyone enjoyed one of our country’s most significant holidays.

I would not know, because my wife Cathy and I were on Cliff Island, Maine. I have written about this special place before, and those columns seemed to be quite well received. Almost always, the theme has been the uniqueness of life on the 284-acre island three miles offshore in Casco Bay.

What has intrigued us about this is the casual, old-fashioned friendliness. Unlike here on the mainland, everyone is content to leave their political opinions at home. When we step off the boat from Portland, it truly feels as if we are going back in time by sixty years.

In that vein, I thought people might be interested in hearing how the July 4th holiday is celebrated on Cliff Island. Because the actual holiday was on Monday, the three-day weekend gave everyone more time for festivities than usual, and organizers took full advantage.

The weekend actually began informally on Saturday around 9:30p.m. For the third year in a row, lobsterman Steve Tracy gave those residents in Fishermans Cove a pretty good fireworks display lasting around 20 minutes from his neighbor’s dock. Our family watched from our second-floor porch.

Formal events, all arranged by an island volunteer organization called A.C.E. (Athletics, Conservation and Education), began on Sunday with a cookout on “the ballfield” beginning at noon. Hamburgers and hot dogs of course were served. But many opted for the traditional boiled lobster, all caught by local lobstermen. Dessert consisted of ice cream and cotton candy. Around one hundred people attended, sitting at long tables under a large tent.

After lunch — all prepared by volunteers, by the way — the annual ACE Olympics were held. Events included three-legged races grouped by age, sack races also grouped by age, a tug of war and an egg toss. There may have been other similar events, all designed so that anyone in attendance could join in the fun.

That evening, at 9:30p.m., was the event everyone had been waiting for. Every five years, a super-generous resident of the island sponsors a professional fireworks display. A barge is brought in and sits 100 yards offshore, from which the fireworks are launched. Most everyone gathers on the ferry dock to watch. All of us have watched fireworks displays, but what makes this one so special is that it is performed for the people on Cliff Island, whose population is around 250-300 people during the summer. It lasts, as do most such displays, for about twenty-five minutes, and it is dazzling.

The celebration continued on Monday evening around 7 p.m. with a concert by a band named Something Stupid. They are anything but. Very professional and very entertaining. This is also held on the ferry dock. People bring lawn chairs and their beverage of choice. Many people dance to the music, others just listen. Again, this event attracts at least one hundred people of all ages and the concert lasts two hours. 

What we love about all of this is its genuine wholesomeness. You couldn’t be in a safer place, and there is never, ever even the slightest disturbance. It’s as if every individual understands that it is their responsibility to protect what we all love about this place. It’s a respite from the disagreeable mainland nonsense that we all are otherwise surrounded with in these times.

I have written this column for a couple of reasons. First of all, because I just couldn’t bring myself to jump back into local politics so soon after the wonderful 350+2 Jubilee. We felt privileged to be able to carry on with the goodwill that the Jubilee generated in Wallingford in a different place.

But, more important, I thought that readers would be glad to know that places like Cliff Island, Maine, still exist. There are other islands far, far more upscale than this, and, truthfully, this is one of the aspects that make it so special. A place you can go to have your hope renewed. We all need such a place these days, that’s for sure. I hope you have yours.

Stephen Knight is a former Wallingford town councilor.


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