Fourth of July! Bar Harbor! Yay! Parade, right? Then to the ballfield for lobster and hot dogs. The sun is out, the heat is cranking and by afternoon we all screamed for ice cream. Let’s hear it for the scoopers! If you went to CJ’s for a cone you were one of 1,768 sweltering visitors to do so on the 4th alone. That doesn’t count shakes, bottled water, iced coffee or anything else on offer at the corner ice cream shop.
Likewise beer. The rooftop bars might have been first to fill up but indoors or out, beer enthusiasm meant everyone with a tap to pull was flat out all afternoon. The sons-in-law (you know who you are) indulged in an in-law bonding moment over a quick pub crawl, brides and bridesmaids took the edge off with a cold one, while nanas and papas opted for the six-pack in the backyard where an eye could be kept on the barbie and the babies.
There isn’t a town in Hancock County that doesn’t have its own local 4th traditions, but Bar Harbor is the one with the massive crowds. In this crazy, cranky, mixed-up world, Bar Harbor on the 4th has always been a United Nations of peace and goodwill, and so it was this year.
Even so, put that many people in one not-so-large area and things happen. It was hot. Police and firefighters may have gotten their hands on a burger at some point, but otherwise it was just another day at the office. People passed out, or fell down, or passed out and fell down. Visitors fanned out into the park, along the trails, up the mountains — and fell down. Bar Harbor Emergency Medical Services had eight calls and the Fire Department had the same, all day and into the night.
There was no relief on the 5th of July. Two helicopters were involved in separate rescues. Search and Rescue went up after an injured hiker at 10 a.m. and were still working to treat and package the victim for transport five hours later. And did we say it was hot? Search and Rescue means helmets. Vests. Long pants. Socks and boots. Hot.
To the heroes list of police, firefighters and emergency personnel add Bar Harbor’s Public Works Department, which worked its usual magic overnight, clearing the parks of litter, washing the streets and emptying the trash cans.
The heat was back on the 6th, turning the pond-riddled inland into heaven on Earth. Everyone who had a camp was at it, food, rafts and yes, beer, in tow. The order of the day was windows open wide, lawn chairs on the dock, shrieking little people in floaties and sopping swimsuits, hotdogs and hot dogs, lemonade for the junior set. Just like on MDI, those of you who required help from your friendly local rescue people found they were there for you.
The culmination was the fireworks, starbursts of color visible all around the bays. A carpet of humanity covered the Bar Harbor waterfront, blanket to blanket, local family groups bumping up against visitors from Texas, Turkey, Georgia, Geneva, Ireland, Iowa and Quebec City.
It was a village. Bottles of cold water were passed from hand to hand. Babies were steadied, faces wiped, and room made for yet another family clutching a blanket. The oohs and aahs were universal, a common language of delight in a polyglot crowd, doing what your TV tells you is no longer possible: sitting elbow-to-elbow in peace, fellowship and safety. We were all in flip flops, T-shirts and shorts. How different can we be?
“O beautiful for patriot dream, that sees beyond the years.” The night of the 4th was that patriot dream in full view, not a boast of an America mightier than every other nation, though it is, but a nation of unity despite differences. Theirs was not a dream of liberty just for the day, but a dream that “sees beyond the years.” A dream of a country that would love “mercy more than life.”
The America proposed and celebrated acknowledges her imperfections, encouraged to “mend thine every flaw.” The dispossession of the native people of this country as the dream took shape comes to mind. It is asked, too, that the nation might “confirm thy soul in self-control,” not in self-aggrandizement or excess, and “thy liberty in law,” reminding us that true liberty demands a respect for the law.
Katharine Lee Bates, composer of “America the Beautiful” in 1893, praised the beauty of the “amber waves of grain” and the “purple mountain majesties,” but her most fervent wish was that America’s good be crowned with brotherhood, from sea to shining sea. Let it begin with us.