BEALS ISLAND, Maine — If the tree created by lobster fishermen from the coastal town of Jonesport and the island of Beals isn’t the world’s largest made entirely of lobster traps, organizer Buddy Mills would like to know.
“I’m claiming it’s the world’s largest,” he said Sunday night. “If anyone else wants to tell us different, they’re going to have to prove it.”
It took a dozen fishermen more than a week to put the tree together, carefully layering the traps donated by local fishermen. It ended up containing 769 traps and rising 50 feet tall.
To put that in context, Rockland’s lobster trap tree is 35 feet high and contains 152 traps. Gloucester, Mass., has been creating what it calls the world’s largest lobster trap tree for 11 years. It is 40 feet tall and contains 430 traps.
Looking up at Jonesport-Beals’ giant tree, complete with strings of colored lights and buoys for decorations, Susan Mills said, “Take that, Rockland.”
The idea for the largest trap tree began when the Fourth of July committee decided it wanted to expand the annual Christmas flotilla in the bay. Each year for the past five years, a dozen or so fishing boats don lights from stem to stern and parade back and forth in Moosabec Reach.
“We wanted to add to the flotilla,” Buddy Mills said. “Then someone mentioned Rockland’s trap tree, and someone else said, ‘We can beat that,’ and the rivalry was on.”
At precisely 5:30 p.m. Sunday, more than 400 people stood around the tree, with many more people lining the Jonesport-Beals bridge and gathered on the opposite side of the reach, when Albert Carver hit the switch.
The tree, the bridge and 17 fishing boats cruising the reach lit up. It was a bit of holiday magic reflected in the waters: Red, green, yellow and white lights, accompanied by Debbie Kelley of Beals Island, a lobsterman’s wife, who sang carols from her husband’s boat, the Debbie D.
Mills, who has been organizing the effort and worked all day to decorate his son’s boat, rode in the third boat in the parade.
“Look at that,” he said, gazing back at the rest of the flotilla, the shining lights on the bridge and the impressive tree. “If that doesn’t put you in a holiday mood, nothing will.”
Mills has had a busy week, what with the television interviews and the interview on National Public Radio, and then nearly falling overboard Sunday afternoon when the Christmas tree he was installing on the cabin of his son’s boat fell into the water.
“But it has all been worth it, every bit,” he said. “I just like to see people happy.”
Mills said the idea was originally meant to provide a bit of community spirit. After all, life in Maine’s fishing villages can be hard, and holidays provide a chance to gather, laugh and smile.
“Everybody knows everybody else,” he said. “I mean, most of us are related.”
When Mills and his wife, Susan, graduated from college, he said they faced a choice. Both had been offered jobs away from Jonesport-Beals. “But we thought about where we wanted to raise our children, and we came home,” Mills said. “It’s about a quality of life here, not money.”
Nearly 80 percent of the Jonesport-Beals people make their living from the sea, and in small communities such as these, nearly a quarter of the children here live below the poverty line.
But those struggles weren’t evident Sunday night as the tree was lit, the boats sailed by and Santa Claus sat in the fire station visiting with children.
Mills said, “This will just bring us closer.”
And the tree will be lighted each night until Christmas, he said.