A lobster boat in Jonesport heads across Moosabec Reach toward Beals in this Nov. 30, 2018 file photo. Credit: Bill Trotter / BDN

As a young child, I was enamored with tall trees. I guess today I still am.

Whether one tree stands by itself or is one of thousands, trees are special because as I breathe, they do too.

The ocean also mesmerizes me. Waves roll in and out and, depending on the mood of the day, sounding off either in a quiet murmur or a mighty roar. Whichever it is, the certainty of their coming and going is a constant that I look forward to each and every day.

Then there are boats, often the perfect mix of wood and water. The next best thing to seeing the blue of the ocean here in Maine is seeing it dotted with fishing boats moving out beyond the reach, towards the islands and the horizon in search of their catch. It simply does not get any better than that.

For me, boats on the sea are wooden puzzle pieces on a board. The sea is the board and the boats are the pieces that bring it all together and make it work. Long ago, wood was the only building material for the hulls of boats, ships and just about anything that was of purpose and service to those on board.

Today, fiberglass and other composite materials are used to form and shape the hulls of boats in an effort to gain efficiencies in speed, safety and endurance. The new materials, which require less maintenance, allow mariners to push the envelope in both performance and risk when plying their trade on the open water. But just as the vinyl LP has made a surprising comeback to audiophiles, so too has wood returned to purist sailors seeking to skim blue waters on a breath of wind in a wooden boat.

My hope is that this return to yesterday’s materials lasts a long time. I believe the more wood is used on a boat, the closer one gets to being a part of it, or even part of what it used to be. Boats may never entirely be made of wood again as their ancestors were, but I am hopeful the compromise between wood and modern materials continues to develop with the desire for more wood in the design winning out. In the end, whatever material is chosen, one thing will remain a constant: a boat sitting on water is a beautiful sight to behold.

Where I am from in Pennsylvania, the tractor-trailers are the boats of the highway. They are a constant on Interstates 80 and 95 and along the Lehigh and Delaware rivers where I grew up. With names such as Peterbilt, Kenworth and, of course, Mack trucks, they cannot be missed as they roll along the landscape.

Today, I live on the coast of Maine where boats often are the movers of freight and people. They too, have names, but that will have to wait for another day, though I will say the naming of a boat is a task not taken lightly by any fisherman.

From Bucks Harbor to Cutler, Jonesport to Roque Bluffs, Eastport and beyond, boats can be seen each and every day. Not only do the boats look good, but many also provide the fisherman with a dependable ride whenever he or she steps aboard.

Imagine this picture: boats sitting in a protected harbor, first rays of morning sun gently touching their bows, mooring lines dripping with condensation as the fog slips in to say “good morning,” gently touching the stern, as men and boys on deck make ready for a day of hard work. That picture, viewed with the first sip of coffee, always brings a smile.

I think often of when the very first Down East fisherman — whoever it was — saw his boat for the first time. He stood there and admired the beauty of its sleek lines. It was a boat made of wood, and it was named for something or someone he loved very much. It rocked back and forth in the water as if waving hello.  

Over his shoulder, unknown to him, the trees stretched tall trying to catch a glimpse of this craft of wood, this vessel made of sweat and tears, to see one of their own transformed into something with specific purpose and beauty, with a name that reminds the captain every time he steps aboard of what life is really all about.

RJ Heller, Down East contributor

RJ Heller is a journalist, essayist, photographer, author, an avid reader and an award-winning book critic who enjoys sailing, hiking and many other outdoor pursuits. He lives in Starboard Cove.