Friday, June 23, 2017

June 23, 2017--Hunting & Gathering

We’ve been here a month and Rona already has a theory—life in this town, not among the summer visitors and occasional visitors, but among the real Mainers is more necessarily interdependent than what we experience in the city.  And it thus teaches residents a form of tolerance that is quite different than what urban sophisticates claim to be true of small-town life.  They see, rather, narrow-mindedness, conformity, and the pressure to stay in line that the threat of back-fence gossip and its resulting stigma impose. 
Rona, though, sees more community, more comity, more mutuality.  As the ever-effervescent owner of the Bristol Diner, Crystal McClain, put it the other morning over coffee, “The same person who cuts your grass during the summer could be the one to fix your car during the winter.  The one who looks after your house while you’re away visiting out-of-town relatives runs the radiology lab at the local hospital.”  

Even if there are disagreements about politics and town affairs (and for sure there are—strong ones), like views about the presidencies of George W. Bush or Barack Obama or whether or not the town should make it comfortable for a big-box store to open nearby, the next morning, after vigorous disagreement, finding themselves inevitably again sitting side-by-side at the Bristol breakfast counter, they must and generally do find words and body language to keep them connected so that they can get through another round of seasons together.  Those who can’t may decide to move into the backwoods.  Or to the city!
With this is mind, and from my own observations, Rona’s theory was beginning to make good sense to me; and then I came across two things, from very different sources that were confirming—a couple of paragraphs about hunting-gathering societies from Robert Wright’s recent book, The Evolution of God, and an obituary from the local paper, The Lincoln County News.
Wright writes:
Hunter-gatherers live . . . in intimate, essentially transparent groups.  A village may consist of thirty, forty, fifty people, so many kinds of wrongdoing are hard to conceal.  If you stole a man’s digging stick, where would you hide it?  And what would be the point of having it if you couldn’t use it?  And, anyway, is it worth the risk of getting caught—incurring the wrath of the owner, his family, and closest friends, and incurring the ongoing suspicion of everyone else?  The fact that you have to live with them people for the rest of your life is by itself a pretty strong incentive to treat them decently.  If you want them to help you out when you need help, you’d better help them out when they need help.  Hunter-gatherers aren’t paragons of honesty and probity, but departures from these ideals are detected often enough that they don’t become a rampant problem. . . .
One reason for this is that the . . . village is the environment we’re built for, the environment natural selection “designed” the human mind for.  Evolutionary psychologists tell us that human nature includes at least two basic innate mechanisms inclining us to treat people nicely.  [Emphasis added.] One, the product of a . . . dynamic known as kin selection, leads us to sacrifice for close relatives.  Another, reciprocal altruism, leads us to be considerate of friends—nonkin with whom we have enduringly cooperative relationships.  If you live in a . . . village, most of the people you encounter fit into one of these to categories and so fall naturally within the compass of your decency.
Of course this is not to say we are living here as anything resembling hunters and gatherers (though at the cultural and economic core of this community remain the lobstermen who work these waters), but there may be some lessons from deep history.  If Wright is right and time has designed us to live in small communities and to survive there, then altruism and shared-responsibility are necessary and innate characteristics.  And Rona is also right when she says that she can both see and feel this hard-wired, essential human reality on wonderful display among the people with whom we are privileged to share at least this summer.
To underscore this, I next share a sad but inspiring obituary from The Lincoln News about a local resident who died last week and the obscene age of only 19.  I quote it in its entirety:

Ian Cody Sanborn, 19, of Waldoboro, died July 25 in Waldoboro.  He was born April 22, 1990 in Damariscotta, a son of Paul Griffin, Jr. and Laura Sanborn.  He grew up in Waldoboro and attended Medomak Valley High School.  He was a fisherman all his life.  [Emphasis added.]  He worked on scalloping boats in Massachusetts, lobstering on Vinalhaven and clamming.
He was an avid sportsman.  He enjoyed bow hunting for deer, and four-wheeling.
He was predeceased by a grandmother, Jean Winslow and grandfather, Maynard Sanborn.
He is survived by his parents, Paul griffin, Jr. and Laura Sanborn of Waldoboro; brother Jed Harris and wife Holly of Waldoboro; sister Jericho Sanborn and companion Nathan Addy of Nobleboro; special friends who were like brothers, Dustin Day, Timmy Feltis, Brandon Feltis, Roger Feltis, and Timmy Gaudette, all of Waldoboro; grandmother, Gayle Griffin of Waldoboro; uncles David Sanborn of Waldoboro, and Sheldon Sanborn of Waldoboro; aunts, Debbie Sanborn of Waldoboro, Lynn Gross and husband Carl of Vinalhaven, and Cathy Gilbert and husband Leroy of Waldoboro; special aunt, Minnie Harvey of Waldoboro; nephew, Marshall Addy of Nobleboro; nieces, Rayanne and Emily Harris; and cousins, Lawrence Sanborn of Vinalhaven, Hannah White of Portland, Sonya Winchenbach of Waldoboro, Crystal Goss of Newcastle, Joel Winchenbach of Waldoboro, Carl Gross of Vinalhaven, Justin Woods of San Diego, Cal., Jason Winchenbach of Round Pond, Ciera Gross of Waldoboro, Mina Sanborn of Waldoboro, David Sanborn, Jr. of Waldoboro, Owen Gilbert of Waldoboro, and Savannah Gilbert of Waldoboro.
Visitation for family and friends 11 a.m-1 p.m., Fri., July 31 at the Broad Bay Congregational UCC Church in Waldoboro followed by the funeral at 1 p.m.  Pastor Nancy Duncan and Robert Candage will officiate.  Burial will follow in Brookland Cemetery in Waldoboro.
In lieu of flowers, contributions to help with funeral expenses can be sent to Laura Sanborn, 432 Gross Neck Rd., Waldoboro, ME 04572.
Arrangements are entrusted to Hall Funeral Home, 949 Main Street, Waldoboro.
I have friends back in New York City who wonder about what will be said about them in their obituaries in, of course, the New York Times.  Mainly they worry about their résumés and list of accomplishments—the colleges and universities they went to, the jobs they had, their titles, their homes, their travels, the schools their children attended, their careers, the families into which they married.  Things of that sort.

If Rona is right, and Crystal McClain who goes back generations here confirms, maybe they and I should be more concerned about our list of cousins and nieces and nephews and aunts and uncles, and especially our special friends.

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