Monday, May 24, 2010
Pages 31-38 "Within the Bounds of a Subsistence Oriented Culture..." (Scott E. Hastings Jr. 1982) Native Vermonters in the Miller Pond Watershed: Heritage and Change...
dependent on the larger system , at the bottom of the social ladder, and at the mercy of the market economy and larder political institutions--i.e. welfare, large government, etc. Their autonomy gone, they are almost nameless identities in a sea of mass production--P&C, KMart, TV Culture. Whereas, in Fairlee or Strafford, storekeepers take the time to chat with customers, employees in these places can be fired for talking. The large friendly buttons they sometimes wear does little to cover up the fat that any initiative or originality has been discouraged, and the smile, if there even is one, lasts only as long as one passes through the check-out line. Outside, one sees old cars, crashed in vehicles, pasty, tense faces, and cross parents scolding their children.
John Chaffee of SEVCA 28 and Nicholas Boke (1988: 16-17, 41-51) both point out that most Vermonters are oblidged to work in the growing service industry (ibid: 41,43), which is controlled by out of state interests and corporations in many cases. Many Vermonters do not have the skills, credentials or personalities demanded by these employers. Furthermore, while there are college educated and competent people in this area, for some reason social services, schools and town governments in the Upper Vally repeatedly are replacing local people for out of state expertize, claiming that local talents and judgments no longer meet the needs of the growing area. The recent replacement of Lebanon's high school principal, Whitaker, is only one of several examples I have noted in the last few years. In consequence, native Vermonters who leave their rural homes risk finding themselves disempowered, serving a growing class of upper middle class, essentially urban elites, and excluded from the "good life" their new neighbors so avidly espouse.
Public Services/ Education
Traditionally oriented natives do not see themselves as choosing these changes, but rather as being pushed against their better judgment. Having got along just fine without modern services, programs, and material things, why should they need them now? True, as more and more people inhabit the towns, and as natives move away or become suburbanized, these lifestyles and attitudes become the standard. Nonetheless, a sizeable number of people I spoke with see the demand for services as related to an invasion of people with non-Vermont values--progressives who, confronted by cultural differences, and expecting services and amenities similar to their home towns, require the general public to provide what traditionally has been done by families and individuals.
Taxes, for instance, might be thought by progressives to redistribute income, and provide opportunity and/or relief to low income people. Yet, from another perspective, these taxes only go to support a certain class of people, at the expense of the natives. For instance, school systems are demanding more and more revenue each year. Yet, how is the quality of education measured? Who decides? Are arts, special ed and expensive gym facilities essential? Generally, college oriented people tend to come from college educated parents, middle class students tend to perform better for middle class teachers, and tend to aspire to middle class futures. But why should working class native people pay high taxes to put middle class newcomer children through a system which is designed to teach one group it is superior to the other, and then prepare the overtaxed class to be the docile servant of the other (Harris, 1985: 323-324)? Education has been touted as the solution to class inequities, and as the means to assimilating ethnically different people. Yet, for all the tax dollars
spent and all the hours spent inside these institutions, the truth is that class distinctions are as great or greater than ever before. If anything, assimilationist practices have only served to disempower people and to remove them from their community base of self-determination.
Yet, many Vermonters believe that teachers need higher salaries, and will therefore vote to raise taxes for better services. However, as one teacher put it:
"I can give my student the most challenging assignment available...but as long as his father needs him to keep the farm from going bankrupt that assignment is not going to be done...what does that...(i.e. his salary)...do for educational excellence if my student doesn't own a dictionary?...(Likewise), should I be involved in a strike, I would be striking against farmers, shopkeepers, mill workers...(Keizer, 1988:7)"
At least one interviewee felt that the teachers in this area are part of a growing "element" acting to destroy traditional town values. Another interviewee complained that teachers are being paid full time wages for a day's work, but can be seen sitting with their feet up, smoking in the lounge, and some only come for a day or two for "enrichment" programs. He questioned what his son really learns, as he has to hire a tutor in the summer for his son, to catch up. Yet another backwoods person felt that the kids are allowed to "run the school", and that stronger discipline would improve the situation. In other words, none of these people feel they are getting their money's worth, despite the fact that amongst so-called progressive newcomers Thetford Elementary has a reputation for being one of the "better" schools.
At the high school level, traditionally students from Strafford and Thetford have attended Thetford Academy. Newcomers that I have spoken with, however, prefer to send their children to Hanover, thinking this will better prepare them for college admissions. Caroline Bird, in The Case Against College, suggest that many students would just as well without higher education, and that the emphasis on creditials and the value of liberal arts has no solid basis in measurable terms, certainly it guarantees neither happiness nor higher income (1975: 79, etc). The wish for 'better' education then, may be simply reflect the desire for cultural self-replication, if not snobbery.
The majority of Thetford locals, though, do not send their children to prestigious institutions, or even to college at all. (Town Report, 1989) Naturally, cost is a prohibitive factor. However, according to father David Mcllhiney, there is also a "...northern New England working class ethos that provides tremendous peer pressure on kids not to be smart, not to succeed in school...I hear the stories of the families who have little support of education, who have little opposition to truancy...(Boke, 1988: 45)".
Historically in Thetford, truancy and discipline were problems especially in the backwoods Sawnee Bean and Rice's Mills (Tucker Hill/Grove Hill area) districts, during the first decades of this century (Thetford Town Report 1887, 88,97, 1915, 1918, 1923) and as compared to other districts in the county. In these earlier days, "...some...(parents)...openly state that they have no interest whatsoever...(in shcooling)...(1887: 30)". Today, I still hear tachers discussing the fact that their students and families do not expect them to attend colleges, and really don't concern themselves with academic performance. Amongst the Abenaki in Thetford, only the chief (Howard Franklin Knight, Jr.) has a college diploma, at least one senior member has an eighth grade education, and another backwoods interviewee I spoke with mentioned having only a minimal education as well.
In fact, some locals expressed the feeling that college educated managers, etc. are overly
arrogant, believing that they know it all, yet in fact are incomptent. This perception of educated people extends to well-paid social workers, state bureaucrats, etc. who may be referred to as intruding 'do-gooders'. State and local efforts to raise taxes for socially oriented programs seem to the backwoods Vermonter as oppressive impositions. When a woman in Strafford suggests that her group could provide "...a great day care...", or senior center, if only people would swallow their pride and accept sliding scale services, which are enabled by the taxes"...we pay for...", she speaks as if oblivious to the fact that these taxes are what make housing unaffordable, and consequently split up families and generations, necessitating day cares and senior centers to replace family connection. When she made this statement, a woman who earlier protested zoning against subdivisions because they prohibit families from giving land to their children, got up and walked out, presumably overwhelmed by the cultural gap between them.
Likewise, in some cases, newcomers might be faulted for demanding newer roads, to support commuter cars and ridiculously long driveways for vacation residents. Natives in this area seem to drive pick up trucks appropriate to the back roads, or avoid them altogether. Newcomers want small energy efficient cars to speed down the highway to work in more urban settings. In Strafford too, new developments have occurred precisely in those area where accessibility is poor, on back roads which offer a getaway from people (Valley News, May 26, 1988:9). In the Whitcomb Hill area, for instance, I noted several new cabins tucked away in seemingly uninhabited areas. From the looks of these well-built dwellings, my guess was that these represented those newcomers who want to enjoy the area secluded from the community, outside the village.
C. Ecological Politics
Clearly, backwoods Vermonters also want privacy. On the other hand, while they might not live in the villages as do the classics, they nonetheless tend to build near to existing town roads rather than investing in miles of driveway to get to a hilltop view. Native Vermonters have no romantic illusions about the expense and nuisance of mud, ice, grading and snow removal. They seek to make their lives easier by staying near a town road. They do not drive Mercedes at 5 miles per hour on a class 3 road, nor do they demand that the road be paved as soon as they move in, as occurred in one case in Union Village, and appears to be happening to Strafford. Instances such as the above contribute to the feeling that flatlanders are completely out of touch with rural live and ought to go home to where they came from.
Then again, until recently, hidden backwoods areas have been the enclave of lower income people:
"...unless you go out of your way to find it, it's awfully easy to miss what one local social worker calls 'the horrible trap of poverty...' It's hidden in the towns, down those streets we avoid, in the countryside at the end of deep-rutted dirt roads...(Boke, 1988: 41)"
The cabins in Vershire, for instance, while being outside the main village and on dirt roads, are along the town maintained strip, are much smaller, and are made almost from scrap materials. Likewise with cabins along Barker Brook, Swanee Brean, Abbot Brook, etc.
Newcomers, expecting a 'nice' community, tend to be baffled and frustrated by the locals, and tend to portray them in negative terms, often while attempting to by sympathetic. Like earlier white settlers, the flatlander sees the native as backward. In one example, a conflict between a selectwoman and some Connecticut people included the following insults:
"...He told me I didn't know anything, that I'm stupid. He's always telling us how stupid we are..." The flatlanders: "...she is arrogant and she is ignorant...(she) also criticized Johnson's house on Copperfield road, which needs a coat of paint...'How can anyone who lives the way she does know anything? She told me I was a flatlander and that I should go back to Connecticut where I belong...There's no guidance at all in this town, no zoning, no nothing...People live in dirty, filthy dumps with no sewers or septic tanks...(Behind the Times: Oct. 1988: 1, 29)"
Along the same lines was a letter to the editor which praised the beauty of Vermont, while trashing its people:
"...Mr. Lillie, if you and other native Vermonters revere the hallowed grounds and dirt roads of Vermont and, above all the animal habitats, why then do you sell to flatlanders in the first place? ...if you and others really care for Vermont and its beautiful countryside, why not ask some native and local Vermonters to clean up their acts. I've seen land covered with broken-down houses, old trucks, and cars and heaven knows what else. Also I've seen some of the most deplorable animal living conditions. The ugly sights and odors of some of these places are sickening especially if one lives near them...Please don't classify all flatlanders as the invading enemy. We too, love beauty and Vermont (Bea Quinn White, 1988)
Some new Vermonters, seeking to preserve the "beauty" of Vermont (an adjective also used frequently in the Governor's Report, 1988) by voting and lobbying for increased restrictions on land use. Some efforts include increased environmental legislation, such as Act 250 and Act 200, stricter zoning laws which prevent subdivisions in designated areas, and the Land Trust movement. Although some Vermonters supports and participate in these activities, I observe at their meetings, that it is a middle class elite, many of which are newcomers, who are the primary organizers and leaders of these efforts. These certianly are the people most articulate about the problems, and often the most favorably positioned to donate time, money, and land.
Zoning is justified by the notion that there is one tradition in Vermont--the classic. One classic notion is that of the village and farm--as expressed in the Governor's Report "...the traditional rural scene in Vermont, characterized by concentrated settlement in villages and open countryside dotted with farms...(1988: 8)". While I found some supporting evidence for this pattern, particularly in Thetford (Child, 1988), this ignores the reality of backwoods people who have lived outside the classic village centers for over one hundred years, and for the Abenaki, for at least ten thousand.
I tend to think that the village as norm idea reflects the southern New England, or (explicitly, in one case) British, background of its proponents, and the ideal of the dairy farm and quiet village, as well as deer hunting, reflects an orientation which seeks to replicate southern New England ecology and culture, just as Europeans sought to replicate their homeland in America. The southern British colonies early one attempted to replicate the village settlement patterns of Europe. Likewise, the climate there encouraged larger population densities and a more extensive agriculture than in the north, for both Europeans and aboriginal peoples (Cronon, 1983: 41-42). As I have mentioned, the
white settlers of Strafford and Thetford primarily originated from Connecticut or New Hampshire (Hemenway: 1092), and to a lesser degree, Massachusetts. To the extent that Vermont has in places emulated the above mentioned design, it has been through the efforts of people derived from this cultural stock.
In Vermont, however, settlements were more dispersed, both aboriginally and during white settlement (Hastings, 1982, 83). While the Abenaki did live together seasonally in some areas, hunting territories were dispersed according to family bands (Haviland, 1981: 155-6). People spent large amounts of time geographically seperated from each other, and there may have been families whose lifestyle was primarily dependant upon game, (Cronon, 1983: 41-41). Particularly inland, and as one leaves the Connecticut Valley for higher elevations (as in Strafford, Pero Hill, etc.), the growing season get increasingly shorter, making agriculture less feasible as an economic base, and preventing dense, sedentary population 29. The incursion of white settlements only served to seperate and disperse any remaining aboriginal peoples all the more.
The first Vermont settlers trickled in slowly at first, clearing where they chose rather than in a pre-determined pattern. For a long time, there were few if any settlers west of the Ompopanoosuc (Hemenway: 10193) i.e. in the area I have identified as having an Abenaki component. Even in 1877,
the hilly parts of this particular area of Thetford were sparsely settled (Beers: 75,79, 60, 56), as they are today. Likewise, in 1877, Strafford, also, had a number of settlements on its Eastern edge, along Abbott brook and the Miller Pond area, but these were spread out rather than clustered in villages (F.W. Beers: 75). It does seem true that a majority of people settled nearby the village; however people always had the option of living in the backwoods or in the hills. Land was not expensive, and even delinquency in taxes did not necessarily require forfeiture of the land, as towns provided for indigent residents.
Today, many native Vermonters stay clear of the newcomers' organizational meetings, and view any legislation with suspicion and/or hostility. Zoning to them is a violation of their property rights and freedoms. They resent the fact that it costs, for instance, $1500 simply to subdivide land to give away, to their children. They wonder why it used to be normal to splie one's property, keeping it in the family. Now so called environmentalists want to prohibit the practice by limiting lot sizes--but this prevents family continuity and connection with a homeland. The natives observe that flatlanders came to get away from all this, yet then introduce "...more regulations than we ever even thought of...". Likewise, Act 250, which many newcomers feel makes the state particularly desirable to live in, is seen by backwoods people I spoke with as an unnecessary and odious oppression. On fairly young Abenaki man from Thetford, for instance, saw no reason to require the expensive septic systems the state now requires. Worse, another believed that the State only passes people who have money, and that native, low income people can't build because the executors of this legislation descriminate against them. As he believes, Kunin doesn't believe they constitute an "...improvement...".
For generations, Vermonters have enjoyed the ecology of farms and forest because their economy, and because they inherited this lifestyle of small landholdings and independence. Population density was controlled by the difficulty of making a living; and after the first wave of immigrants, many Vermonters went west for better land, or migrated to urban areas with
better-paying jobs (Barron, 1984). Those who stayed behind had strong family ties, and/or were willing to get by with what they had. A low population density furthermore prevented overexploitation of resources, and mitigated the environmental impact of individual's activities and ecological patterns. Besides the obvious problem of population growth, the local economy no longer demands upon self-sufficient, closed systems. Employment opportunities have changed, as the service industry mushrooms and rural jobs decline (Boke, 1988: 41-43, 48-49)31. Commuting has drastically changed people's horizons, and now products can be imported to remote areas.
Finally, people are choosing their domiciles for cultural, rather than strictly economic reasons (meeks, 1986: 214). They want to preservean ecology for aesthetic reasons, and rather than rely on the goodwill of their neighbors, they seek to impose coercive legislation to maintain the environment which they prefer, despite the economic and social consequences for natives.
Before preceeding to the next topic, I wish to deal with an "alternative" version of the flatlander-as-catalyst-for-change which is also popular and influential in this area, i.e., the:
Back to the Landers
While the flatlander, particularly the tourist, vacationer, or newcomer frequently exposes this ignorance of country life, other non-natives have come to live here and adopt many of the same lifestyles as their neighbors. Particularly since 1960, Vermont has seen a dramatic increase in this group, sometimes referred as the "back to the landers". They may raise animals, garden, split wood, and even argue passionately to preserve Vermont--thus "...Out Vermont (ing) the Vermonter...(Meeks, 1986: 323)". At times their zeal may seem to stand in the way of economic and social progress, as they protest locally run gravel pits, commercial development, industrial plants, etc. which might economically benefit natives.
Ultimately, though, they tend to share similar cultural perspectives with the flatlanders and classic Vermonters who come from the same cultural origins. What is different between the native and the flatlander using the land is that the folks who come to do these things don't have to for their survival. Like an anthropologist reading a culture, these people self-consciously define their values and have chosen to settle away from their roots. The more radical amongst them may be in conflict with their own parents, at odds with mainstream society, eager to protest. Without family nearby, they look to state-sponsored programs for solutions to their problems, and expect public monies and legistlative action to promote their particular ideologies. They may have come here without tremendous monetary resources, nonetheless, they generally have good educations and fairly well-off families of origin. Their migration into the area indicates both an outlook which seeks to find a better life, even if it is defined differently from their parent's, and the resources (monetary, personality, job skills) to find it. If necessary they could relocate, and they expect their children will similarly find their own way in the world. They want the best for their children, and their sense of that best, perhaps unconsciously, has been shaped by their earlier middle class upbringing.
In contrast, to persons born and raised in the same home town, what matters is relationships with people, and one's relation to the land becomes a matter of course. For backwoods Vermonters,
particularly Abenaki, social mobility exacts the price of losing one's birthright. Even for classics and newcomers who have lived in the area for awhile, it seems that to really 'make it', one must be willing to pull up roots and go in search of jobs elsewhere. However, people who are connected to a place and extended family, cannot move these. As anthropologists such as Marvin Harris have argued, one's culture is intimately linked to one's ecological relations, including economics. Thus, to leave one's land behind, is to relinquish a vital part of one's nature.At the same time, the land here has a strong power, its seasons and rhythms touch and affect people. Some feel overwhelmed by the cold and hardship, others wish to protect and preserve; others try to get away, but "...always come back..." At heart, backwoods Vermonts, like activist back to the landers, wish for the area to stay undeveloped, as this allows them to continue their cultural patterns. But unlike activists who push for restrictive legislation, backwoods folks see that it is they, rather than the newcomers, who are being excluded from the land.
The newcomer sees the material conditions, the artifacts, and the formal shape of local institutions. He seeks to appropriate those aspects which seem most appealing, but rejects the rest, without acknowledging the integration of culture and ecology. If the newcomer prevails, land in the family for generations, may be zoned so as to restrict its development, and taxed to support public services, thus making it unaffordable to all but the wealthy, i.e. those flatlanders buying up old farmhouses. Furthermore, the diversity of the landscape and the care with which it has been managed reflects the small ownership of various personalities. For example, whereas in some instances people need electricity, in other cases alternative solutions might be devised. Likewise, some people might live in small cabins with outhouses, while others require complicated septic systems. Whereas some farmers might maintain a pine woodlot, others might prefer pasture or hardwoods. But when Vermont becomes controlled by regulation, Vermont becomes standardized. People's idiosyncratic solutions cannot paint themselves on the land.
Striving for utopian ideals of social harmony, beauty and ecological purity, the newcomer ignores that these reflect the material condition and lifestyle of the people--that people have made their living off the land, rather than through shopping malls, services industries, retails sales, or industrial plants. When natives seem poor, it reflects the fact that they have lived without those same commodities which require environmental exploitation and which create pollution elsewhere. In other words, if the land seems "untarnished", or "beautiful", this reflects the way the people have lived there. When the people change, the land too changes.
VERMONTERS IN THE AMERICAN CONTECT: RURAL VS. URBAN
Incomes of the sort the flatlander is accustomed to are functions of the specialization of an advanced society, which regulates agriculture and industry to seperate spheres, socially and geographically, Wagner, in "Culture as Creativity", pointed out that in primitive cultures, people are what is valuable, people are what are reproduced, people are the basis of production. To Westerners, people are expendable--things are what remain, production of things marks our history. Thus invention, technology, and education to further the advance of "culture" are valued. People's lives are measured by what they prudice, if not strictly, then in terms of cultural achievement, be
it in the arts, sports, sciences or other 'disciplines (Wagner, 1977). To merely merely interact with neighbors, to maintain a homestead, or a stable income and adequate level of material existence isn't considered enough. Thus, a subsistence lifestyle, while the norm around the world, and the most ecologically sane, is seen as backwards and improvished, particularly to those whose frame of reference has always been middle class social mobility and privilage, but also for Euroamericans generally who compare themselves to those around them and who are educated with the same values.31
To improve one's self, one needs revenue, derived from increased production. Whereas the early Vermonters produced mostly what they themselves used, later settlers began commercial farms, in order to make a profit. More generally, the conquest of America, has consisted of the replacement of aboriginal peoples with centers of energy transformation of mind-boggling dimensions. America has been the natural resource, the raw material to be converted into a civilization, a complex society of immense proportions. For the most part, the assumption that everyone can and should strive to better themselves materially has never been questioned; certainly no connection is acknowledged between social mobility and the poverty of aboriginals who occupied the land, or people of color who provided the labor. Rarely do Americans percieve their material accumulations as resulting from the destruction and heavier exploitation of natural resources and habitats, not only of non-human life, but in turn of human beings, who depend on these same for their own cultural and biological existence. As the original inhabitants have been displaced, so habitats have been destroyed or altered. Subsistence farmers, because they did/do not produce 'competitively' have been pushed under, and now small farmers likewise can't survive.
Some ecology minded people of course do see this connection. However, they do not connect their cultural activities with the notion of surplus economy. Therefore, when they wish for more arts or better education, or pleasant, 'beautiful' surroundings, they fail to realize that these are made possible because of the energy flow of civilizations. In studies of prehistoric civilization and sociocultural evolution, cities, and by extension states, themselves create the injustices and hierarchies between people which progressive-minded people seek to address, as well as the environmental load on rural areas. It is the nature of complex, or 'civilized societies to direct the flow of goods from the rural workers, to the urban (or today, suburban) elites and their support systems, often putting them to what is conventionally referred as 'cultural'-i.e. artistic, religious, non-materially productive usses. Furthermore, as this occurs, the health of the ordinary worker or peasant deteriorates (Harris, 1984: 216-219).
The land itself must produce more and more, far more than the subsistence needs of the inhabitants. This surplus is collected by elites in the form of tribute, forced labor, rents or taxes. In Vermont today, it is collected in the form of taxes, or indirectly from people's labor and rents. Ecologically, an urban-oriented society automatically uses the land unequally, just as people live unequally. The more speciallized and urban the society, the more must be extracted from the land 32. A small town of independant farmers, without alot of services or material demands might be able to use the land extensively (rather than intensively), and not draw too heavily on outside resources. As people demand more and more materially and culturally, and as less and less materially self-sufficient people occupy the land, the farmer is forced either to produce more for less, or find new uses for the land.
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
Pages 24-30 "Within the Bounds of a Subsistence Oriented Culture..." (Scott E. Hastings Jr. 1982) Native Vermonters in the Miller Pond Watershed: Heritage and Change...
roads, and travels overland. People who engage in this activity, then, see the terrain differently than those whose orientation is directed by roads and villages. Places that seem disconnected when travelling by automobile become close by and connected when walking. Snowmobiling and jeep trails also connect one, but hunting requires particularly close observation. The popularity of ATV's can nonetheless be seen in terms of their permitting greater exploration of the landscape, and reflects the values of people who think in practical terms, enjoy being together out of doors, and engaging in physically stimulating activity.
In sum, traditionally, the people of this area have been oriented by home and the lay of the land, by the seasons and the weather--cycles tied in with the ecology. Economically, these Vermonters are intergrated into a larger economy and political structure, yet in other ways they seem to still be living and thinking in terms of small communities and even clans, in rhythm with the land, thinking in terms of homeland, subsistance, and continuity. While it is true that some natives engaged in farming, and many still value this activity, very few engage in it for their livelihood, and of those who do, only on a small scale. In fact, many of the most economically viable farms are owned and operated by non-natives. The Vermont farm is ideal native prototype, then, represents a mythic past, one which is disproportionately supported by non-natives.
On the other had, there are other aspects tot he native's lifestyple which reflect and depend upon rural ecology. The hunter, for instance, often owns limited acreage, and thus depends upon both the cooperation and scarcity of neighbors. Other aspects include privacy, freedom from interference, a sense of ownership and pride, mobility, access to subsistence related resources such as wood, gardens, syrup, fresh water, etc., as well as a sense of community cohesion and stability. Classics tend to see these benefits as dependent upon a farm economy. However, these positive aspects of lift existed before white settlers arrived, and before the growth of the diary industry as we know it today.
PROBLEMS AND CHANGES
A. In the Community
Although low income Vermont has been isolated and stable, dependent on emigration for this stability (Barron, 1982) and never overpopulating the state; since the 1950's and even the 1940's, but especially the 1960's (Meeks, 1986: 207), Vermont has had increasingly to cope with a growing population of immigrants, particularly from southern New England, New York, and even New Jersey. This has caused considerable stress on local Vermonters, as many cannot compete with the resulting greater material, social and political demands of this new culture. Many of the social and political goals of the newcomers seem orrelevant to the rural orientation of the area, while public programs which they support address only the symptoms, not the root of the problems. Worse still, newcomers tend to favor protective legislation which threatens the economic viability of the backwoods lifestyle. To the backwoods native, maintaining his rural ties and lifestyle makes the difference between cultural integrity and independence or wage slavery and suburbanization, particularly since many of the options available to newcomers remain inaccessible if not undesirable to the natives.
Generally, it has been in the past few decades that improvements in transportation, the building of the interstate and the paving of major roads such as 132 (potter, 1971, 11), the introduction of electricity and the telephone (ibid: 1-2), and the development of Vermont's tourist industry--particularly skiing--having made the lifestyle of this area more accessible to newcomers. Additionally, it has made the possibility of working in a more urban setting, such as Hanover, while living in a remote area, feasible. This accessibility has exacerbated economic and social tensions everywhere in the state, as formerly rural areas now find themselves inhabited by suburban-oriented people with different expections and lifestyles. Although many locals work in Hanover, often they hold low-status positions and retain their roots in their communties. Newcomers, however, are not so rooted, and frequently feel alienated from their neighbors. Their bewilderment at native behavior often expresses itself in negative terms. At the same time, they tend to hold and defend an idealized image of pastoral lifestyle and ecology, to the dismay of their local neighbors who find themselves struggling politically, economically, and socially to maintain a foothold in their home towns.
In my area, the statistics for Strafford and Thetford are somewhat different, as Thetford has experienced far more population growth and particularly attracts "flatlander" outsiders wishing to commute to the Hanover area for professionally oriented jobs, via Interstate 91. Strafford, by constrast, has been a bit more isolated. In the 1960's, when Thetford's population was ballooning, Strafford's population declined (Meeks, 1986: 205-6, 208). My guess is that many locals departed at that time in search of non-farm income, or else died from old age. Strafford and Vershire in 1979 had between 60-80% native born residents, as opposed to less than 60% in Thetford (Meeks, 1986: 322). Perusal of the Telephone Directory, as put out by the Newton School PTA in 1988, indicates 45% of Strafford residents are natives. In the Skunk Hollow/ Miler Pond area, the percentage of natives was roughly 53% 23. Inside the watershed area, as noted before, famillies still own areas of land in continuity. However, there are increasing numbers of new houses nearby, or sometimes between relatives, indicating that the land has been sold to newcomers. Still, although people do sell their land, many subdivisions in the area have been to family members. Likewise, some of the new houses and migration can be attributed to people moving from more expensive towns, such as Norwich and Thetford. Vershire, in particular seems to have a large number of cabins put up on the dirt roads leading from Miller Pond into the village. Judging from their modest condition, these seem to be backwoods constructions, as opposed to the more upscale newcomers' 'getaways' being developed in Strafford.
In fact, some people see their lifestyle as slipping away. As a middle aged backwoods native of Thetford put it "...People are running for their lives..." but there is nowhere to run to. His brother, who owned a lot adjacent to himself and their father, pulled up his roots, sold off his share of the family homestead, amd moved to the nearby town of Vershire--only to find his taxes doubled in a year. In another case, a Strafford man said he couldn't afford to live in town when he retired. When people near him expressed dismay and offered to help, he simply said "...Oh, I'm going to retire here,
but I won't be able to afford it...". His family farm is now for sale. Many of the people I interviewed were particularly handicapped,in that they live on limited incomes, due to disability or retirement. Other, younger people perhaps have more options, yet generally, wages and opprotunities are not keeping pace with the growing costs of living and real estate, including property taxes as well as rents 24. As one Strafford woman put it, "...I pay more in taxes on my house now than I originally paid for it..." In Upper Valley Echoes, Ira Stevens likewise mentions "...that farm we bought in Lyme in '32, we paid $2,000 for it and 160 acres. Now the house alone is for sale for $500,000...(Croft, 1989: 1).
Farming, for those who engage in it on a small scale, no longer makes economic sense, or simply doesn't appeal to young people, who leave to find work elsewhere. One backwoods person who had given up dairy farming, had moved to Strafford after leaving Norwich roughly 15 years ago, to get out of paying the taxes, and to avoid its increasing suburbanization. Several people I spoke with discussed plans to move to Maine, or even Canada, even though their family, heritage and roots have been in the area for generations. The idea of selling out was not viewed as an opportunity to "...make a killing...", as one newcomer Vermonter described selling a home in Vermont's rising speculative market, but rather brought up very negative feelings, almost tears. As one Gove Hill man put it, "...I can't tell you how sick I feel inside...".
While economics play a key role in people's decisions to leave the area, the changing nature of the community seemed important as well. One backwoods man in Thetford, besides not wanting a property tax assessment comparable to his neighbors, also felt crowded by the extensive development scheduled to go in uphill from his small house. In blunt terms, "...Pardon me ma'am, but I want to be able to take a piss out my back door if I feel like it..." Other interviewees reated to development with a emphatic "...Jesus, Stratford's getting built up!...", comments about lots of new houses going up, questions about how many houses we planned to build on our co-op, and shocked reactions that we were practically putting up condo's, etc.
People frequently complain that whereas they used to know everyone in town and feel welcome at any door, now no one knows any one. Town officials in Stafford are dismayed by the impersonal and threatening, even belligerent manner of some residents, particularly over road maintenance. Rather than coming in to discuss differences, selectment find themselves receiving letters promising to go to court over roads they had never even heard of; or meetings called in protest about problems not known to exist. In Thetford, the political problem is acute, as class differences are quite strong and there is a very vocal and radical element in the town. Likewise, just as Vermont has shifted from Republicanism to electing a Democratic governor and nearly sending socialist/ independent "...Bernie Sanders to the congress...", Strafford nominated Jesse Jackson in the presidential primary.
Andrew Nemethy, in Meeks' Geography (1986: 325) remarks that natives frequently are avoiding town meeting, feeling their votes no longer count. In Thetford this year one particularly vocal backwoods type was admonished by the local newspaper simply to stay home this year, rather than stir up unpleasant controversy (Valley News Op Ed, Feb 10, 1989: 20). This person related to me how he and others had been harassed, and he felt many people who agreed with him were simply too timid to speak up or protest. In Strafford, the meetings I attended suggested that there was a pretty even mix between old timers and new, but that the backwoods types (as opposed to classic) that I know of either were not in evidence, or sat to the rear of the room, clustered together, and did
not speak up. In Vershire, where people have been moving to, it appears that the natives still run the town, judging from comments by friends who live there, and reading the selectmens' reports in Behind the Times, a northern Upper Valley publication.
Whereas I earlier epmphasized family connections and neighborliness as important to people's lives, some interviewees clamined never to see their family: "...I see him about as much as I see you...", and not to go beyond their particular territory, almost taking pleasure in being "...just a country boy...". Some are noted for their animosity; the Kendall brothers reputedly refuse to speak with each other, another despises his daughter-in-law and son. Locals will warn new people to stay away from "rowdies", or refer to others as "damaged", "drunk" or "clannish", i.e. hard to approach. One interviewee lamented that no one rejected the traditional values of the town anymore. He claimed people used to really participate in barn-raisings, etc, but no one helps anyone out any more.
Since my own experience of the Upper Valley has been that people are quite helpful and friendly, I speculate that either this friendliness is a vestige of a time when people were even more closely knit, and the ethic if not the practice has remained, but still works more strongly than in a truly urban area; or possibly this reflects the degree to which is now possible for neighbors to travel in completely different circles. This last possibility only empasizes the breakdown in social cohesiveness in the area, and the increase in stratification and alienation between neighbors.
The Flatlander Invasion
The values of the backwoods native contrast with the more Calvinist and romantic images of the farmer, which appeal to not only the classic Vermonter, but particularly to a new class of "...radical elites..." which as appropriated Vermont image to meet its own needs. Whereas the tourist promotes the economy, but ultimately goes home and leaves the land to the native, the newcomer attempts to instill his ideas into the institutional framework permanently. Often this is accompanied by rightous justification, as the newcomer is convinced of his moral superiority. Increasingly, the native Vermonter is faced with the choice of clinging to traditional ways but struggling to get by, or conforming to norms he did not create.
As I taked to people locally, listend to "leaders" organizing Vermonters, looked carefully at their followers, and listend to their presentations and casual remarks, I observed that members of this new class claim the state as theirs, yet do not depend on land-based economy for their subsistence. These people statewide consist of flatlanders and newcomers, as well as urbanized Vermonters. They consist of an increasingly large number of middle class people, some retired but many more young adults, well educated, often owning valuable property. Their dialogue gears itself to similarity educated people. Those with eitgth grade education and urbane experience, as well as class privilege, often fail to see how their programs and values reflect their own ethnocentric opinions and interests.
Many of these new people come from southern New England, or even farther away, hopng to make a better life for themselves. They often have high expectations and preconceptions about the nature of land use and community (Meeks, 1986: 321), which don't fit the more diverse and often unromantic reality. When reality doesn't fit their dreams, they attempt to politically force reality into their utopian molds. As a result, natives feel that their tradtional independence and opprotunity to
live as one could is being attacked, often under the guise of progress, social justice and environmental protection.
One thus finds two or more groups of people living in the same town, viewing each other with suspicion. Cultural, political, and economic conflicts play themselves out through a sort of esoteric/ exoteric interplay, each side adopting images of each other and themselves. On the one hand, the flatlander tries to be a "real Vermonter", on the other hand, natives may or may not fit the stereotype, but may adopt or personify these traits in social or politically tense situations. 25 Likewise, the stereotypes of the flatlanders serve to explain the native's economic distress, and to bloster self-esteem. When one sees high-priced merchandise, for instance, one can justify its inaccessibility in terms of its being for a flatlander clientele. Rather than experience one's self as at the bottom of the economic and social ladder, one can see one's self as a leader and respected equal among peers--i.e. other natives like one's self.
By natives, the flatlander is viewed as a rich, arrogant, but generally stupid outsider who thinks he knows everything, but relies on the Vermonter to pull him out of the ditch, set him straight, etc. In the distant past, natives taught settlers how to survive, how to use medicinal plants, how to hunt and trap, etc., As stated earlier, even recently, Abenaki were employed as guides to sportsmen. Locals likewise give newcomers hints about the best deals and ways to get by, from yard sells and wood dealers to getting a septic system approved. On the one hand, natives enjoy teaching their skills to 'novice Vermonters", on the other hand, they lament that flatlanders, despite intentions to enjoy the rural lifestyle, inevitably bring with them the very things they sought to escape.
In many instances, people, people, particularly of the classic type, attempt to maintain friendly relations and to downplay differences, in an attempt to cooperate, etc. On the other hand, typical comments which come out almost in spite of themselves are "...You are here because you were trying to get area from what you left...", or, ...What I really enjoyed about this town was knowing everyone--that's gone...". Again, I heard the comment from one woman that "...Thetford used to be recognized in villages and farm land, but now out-of-state money has come in, and all you see is desolation...and they all want to work in Hanover..." People on a one-to-one basis wish to be friendly, offer support, etc. On the other hand, they will tell you they are hurting--that the process of even single lot development by newcomers serves to crowd them, make their own homes unaffordable, and create tension between the haves and the have lesses.
In the public arena, I frequently read quotes from officials and writers to Valley News editorials which explicitly state the desire to people out. Likewise, one's status as a native or flatlander can be used to defend or defeat public issues or to win elections. In 1986, for instance, a heated and almost vicious campaign was waged against a school appropriation bill in Strafford. Supporters maintained its necessity and cited State requirements to push their position. Opponents implied that this violated native values and was evidence of flatlanders taking over the town. 26 Likewise, one dissenter at a meeting at a meeting I attended, felt it advantageous to point out that Governor Kunin herself is not a native Vermonter. In Woodstock, State consultants advised upgrading Route 4 to a four-lane highway. Viewed by some as yet another expensive, unnecessary and intrusive idiocy, destined to create more development, dislocation, and influx of outsiders, people protested. The Woodstock town manager put it: "...We'll be damned if we're going to encourage more out-of-staters to come through here...(Heil, 1988: 1,5).
In Thetford, the animostity was once very directly and forcefully expressed. According to Ken Korey, in the Town of Thetford in the 1970's, rowdies frequently attacked cars which belonged to outsiders. I see this as a clear expression of these people's sentiments. They apparently wished to convey the message that the town was inhospitable. Similarly, some natives will approach new neighbors at times and harangue about flatlanders, how rough times used to be, etc. On our land, a local guy came by and told us scare stories about terrible winters about floods in the area. Again, at the end of the deer season two years ago, one backwoods type put up a frightening effigy of an old man, hanging like a caught deer from his hunting cabin: "...for the flatlanders...".
B. Changes in Economic Orientation
While the flatlander may be seen as a invading menace, he also provides Vermonters with a source of income. Just as the Abenaki earned money from the fur trade, subsequent Vermonters have expoloited the tourist trade and the northeastern markers. In a sense, today's flatlanders come from the very same places that the traditional enemies came from, i.e. the Iroquois from New York, or British settlers from the south. They have always seemed to the native inhabitants as overrunning the country, demanding tribute or taxes, posing a threat of overpopulation or overexploitation. Either they have romanticized Vermont, or they have degraded the natives as uncivilized and backwards. Yet, without the outsiders, the native would not have access to desired items, whether guns and cloth, Europeans plants and products, or industrially made cars, videos, plastics, etc.
Whereas once the land was the primary source of the economy, now farms are becoming hobbies, particularly for wealthy people who can afford to buy, maintain, and pay the taxes for them. Newcomers seeking to homestead are viewed suspiciously by native as "playing", or living in a land of "make believe". Around Vermont, farm skills are promoted as crafts, quaint cultural activities to attract tourists, much as Native American comunities have exploited traditional arts and technologies to raise revenue for their people. Homespun wool gets a better price than machine made, "natural" soups, sauces, breads, etc. as well as the more traditional maple products, specialty cheeses, organic produce and meats are sold for mint prices to the health-conscious and yuppies with the inclination and money to buy them. In the fall of 1988, Strafford, specifically, hosted a sheepherding demonstration which brought a good crowd, and local fairs likewise bring in their share of newcomers and hobbyists.
These activities in themselves can be said to enhance te diversity and versatility of Vermont's economy, and may provide traditional farmers with new options as the traditional agricultural patters fail to keep pace with increasing economic demands. As stated earlier, the state has always actively encouraged tourism, even in the nineteenth century (McGrath, 1988)(Meeks, 1986: 140-156). State supported magazines, such as Vermont Life, meanwhile have advertised that Vermont is here for the taking; thus selling flatlanders the advantages of rural life and pushing up the real estate market (McGrath, 1988).
Classic Vermonters tend to go along with the changes somewhat, in that they accept change as inevitable and wish their children to be able to do well in the future. Those who already have some
capital, land, or resources, can put the new markets to their own use. Likewise, contractors and builders are in high demand, and their wages have been increasing somewhat. Furthermore, flatlander or no, increasingly people are giving up their rural activities in favor of better jobs in town, and store bought material conveniences. A continuing and increasing interest in modern things, including not only electric appliances, VCR's and better vehicles, but also health care, store bought convenience foods, paper diapers, etc., has also made the rural lifestyle less appealing to younger people. Gladys Silloway, for instance, mentioned that her daughter complained about needing to work rather than stay home with her children because of not having enough money, and only when she finally got her VCR, she felt she had "...the essentials...".
At the same time, this change in material culture necessities a cash-oriented economy. Whereas once people could derive most of their material needs from their land and labor, the new commondities and sources of energy cannot be produced at home, even if people want to or remember how. Whereas one might have bartered or exchanged with one's peers, who were to some measure accountable to the community, now prices and to some extent even wages are set by anonymous entities whose values and points of reference seem arbitrary and removed. Local banks, for instance, are increasingly being taken over by out of state institutions, with rules regulations unsuited for rural people (Allen Hunt, 1988).
Unhealthy as well, is the way real estate has skyrocketed in the last few years, so that people working and living in the area feel they cannot afford to stay. The popularization of the classic Vermont creates competition between the rural self-sufficient economy, and the tourist-oriented recreation and service business which promotes the classic Vermont image to the exclusion of other aspects of Vermont life. People who enjoy the recreational opprotunities of Vermont wish to buy or build second homes, and the influx of relocated people with higher incomes frum urban employment pushes the real estate beyond the means of lower income natives. Farmers, already finding themselves stressed to make a living due to overcapitalization and Western competition, cannot afford to pay the rising taxes, and selling their land may bring in more revenue than farming (Meeks, 1986: 281-283). Developments further increase the appraisal of land, and in turn the appraisements of neighboring land, even for those people who are not in the market.
Locally, prices are often set according to the most wealthy consumers, namely the flatlanders and newcomers who find the inflated prices a bargain. Country real estate, as I've state, reflects this outside money, but so also do clothing boutiques, restaurants, toy stores, and even farm stands. As Keizer, himself a teacher, puts it:
"...there are two Vermonts: the Vermont of ski lodges, craft boutiques, and fine restaurants; the Vermont of rusted trailers, failing farms, and the endless cough. Teachers...(and other middle class newcomes)...who work in the latter are nevertheless able to move somewhat comfortably in the former. When I go out to eat, I meet more tourists than neighbors. If I go to "Queen city" to shop, I meet more teachers than anyone else I know..."(Keizer, 1988: 8)
Especially in towns just south of Thetford and Strafford, such as Lebanon and Hartford, I see people aspiring to better themselves, or even just to stay even, yet see it all slipping away as more and more money is required for less and less 27. While some people no doubt do find a better life, many have lost touch with the land, and the sense of community. They see not better off, but
Friday, May 7, 2010
Pages 16-23 "Within the Bounds of a Subsistence Oriented Culture..." (Scott E. Hastings Jr. 1982) Native Vermonters in the Miller Pond Watershed: Heritage and Change...
In sum, the East Side of the watershed appears to be the home of a working-class, native backwoods community of Vermonters with a significant but unmentioned Abenaki heritage.
By contrast, many things unite native rural Vermonters, regardless of history. Wheter farmers, loggers, or contractors, they have in common a rural quality of life and a common interest in retaining their homes, community integrity, and independence. Although I think there are differences between the Abenaki, backwoods and classic Vermonters (Fifield, 1988). In some respects the nature of the land, as well as generatons of institutional assimilation and ongoing social contact, have served to blur these differences. At times, a backwoods person may identitfy with classic values, or, particularly as farms close down, classic types might engage in backwoods behavior. The distinctions I have made, then, are somewhat arbitrary, and emically not usually recognized. They serve in this paper as conceptual frameworks for understanding the subtle dynamics and distinctions between people who collectively make up the category "Native Vermonters", which is an emic category. A synonymous term I will use is the term "locals".
A. Physical Appearance and General Impressions
Native Vermonters tend to speak, dress, live and eat practical things. There is no great reward to be had for getting above one's neighbor, and impressing others is not a valued quality, particularly amongst the backwoods type. In my interviews with people I noted a few who had a strong native accent, making it difficult to understand them. Apparently this is also experienced by middle class people raised in outlying Upper Valley towns, such as Hanover 14. On at least one occasion, I wondered if members of one family weren't referring my questions to a more articulate (in my lingo, that is) member of the family. Friends of mine living in the area have also related instances of not being able to communicate with certain family members who were nonetheless understood by their own family. More generally, the use of ain't and other non-standard English terms and phrases frequently distinguishes locals from outsiders as well. Finally, min, and one woman frequently used profanity in our conversations, and would sometimes apologize for this as they talked.
The possessions and style of locals are not flashy or stylish in appearance, which would only make them stand apart from their neighbors, but they certainly are comfortable and serve their purpose. In the past, people didn't have a lot of store bought items, because the economy was still linked to the family farm and to the homemaker, who coud sew or knit her own clothes, etc. No doubt mail order catalogues also provided clothing and other necessary manufactured items, as well as local stores. Clothing, then, is one visual determinant between native and flatlander. People I visited often wore old T-shirts or faded dresses, even torn or stained clothing; never anything dressy or fashion conscious. Here again, class economics play into this. The stereotypical Vermonter wears simple, practical clothes, suitable for work. At the Tunbridge fair, I observed men in green farm pants. Other articles include a plaid wool jacket, usually green or red and black checked, work boots--such as Sorrels, but not exclusively, or rubber farm boots, a stocking or baseball cap, and of course an
American pick up truck, covered with dirt, dust, and rust.
As mentioned earlier, no one paints their houses often, and the yards are frequently have old unrepaired barns, sheds, or vehicles. Inside, the furniture and decor looks lived in. By contrast, the second home of a New Hampshire property owner looked spotless and uncluttered, with the furniture resembling a store display. The native Vermonter who has lived in the same house for decades, or even generations, however, fills the house with him/herself. Things do not necessarily match, they are added and incorporated over time. To make a showpiece of one's home has no value, although there is certainly nothing squalid or unkempt about it.
People in this area traditionally associate themselves with a particular town, and even particular villages. Some villages communicated more with others, depending upon religious affiliation and class differences (Fifield, 1988). One woman I interviewed, for instance, suggested that since she grew up in Thetford, she couldn't tell me much about Post Mills, a village of Thetford, where she had lived since her marriage. Some people I interviewed were born and raided in the same town, while others had moved to their present house from a neighboring town, years ago. Some families had occupied a particular area for generations, and roads or hills took their name. This was true for both the backwoods and the classic families.
Being with one's family and neighbors remains a mainstay of the culture. Of the various people I survey 15 the majority appeared to be living with, adjacent to or within a few lots of at least one relative--generally a parent and child, occasionally a brother. In one case, the father and brothers appeared to share living space, and to run the family logging operation. Within neighboring towns, several more relativs could be found--giving one almost a sense of dynasty--certainly a sense of kindred. Older interviewees discussed how their children helped them with weatherizing, home repairs, or cooking at family gatherings. Frequently these offspring and even grandchildren would run by us as we talked, or be working in another part of the yard. When asked, people could generally tell me about one or more of their relatives--cousins, half-brother, etc. In one case, four generations were present. I also learned that one must "...be careful what you say, you never know who might be related...". I was in fact frequently surprised to find out either through perusing town records, or work of mouth, just how true this was. Beyond tha, even when I mentioned a non-relative acquainted with other interviewees, I found they were able to pass on new information about that person, and enjoyed hearing updates. This only reinforced my sense of a connected community.
In some ways, certainly for the older generations, people in this area are insulated from metropolitan American society. While certainly some interviewees had worked out of the state (the army being one such employer), some people have never travelled to nearby urban area, such as Boston, and most have little occasion to do so. While TV doubtless diminishes porvincial identification, rural Vermont remains inaccessible to all but one, at most two stations, and the same can be said about radio. There are no movie houses in these towns, and the library hours are limited as are the selections. As one gets away from the Connecticut River, there are hardly any shops, other than the local store and gas pump in each village. Women, particularly elderly, may not drive. Furthermore, during winter, going out is a major undertaking.
One's sphere of activity and knowledge, then continues to be social relations with family and townsfolk--church--and work. Some common social activities include VCR/TV, talking on the CB radio, Lion's Club or other clubs, Volunteer Fire Department and town government, going into town for supplies, catching up on gossip and the mail, Church drinking, and family get-togethers. The people value self-reliance and private property, yet community sharing and neighborliness are equally important. Barn-raising, voluteerism, pulling a guy out of the snow or mud, etc. are some examples. Still today, one finds people almost eager to stop for a stranded car, willing to let one come into a house for a phone call, to jump start or pull a car our free of charge, or even offering to fix a broken snowmobile.
People claim that in the passt, everyone knew everyone in town, and felt free to drop in on each other anytime. My own experience has been, that in complete contrast to the stereotype of the close-mouthed, taciturn Yankee, people are friendly, relaxed, and enjoy chatting--finding no problem with talking an hour or more if one is willing to listen. In part, I believe this reflects the fact that many of my interviewees were self-employed, or unemployed dued to disability or retirement. In a large way, these people seemed almost dying to talk, tell their stories, and were "...tickled..." that I had bothered to come by. As one person said, he had "...nothing to do and lots of time to do it in..."
Even economic exchanges reflect a sense of trust and community feeling. Rather than making a fast buck off of one's neighbor, the exchange/ sale of commodities and services involves a social interaction. In town, I am never asked to provide ID to write a check; likewise many people buy items from the local store on personal credit. If one cheats another, the town quickly knows. News travels fast, and people rely on social networks for doing business.
Most people think in terms of their particular locale. Identification with one's town remains strong. Traditionally, each town has retained its sense of autonomy, often resisting the State when it disagreed with its policies. Vermonters even today dislike any sort of coercive program, even if it might appear to their advantage. For instance, the state has introduced programs to alleviate taxation on agricutlural land. While people I interviewed too advantage of these programs, they nonetheless implied to me that the state was screwing them, since they would be severely penalized for any reniging on their part. Likewise, some Vermonters dislike coercive programs such as the seat belt law, gun control, immunizations and so on. Environmentalist legislation requiring expensive septic systems, zoning laws, and the appropriation of lands for state parks are seen as intrusive violations of property rights. Traditionally, town government has been run by public meeting, where everyone can be heard, and likewise one's votes and stances are clear to all. People often get into heated arguments, and can be very direct and frank, particularly if they feel they are being railroaded or cheated. Reports of selectmen's meetings can at times be entertaining, if one is not directly involved in the conflict.
On a personal level, social conformity has been maintained by public pressure. In the four towns in this ara, there is at most one constable, often part-time at that. Until recently, for instance, no one locked their doors as they had no reason to fear their neighbors. On the other hand, people of the backwoods type seem quite willing to look the other of the law, as long as their interests
are not involved. In Strafford, for instance, there is one town drunk descended from one of the original families, who can daily be seen slowly cruising along in his pick-up, beer in hand. Rather than defer to official authority, a backwoods native tends to settle his own disputes, even if it involves violence. Thus, the reputation for being "ornery". In local parlance, the term is "rowdy", which suggests tolerance for individualistic behavior. In my interviews, I heard a number of stories wherein backwoods people used force to punish violations-particularly against wives or property. 16 Stories varied from shooting a man dead in the house (decades ago), banging a neighbor's head against a wall (recently), selling fire to a logging rig in retallation, and grazing a trespasser's bullock's with gunshot. I likewise heard threats to kill and any future marauders, and was shown household weaponry. Further contributing to the macho impression, rifles are openly displayed on the backs of pick-up trucks, regardless of the season.
C. Ecological Relationships
The land has a particularly strong function--serving as a focus of activity, although not necessarily providing one's livelihood. Activities include, ATV/ snowmobiling, weatherizing, shoveling and plowing snow and ice, doing odd jobs and repairs, stoking the woodstove, felling trees, splitting and stacking wood, gardening, berrypicking, harvesting, pruning trees, sugaring, caring for animals, fishing, hunting, trapping, etc. Activities vary according to the season, and many do have economic value. Even though many native Vermonters do not get their sole support from these activities, still, they do bring in something useful: food, fuel, extra income, or tax abatement via the current use program, and significantly contribute to the lifestyle of the people. These activities tie the people to their land and heritage. Also, the lack of entertainment such as found in urban centers reflects the fact that the people here have plenty do right in their own backyards and neighborhoods.
The Dairy Farm: Classic Image of Land Use
In State reports, and public debate, agriculture is seen to be the backbone of rural Vermont. To quote Scott Dean of St. Albans: "...Agriculture is the foundation of our economy and culture...(Report of the Governor's Commission, 1988:7)." Yet only certain types of agriculture really seem to "count". One former farmer in Strafford related to me how he had decided to get out of farming, yet still saw himself as one of the only four farmers left in town. He ignored the operation of a number of sheep and horse farms, as well as some homesteaders with as many livestock, al beit smaller and more varied, and the commerical apple orchard on Old City Falls road. Seemingly, a farmer to him was a cattle farmer; or other types of agriculture were not included in his thinking. Likewise, most official efforts at saving the rural character of Vermont are aimed at the dairy industry.
Statewide, dairying does account for 79% of Vermont's agriculture (meeks, 1986: 283). On the other hand, most of the land in Vermont and in this watershed really isn't suitable to modern dairying farming needs (Meeks, 1986: 262-272), and dairying has not been competetive with other occupations. In fact, "...by the early 1980's, Vermont agriculture was responsible for only 5% of the gross state product...(Meeks, 1986: 274)". Cultural explanations must be sought to explain the popular importance of the Vermont cow farm.
Emically, the preference for dairy farms is related to its function of keeping open fields, since dairy farms require more land to produce comparable income than other types of farms (Meeks: 282-297).
Public debate has centered around the fear that farms are closing down, and will either become overgrown, or be sold to developers, ultimately to the environmental degradation of Vermont (Report of the Governor's Commission 1988: 13-15). In response to these concerns, the Vermont legislature recently passed Act 200, to require towns to plan development, and to enable them to impose impact fees on developers. Likewise, the current use program has been in effect to encourage farmers to stay in farming. Land conservation trusts have begun to organize in the watershed area, with one Strafford's selectmen a primary supporter and organizer. Specifically, the Vermont Land Trust has decided to use Strafford as a model town (Heil, 1988:1,8). Townspeople have been meeting to discuss these ideas, design and send out surveys, and develope an inventory format aimed towards promoting open space preservation.
reforestation is bemoaned by classic Vermonters as a loss of agriculture potential, a return to the wilderness which earlier white settlers improved and subdued. "...Small farmers have enhanced the beauty of our countryside in a way that nature cannot reproduce,' wrote Dr. D.S. Peterson of Williston...(Report, 1988: 7)". State biologists argue that deer and aother wildlife depend on open, cleared areas to thrive. I did find one classic interviewee who identified a deer yard, where, according to him, once one was sure of a sucessful hunt, but now overgrown, had few deer. In light of this attitude, mowing hay and grazing animals has almost become a public service, resmebland of suburban lawn upkeep. The 'good' Vermonter, then, maitains his property according to agriculturist values, but increasingly, without the traditional economic incentive. This hobby farming is derided by natives as "make-believe". In fact, dairy farmers themselves stand to benefit from less competition as other farms close down (Meeks, 1986: 282). "...Ironically, it is mainly newcomers who are most vocal about preserving Vermont farmland and farming...(Meeks, 1986: 252)".
Since farming requires labor, the "good" Vermonter likewise works both himself and the land--he sees himself as a caretaker, a farmer who controls the ecology of the area according to a certain ideal. Along with aversion to the forest goes the preference for hardwoods, not only for their value as fuel or forestry products, but also for the light they let in. In areas of large farms, and generally near the classic farms, the pines are removed and the view is often expansive and sunny. Pine trees are referred to as wolves, reflecting their propensity to grow up in untended fields, and, I think, the perception that they are unwanted intrusions on this man-made landscape.
Interestingly, I found that many of the backwoods types, particularly in Thetford, were living amongst the pines, preferring the privacy they offer, perhaps not minding their presence. Perhaps this reflects a different ecological orientation also. One Abenaki interviewee, for instance noted that there used to be more pines in his area. My impression was that he bemoaned their loss. The regional name for the Abenaki was Coos, meaning white pine, because this area was heavy with the species. Unlike the southern New England peoples who maintained parklike woods to encourage the passage of deer, the northern Abenaki cleared minimally, did not burn extensively (Cronon, 1983:50), and depended more on animals such as bear, beaver, and moose (Day, 1978: 154), who thrive in undisturbed forest areas (Johnson, 1980). To whites, the pines indicate weeds grown up in fields. But another way to look at it is that the land is healing itself. As Howard Knight put it, "...the farmer is the closest to the land, but he still rapes the rapes the earth..." Of course, another explanation for the
landscape/ settlement pattern is that the pine covered lands represent the least agriculturally valuable areas, which were briefly settled, then abandoned (Wilson, 1936: 97-115), thus becoming and remaining more accessible to working class non-farm people, including Abenaki family members 17.
Although many natives' ancestors are listed in the Gazetter as farmers (Child, 1888), many, if not most of the so called farmers, past and present, may have only farmed part time, as a supplement or complement to other income. In fact the definition of a farm has always been sticky, including just about any operation larger than three acres, even in 1959 (Meeks, 1986: 256) Only those farmers with prime farmland could really maintain profitable commercial farms, so that dairy farmers represent a very specific class, historical period, and geographic area, even within the state as a whole. The hilly areas of this particular watershed do not lend themselves to modern farming, and very few traditional farms of the area remain in operation 18.
These are however, other agricultural and land-use related possibilities which are and have been exploited by the residents of this area, including as I have mentioned, beef cattle, sheep, small livestock, produce lumber, and resort/ recreational use such as horses, skiing, hiking, games reserves, fishing, etc. However the lots required for other agricultural enterprises are often smaller than those required for commercial dairying (Meeks, 1986: 283), and often are smaller than feasible for current use programs. They do not serve the function of keeping large tracts of land in pasture, which meets the image and desires of the classic image-makers. Recreational programs do use large tracts of land, but are still practices by the backwoods Vermonter today. These folks not only do not farm now, but have engaged in other occupations for generations, suggesting that in this area at least, the classic image of the hard-working dairy farmer amidst pastoral rolling pastures, which activists are trying to rescue, does not fit many North Country people who are nonetheless both rural and native.
Hunting: Backwoods Inheritance
A significant activity in this area is the pursuit of wild game. Since this was the traditional Abenaki subsistance activity which distinguished them from British settlers (Thomas, 1976: 9,10). I was particularly interested to see what role this activity played inthe lives of local people today. Letters to the local newspaper, the Valley News, (December 1987-January 1988) suggested that to some readers, hunting and trapping are outdated activities, considered to be obsolete, unnecessary, and even cruel. I had further read that newer residents tend to make land less accessible, particularly in Windsor and Orange counties, by posting (Meeks, 1986: 245).
What I found from talking to hunters and native residents, however, was that hunting is almost taken for granted. Its significance seemed slightly greater to those backwoos types I interviewed, although classics and southern New Englanders also participate. Locally, raccoon hunting, ice fishing (one the Connecticut) deer hunting, trapping, birding, and jacking 19 were all viaable pursuits. Despite
nonhunters' associations with male aggression, hunting was not exclusively a male domain, as I did talk with a woman hunter. I was also told by the head of the trappers' association, Bill Doyle, that significant numbers of women are learning to trap in Vermont. In Abenaki stories (Masta, 1943) and from conversations with John Moody, I have learned that Abenaki women also hunted and fished. In the recent fish-ins, one woman in particular brought in the best fishing catches. Likewise, the Thetford area chief twice told me about his own grandmother and her prowess and aim with both arrows and knives. On the other hand, I have never actually seen a woman in the field in this area. Some of the women I spoke with expressed reservations about killing, even when, for instance, a raccoon was pestering the garbage. One old Abenaki woman from Beaver Meadow, not too far from Strafford, reportedly used to shout to hunters "...I hope you fall!..."(Moody, 1988).
Rather than question the legitimacy of hunting, several people expressed frustration or regret that hunting had declined in recent years. The importance to some of this activity was suggested by the amount of storytelling which occurred when I brough up the subject, and especially by the intensity of feeling which could evince, even to the point of characterizing their feelings generally about living in Vermont. Notably one French/ native's comment that "...Vermont's no good anymore, there ain't no deer...". Unfortunately, in light of the decreasing abundance of game or fish in the area, some residents apparently give up the activity (Meeks, 1986: 245) 20.
Still, I did not see several groups of men, often in heavy camouflage, carrying weapons. Many of these were from out of state. In fact, when I asked residents about posting land, they sometimes felt this was their protection from "gangs" who tended to drive the deer and spoil their ability to wait quietly for a catch. Perhaps it is far-fetched to make the following connection, but I found this difference in style interesting in light of the fact that aboriginal southern New Englanders likewise hunted differently from the northern Abenaki. The southerners, like these intruding gangs, tended to drive the deer; whereas the northern peoples preferred to surprise the deer, as by stalking (Cronon, 1983: 50) (Haviland, 1981: 164). Local hunters confirmed to me that the deer are very clever, and that quiet, stealth, and waiting patiently are necessary to make a catch.
Additionally, out of state hunters deplete the supply of game, where many people feel already there is a shortage. Furthermore, out of state hunting offends people's sense of property. Backwoods Vermonters value the right to dispose of their own property, and resent invasions of their privavcy and/ or control. However, in practice, they were more than ready to share, if asked. For eample, one person strongly resented the State's presumption of "...selling tickets to other people's property...", particularly to strangers. As I was talking to him for his tips on deer hunting. They together reveiled in his successful catch. Likewise, a trapper I spoke with related how really he had no problem with posting, as all one needed to do was ask for right of access. More problematic to him was the rapid rate of development, wherein his trapping spots were becoming occupied with new houses.
As a property owner myself, I have been aware of local hunters coming to us each year, and have noted their sympathy and interest in efforts to discourage disrespectful or abusive persons from using the land. Although there are quite a few non-resident owners and newcomers who post their land, native residents do so also, but for different reasons. Newcomers that I have spoken to seem to be generally afraid of hunters per se, and are often philosophically opposed to hunting. Natives wish to preserve this resource for themselves, and protect themselves from outsiders. A Grove Hill,
backwoods type, for instance, told me he had gotten four deer off of his land 21. On the other hand, the backwoods natives I spoke with indicated that posting was like waving a red flag in front of a bull, and that their best course to take was to post "by permission only". Unfortunately, we found, as did one of my classic interviewees, that these signs were generally ignored, as were direct requests to leave the land.
Another role assumed by some interviewees was that of the caretaker. Individuals reported looking out for irresponsible individuals, from patrolling for "jacking" to protesting does left to rot on the ground. One Abenaki in particular objected not so much to the animal's being killed, but to its being wasted. Wasting food goes against traditional Abenaki culture 22 even today, in Missisquoi (Jed Merrow, nd). Likewise, casually pointing guns at people drinking too much were frowned on. Native Vermonters consistently noted the shortage of deer, in both Strafford and Thetford, whether they hunted or not. Various explanations were offered, from excessive doe hunting, to predation of young by coyotes, to destruction of deer yards from overgrowth. To my surprise, however, none of the native Vermonters related this decline to human development or construction practices, although this was mentioned by Bill DeVaux, the owner of a gun shop in Norwich, in an interview in the Valley News (Corriveau, 1988: 20, 22).
To the backwoods types, hunting especially evinced strong feelings. This suggests that while a deer does not have much meat, it is nonetheless an important resource and cultural symbol to these people. Fathers take pride passing this skill to their children. Hunting is perhaps one of the few persisting aspects of North Country survival and culture, predating commercial agriculture, and accessible to everyone. While other sources of animal protein have been introduced from Europe, these do not have the same taste and quality, and require far more intensive labor.
In the past, hunting encompassed more than the deer season, and possibly accounted for more of people's diets. For example, one 96-year old man mentioned how his peers used to go 'coon huntin'. Raccoon apparently tastes good. One individual did approach us about 'coon huntin' on our land, bt I suspect this is less commonly practiced than in the past. On the other hand, because backwoods people were not large dairy farmers, small game could have provided additional food to their diets. Certainly, there are people today who find it worthwhile to leave work during hunting season. For example, one November day, my car happened to fall over a snowback on Gove Hill, and I was obliged to call a tow. En route, a wounded deer ran across the road and into the woods. Without hesitating, the dirver of the tow truck pulled over, grabbed his rifle from the gun rack behind us, excused himself, and left me sitting there with the engine running on the hillside for several minutes as he dashed into the woods after it. Unfortunately, it got away.
Hunting as an activity requires a different idea of land use than farming or suburban residence. On the one hand, it requires a sedentary orientation. Hunting requires mobility, or at least access to large areas of land. Given the duality of these two activities co-existing, value of sharing are essential. In today's world, without the farmer, the land becomes inhospitable, and when sold becomes divided into smaller parcels which block passage of both game and hunter. Without the farmer, or residents' goodwill, the hunter loses access to quarry. However, the hunter keeps the area from being overgrown with pests which destroy gardens, crops, and livestock.
Finally, when pursuing game, one follows different paths. One gets off of human constructed