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Column: We’ve forgotten how much we really need each other

  • An October 1942 husking bee in the Huntley Barn in Norwich. Jim Huntley was on furlough during World War II and home for the occasion. The barn is the one at 495 Main St., on the corner of Turnpike Road. (Collection of Norwich Historical Society. ) Collection of Norwich Historical Society

  • Suzanne Lupien. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

For the Valley News
Published: 11/20/2021 10:20:27 PM
Modified: 11/20/2021 10:20:12 PM

Some 20 years ago I was standing behind a young man in a cafeteria line at a Hanover restaurant. What I witnessed startled me at the time, and I have thought about it often in the intervening years.

I watched him excavate the top of a large pan of pasta, conveying the entire layer of sauce onto his plate, leaving a barren expanse of spaghetti for those of us waiting in line.

This got me thinking that perhaps the foundational lessons in citizenship and community participation were no longer being taught or learned. It felt like a sign, an omen.

A little while later my cousin and her husband came to visit after a heavy snow and got stuck on the hill below the house, which prompted my neighbor to howl at them for impeding her way, rather than inquiring about their welfare, or just grabbing a snow shovel and helping them out.

The ancient golden rule of the countryside — providing help when needed — was still being observed in wonderful and meaningful ways at that time; however, more often than not, it was the elderly farm folk doing the lion’s share of the helping.

One glorious fall day, my friend Bill was helping me saw up cookstove wood on his tractor-driven saw rig, and the distinctive whine of the machinery carried down over the hill to Cornish Flat, a half a mile away. After a few hours on the job we chanced to look down the road, the road where my cousin had gotten stuck, and there came old Bernice Johnson walking up the hill carrying a big bag of her famous doughnuts in one hand, and a jug of cider in the other. She had indeed heard the saw rig, figured it was Bill and me doing the sawing and immediately put her doughnut kettle on to heat.

To all of us present, on that beautiful day, the sound of the cordwood saw and tractor was the sound of cooperation and prosperity. Tradition and happiness.

For it used to be, for years and years, that everyone cooked on a cookstove and they all got up their cookstove wood that way, continuously clearing round the edges of their fields, and trimming out their sugarwoods, removing saplings growing in too thickly to thrive. Generally cut to 4-foot lengths at the felling, the logs were neatly stacked to dry, the bigger sections split lengthwise on the way to the pile. Such stacks were visible in the open, in fields and pastures, and were viewed by passersby, your neighbors, and I think a bit of competition arose out of the whole thing — who had the finest pile? A well laid-up pile was a sign of good work done, field edges properly maintained, and a well-provided-for kitchen.

To cut your wood this way you want to have two people running the saw, one placing the logs carefully on the sawing table and cutting them to the preferred length, often two at a time, and one to catch the wood as it came off the saw before it hit the ground, turn and toss the wood into the truck. If you could, you’d have a couple of kids driving the loaded truck to the woodshed, throwing the wood back into the shed stick by stick — quick! — then returning the empty truck to be filled again. Meanwhile the two at the rig would have tidied up, perhaps moved the tractor and saw along the pile, checked the lubrication of the drive shaft, the condition of the belt driving the machine via the tractor power, kept the saw table free of dirt and debris. Whatever they could do to be good and ready to work up the next truckload.

Quite likely, some members of the crew did not reside on the place where the wood was being cut, they lived on another place with a similar pile of wood, ready to be sawn tomorrow, by the same ones doing it here today.

The last time I ran a saw rig before moving to Vershire, on the edge of a large field in Norwich, instead of help, or doughnuts and cider, I got loud complaints about the “noise.” What had formerly been considered common purpose, the security of winter warmth for your neighbor, had become noise.

Perhaps if we still knew how much we really need each other, especially out here in the country, we would more readily assume our places as part of the commonweal, fully aware that if we are to be the beneficiaries of the collective freedom our founders framed, we must always do whatever is required to protect the whole, even incurring risk to ourselves, before we even dream of having our own preferences addressed.

When I hear or read about defiant and angry people refusing the vaccine, for example — for whatever reason, it doesn’t matter — I am most aggrieved that people think they have a choice. They don’t. The public good overrides any notion of choosing, of acting individually in matters affecting us all.

This defiance is pitched as exercising a right, a personal freedom, but actually it’s a sign of the loss of freedom, the freedom which sustains us as an entity, a society, a country.

Performing one’s duty is simply a necessity for the function of a civil society. Therein lies true freedom — the freedom to join in and contribute to a better world, rather than to break it down, by pulling away. And the very same sense of collective responsibility we need to lick this deadly virus is precisely what we would need should we decide to save our Earth.

Suzanne Lupien lives, writes and farms in Vershire.




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