Not until I moved here did I truly understand the meaning of diversification as it pertains to individual effort, let alone the need for it - the indispensability of it in certain environments. This is a district of generalists, a place where a man may have as many as five sometimes overlapping jobs in the space of a year. This is because generations here have known at best a stumbling economy, stumbling backward as often as forward; so people pick up their skills wherever they can, any way they can; they have to be versatile and adaptable to survive.
Ross, for instance, is a lean, fair-haired young man, slow talking, with mildly vague blue eyes. He was born to this silent rurality. He and his wife run a small farm in the trees, set back from an unpaved, clay road. They have goats, pigs, rabbits, and a few cows. Ross works on the lobster boats when the season opens; when the season closes he free-lances around the locality as a plumber; at other times he will hire on for carpentry and light construction work. His wife works in an office from time to time,and she is learning handcrafts - eventually, she trusts, for profit. I would be surprised if their endeavors, combined, realize for them more than $12,000 a year - that for a family of three , since they also have an infant son.
Ross has worked less and earned relatively more in cities elsewhere in the country. Why, then, one wonders, would he choose to return? This is his home, obviously; but while I have never asked him outright, it is easy to sense there is something more to it than that: In clear and direct ways he is made to feel useful and helpful by this environment and by the lives of the people he is in constant contact with.
There is a strong element of this with Davey, as well, although he has never lived anywhere else but here. Davey is a wiry little fellow in his early 50s who runs his own blueberry operation; recently he launched out, in a small way, to pulp and sand. He drives a school bus, works for a hardware store installing furnaces, does light construction work and crafts, makes wooden items for the tourist trade. His wife, Connie, baby-sits for enjoyment and profit. Their sons and daughters, those still at home, assist in most of the same enterprises, as they have from straw-raw infancy, in the sun-brushed green and gold of high summer, as in the whipped white and billowing gray of winter, on mornings before school, in evenings after school, and during the holidays. They get by. The family income, in a good year, may reach $20,000.
Given the opportunity, would Davey and Connie have moved away to an easier life years ago? I very much doubt it; for although they may have thought about it when times were particularly tough on them, they were ''built in'' to this community, charged, in a way, with building up from it, contributing kindnesses, meshing their individual attributes with those of the people around them.
And John is back after traveling halfway around the world. A black-bearded, chunky individual, with a droll sense of humor, John runs a small commercial sign-painting business, chases about on photo-taking assignments for one newspaper, and writes a column for another, teaches printmaking at the community college in town one or two evenings a week, and takes on odd jobs of any description whenever he can. In between times he is an exhibiting artist. He is married, now, with a four-year-old son. He will be lucky, in his own estimation, to earn $10,000 this year.
John doesn't know why he's back, or so he says. I believe him, because he always comes across as being a bit disorganized - and he'd chuckle at my saying so. Most definitely, from an art standpoint, he would be better off practically anywhere else (art here is very much of the pretty picture variety, otherwise unacceptable). Possibly his art teaching gives him a sense of mission, part of feeling useful, versatile, and challenged.
Ivan, Lorin, Billy, Jim-Angus - a host of my neighbors similarly are generalists. The right to strike is wholly outside of their experience, as inapplicable to their lives as Paris fashions and Mediterranean cruises. In strictly personal, unostentatious ways, many of them are profoundly religious, but one would not know that without spending time with them and understanding the nuances of their expressions and dispositions. Most of them say little but think deeply - wordless Tolstoys.
For all that I have said, life here is not mired in cheerless austerity. There is theater reflective of these people and their lives, and music to lighten hearts and kindle pride in heritage. And there is sport; plowing matches , log-splitting contests, oyster-shucking and fish-filleting competitions - games that raise standards of competence in practical, everyday endeavor.
We're not so cut off from the rest of North American society that we do not hear of young men in their late teens and early 20s signed to multimillion-dollar contracts in football, baseball, basketball, and hockey, made possible by a public craving for leisure and entertainment. With between five and 10 years in the game, a wise financial adviser and expert legal counsel , a top-flight professional in such sports can earn more money than small but entire communities in so-called underdeveloped regions and countries throughout the world will ever see in a lifetime. I try to see the sense of this but can't. There was a time when I didn't think about it at all.