No Missing Pieces
It’s a bit of a puzzle how the Granite State prides itself on both rugged individualism and a powerful sense of community. That’s a contradiction we can live with. In spite of our differences and our longing for independence,
we know we are better together than we are apart. By John Walters
The tradition of living in community has deep roots in New Hampshire. Early pioneers banded together out of pure necessity. The governmental system is heavily weighted toward the local level, encouraging community involvement. And throughout our history, communities have formed around religious, political or social beliefs, common interests or the simple desire to gather with like-minded people.
In recent decades, community life has been in decline. But even today, you can find groups who are joining together in some kind of community.
Here, we’ll explore the past and present of community living in New Hampshire, to see why people come together and how they benefit from building relationships beyond their immediate families. We’ll also look at how a decline in community life may be changing the Granite State.
Two meanings of community
The community tradition has two separate strands. Both arise out of the same need for human interconnection, but express themselves in different ways. Both can be seen throughout New Hampshire history.
The first is very simple: strong local ties. The most obvious manifestation is town meeting; but in general, New Hampshire’s political structure has a decidedly local bent. “By design, our state government is the weakest in the country,” says Lew Feldstein of the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation. “A lot of authority is placed on the local level.”
The second occurs when people decide to form a self-selecting group. One well-known example is the Shaker movement: “In order to achieve an idealized society, Shakers lived communally in relative isolation from the outside world,” says David Starbuck in “Neither Plain Nor Simple,” his book on life in the Canterbury Shaker village.
To live in community, people have to make compromises and lower their barriers; but they get a lot in return. “Take two similar communities,” says Feldstein. “In the one with closer ties, people literally feel better about their lives, their health is better, they live longer, their schools are likely to be better, public safety is better, their local government is likely to perform better and the local business climate is better.”
The academic term is “social capital” — the measurable benefits of community. New Hampshire has historically been rich in social capital. But in the state and the nation, social capital is diminishing. It’s a trend that worries Feldstein — for the future health of public life, and for the locally oriented, volunteer-dependent social order of New Hampshire.
Some people are worried enough about the trend that they are creating their own communities and building their own stocks of social capital.
On the west end of Peterborough, there’s a large parcel of “undeveloped” land: some woods, some open fields and the former site of a once-popular inn. This isn’t a community yet, but just wait a couple of years.
Sherry Hulbert stands in what used to be the inn’s parking lot, and unrolls a plan on the hood of her car. This is a proposed map of the Nubanusit Neighborhood & Farm, a community that will include 29 units of housing, a working farm and woodlands. “The idea is that the farm and community will be mutually beneficial neighbors,” she says. Hulbert is a farmer herself; she, her husband, and another couple are the project’s organizers.
The community is designed to enhance neighborhood interaction and minimize environmental impact. The homes will be clustered in one corner of the 113-acre site. The units will share a single heating system and a Common House with room for meetings and gatherings. Parking is on the periphery; no vehicles will be allowed within the neighborhood. “That is probably the biggest thing that culls people,” says Hulbert. “Can they imagine not driving right up to their house, especially in bad weather?” It’s not for everyone, but Hulbert only needs to fill 29 homes. Eighteen are already spoken for, and she is confident the community will be fully populated by the spring of 2008, when all the construction will be done.
Nubanusit will be an “intentional community” — a gathering of residents who share a common vision. There are a wide variety of intentional communities; cooperatives, residential land trusts, communes. The vision can be social, political, philosophical or religious — and it can be moderate or extreme.
Somewhere in the woods of New Hampshire lives the “Tribe of Dirt,” another would-be intentional community. Right now, it’s a single family living in a cabin, but its intent is to form a “committed extended family living together, adapting together and making a living together,” according to the Tribe’s website.
The Tribe of Dirt rejects modern economic, social, religious and political structures. Its name is a reminder of humanity’s place in the web of life: “We are of the same material as the rest of the animals, vegetables, minerals, et al of the world.” The Tribe has turned its back on what it sees as a bloated, dysfunctional world, and seeks to establish a completely independent life. Indeed, I quote from the Tribe’s Web site because its members did not respond to my inquiries.
The Nubanusit Farm and the Tribe of Dirt may not have much in common, but they both spring from the human need for community — for a feeling of connection that reaches beyond immediate family. This need has been expressed in many different ways over time.
The NH Tradition of Community
In Colonial days, community was a matter of survival. An example of early community life can be seen at the Fort at No. 4 in Charlestown. This is a living-history museum that reveals life in an 18th-century garrison — a post on what was then the wild frontier. “This was land prospecting,” says Fort director Cheryl Cavanaugh. “Farmers coming from Massachusetts wanting to better themselves.”
They found difficult conditions and a constant threat from the Abenaki Indians — who did not appreciate the settlers’ incursion. Because of the isolation and danger, the farmers had no choice but to cooperate and share their lives. After a few years, they voted to fortify their village; the plan for this fortification is the basis for the museum of today.
From a modern-day perspective, it’s hard to conceive of the isolation of Colonial America — not just on the frontier, but even in places like Portsmouth and Boston. Communication with Britain was inconsistent, expensive and very time-consuming. In the absence of constant control from across the Atlantic, a tradition of local self-government developed. Historian Jeremy Bangs traces the origin of the New England town meeting to the early days of the Plymouth settlement, where “all proposed laws were voted on by all the freemen.”
Not everyone thought this was a good thing; Lord Germain, a British colonial official, called town meetings “the proceedings of a tumultuous and riotous rabble.” Of course, he had just been provoked by the Boston Tea Party.
Milord notwithstanding, town meeting became the cornerstone of government in the Northeast. In his book called “Real Democracy,” University of Vermont political scientist Frank Bryan says town meeting is “stitched into the fabric of New England.” This is especially true in New Hampshire, with its relatively weak state government.
The classic New Hampshire town has a sense of community that grows naturally out of constant interchange — at town meeting, at the dump, at the corner store. Writer and humorist Rebecca Rule has created a series of stories about small-town life, inspired by (but not based upon) Northwood, the town she has called home for the past 28 years. Which means she is “still an outsider” to many.
She says in a small town, everyone knows your business. “A friend of mine was coming to visit me, and she stopped at a coffee shop in town. She told the clerk, ‘I want a cup of coffee for me, and one for my friend Becky Rule.’ The clerk said, ‘Oh, Becky doesn’t drink coffee.’ And I don’t.”
Rule’s friend was surprised and a bit disturbed by that level of casual knowledge, but it’s a great example of the strong but casual ties that bind a community together.
Some communities are loosely defined, but still qualify as gatherings of like-minded people. In Temple and Wilton, an informal community has grown around the ideas of Rudolf Steiner, a scientist, teacher and thinker of the early 20th century. Steiner developed new concepts in education, medicine, politics, social structure, economics and agriculture. His overall philosophy is known as “anthroposophy.” The best known of his systems is the Waldorf school, which encourages a holistic approach to child development: engaging the mind, body and spirit in equal measure.
Glynn Graham’s classroom is not something you’d see at your local elementary school. Graham is a teacher at the Pine Hill Waldorf School; her classroom is full of supplies for knitting and sewing. “Steiner thought of the human being as threefold,” she says. “Head, heart and hands: thinking, feeling and doing. So each day is supposed to include all three.” According to Graham, handwork helps to develop thinking skills — and it provides a tangible sense of accomplishment that builds confidence.
The beginnings of the Steiner gathering date back to 1942, when a woman named Beulah Emmet founded High Mowing School in Wilton. At the time, there were quite a few Waldorf elementary schools in America, but not as many high schools. High Mowing became a magnet for people committed to Waldorf education, drawing like-minded people to the area.
Today, the local Anthroposophical Society has about 140 members, but their influence outweighs the sheer numbers. They have created several vibrant institutions, including the Pine Hill and High Mowing schools, the Hearthstone Land Trust, two residential facilities for people with mental disabilities and the Temple-Wilton Community Farm. Most of the people who participate are not Anthroposophists; they simply like the quality of the education, service and food. The presence of this very informal Steiner community has had a beneficial impact on the wider community life of the area.
Just off I-89 in Grantham, there’s a sizeable community hidden in the woods. Residents of the Eastman Community are not drawn together by philosophy or belief; they simply want to live in well-built homes in a rural setting with a variety of recreational facilities. But Eastman is more structured than a typical town; its residents are called “members” to emphasize the nature of the community. “When you buy a house in Eastman, you’re buying into the community and the whole concept,” says Eastman’s director of marketing and communications Lorie McClory,
Eastman was founded in the 1960s by Emil Hanslin, a developer with an interest in planned communities and environmental preservation. His son Tony, a longtime Eastman member, says the elder Hanslin was a pioneer in new kinds of development: “common use land, green space, the sense of building community rather than subdivision.”
Eastman’s facilities include a lake, golf club, tennis courts, skiing and hiking trails, a community garden, a fitness center, swimming pool and sauna. There are a variety of organized activities for members. There are spaces for meetings and functions, as well as a pub and a full-service restaurant.
And there are some rules and regulations. “Eastman is probably not for everyone,” says McClory. “We’ve had people move out because they wanted more freedom with their own property.” The restrictions are meant to preserve the character of Eastman. In exchange for abiding by the rules, Eastman members get to enjoy a well-ordered community that blends in to the surrounding environment. Even when you’re in the middle of Eastman, it’s hard to believe you’re surrounded by a small town with more than 1,500 homes.
A rejection of the mainstream
For various reasons, some groups remove themselves from mainstream society to create an atmosphere of shared purpose where beliefs and philosophies can be reinforced. There’s a long tradition of such communities in the Roman Catholic Church; one example is the La Salette Shrine in Enfield.
An apparition of the Virgin Mary seen by two French children in 1846 inspired the La Salette order. The message of Mary — calling for piety, purity and reconciliation — inspired the Missionaries of Our Lady of La Salette, who now serve in 21 countries.
“We’re not monastic,” says Father Gerard Boulanger, director of the Enfield shrine. He says the La Salettes are strongly focused on serving the rest of the world, and living in community helps them fulfill their mission. “We come together for mutual support. We join together for prayer, we live in fraternity and we help one another.” They also provide a temporary refuge for others: “One of our purposes is to provide a prayerful atmosphere in a hectic world.”
Boulanger says there’s a big misperception about Catholic orders. “If you join an order to hide from the world, you’re never going to make it. It’s not an escape; you’re even more engaged with the world.”
A belief in land preservation and sustainable farming is the motivation for a new community in Acworth. Steve and Barbara Davis had been farming there since the early ’80s, but they had a broader vision that couldn’t be fulfilled by a single family. They wanted to add more land and a wider variety of products. They wanted a structure that would preserve the farm beyond their life spans. “Also, we’d been working on our own, and felt a sense of isolation,” says Steve Davis.
In 2000, they formed the Cold Pond Community Land Trust. Since then, according to Davis, “we’ve attracted a group of people with similar goals and visions.”
At last count, the community included seven homes and 28 residents — about as big as they want to be, on their current 275-acre lot.
It’s an active farm. They grow fruits, vegetables, and herbs; they raise chickens for eggs and meat, cattle for dairy and meat; they produce honey, maple syrup, yogurt and cheese. And all their heat comes from wood harvested on-site.
The community is young but thriving, and Davis is happy. “We’re far better off than we were. It’s satisfying and gratifying to see the community working and growing together. It’s inspiring.”
Cold Pond is overseen by a board of directors that makes financial and land-use decisions. But otherwise the residents govern themselves by consensus. This may seem like a remnant of the ’60s, but Davis sees deeper roots: “The way we live here is closer to the roots of New Hampshire life than the way most people live today.” Indeed, in Cold Pond, it’s easy to see echoes of the Fort at No. 4 — minus the stockades, of course.
The Decline and Fall of Community?
The spirit of community expresses itself in a variety of ways: a town meeting, a planned development, a religious order, an intentional community in the woods. They all share a common characteristic: a basic human need to band together. “To not have this opportunity is to miss the chance to really get close to a group of people,” says Davis. “You gain a lot of mutual support; you can share experiences, skills and talents.”
“There is individual development and growth, and community development and growth,” says Sherry Hulbert of Nubanusit Farm. “Both are important in different ways. In our society, we’re imbalanced: lots of individual, very little community.”
So why do most of us choose to live in relative isolation? Why are so many of us “Bowling Alone,” to borrow the title of Robert Putnam’s book on the decline of community? Lew Feldstein of NHCF cites several causes: More time at work, and more two-career couples. And more time on the go. “For every ten additional minutes of commuting time, our community engagement drops by ten percent.”
And then there’s home entertainment. “Time spent watching TV is inversely proportional to community involvement,” says Feldstein. He jokingly suggests a TV buy-back program to counter the stay-at-home trend.
Community life takes time and effort; it requires a degree of sacrifice, of accommodation to the beliefs and wishes of others. But it is key for a healthy society. Feldstein argues that the loss of community is affecting New Hampshire, because of its dependence on local government and volunteerism. The “Live Free or Die” state cannot survive on rugged individualism alone; it only works if community life is strong. In its absence, New Hampshire may turn into a different and less distinctive place.
In this age of the individual, some still choose the benefits and limitations of community life. It comes in all shapes and sizes, from the self-imposed isolation of the Tribe of Dirt to the upscale abundance of Eastman; from the religious faith of the Shakers to the ecological commitment of Cold Pond; from the lifelong commitment of the La Salettes to the fluidity of the Anthroposophists. Even if you don’t decide to head for the woods and join the Tribe of Dirt, you might consider taking a page from their playbook. Get to know your neighbors a little better. Take part in community activities. Go to town meeting. Make an investment in social capital, and you might just find a new sense of health and fulfillment. And New Hampshire will be a little better place. NH
E Pluribus Granitus, By Jack Kenny
The Granite State is too cold to be a melting pot, so the different species of folks who live here co-exist peacefully (if not quietly) but tend to stay just like they are. A well-known curmudgeon commentator (which, in New Hampshire, is a species unto itself) offers the following definitions of a few of the basic types of Granite Staters.
The Cranky Yankee is a remarkably durable soul who flourishes in all kinds of severe weather and terrain. This chip off the ol’ block o’ granite can stand some things, but not many. He thinks it’s bad enough that people move here from Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island and other ungodly places full of people with strange-sounding names. What bugs him most about these foreigners, however, is that after they’ve been here 20 or 30 years, some o’ these durn fools start to thinkin’ they belong here. The Cranky Yankee knows that none of us belongs anywhere but for the grace of God, according to whose tender mercy and omniscient benevolence, most of us are damned to Hell anyway. So the foreigners may as well stay in Massachusetts and get used to it.
Don’t be fooled, by the way, by the masculine pronoun. The Cranky Yankee doesn’t have much use for political correctness, but the ol’ boy can be an ol’ gal, too. In fact our most popular scenic highway was named for a Cranky Yankee called Moody Margaret, which is why it’s called the Cranky Maggie Highway, which the foreigners mispronounce all the time.
Now your Back to Earthers are a vanishing breed, which used to be found mainly in the western part of the state, near Vermont, the upside down, Bass-ackwards state with a socialist congressman, an independent U.S. Senator named Jeffords and a Cranky Yankee of their own named Leahy — a fair-minded Irishman who doesn’t like anybody very much. Vermont still has more cows than New Hampshire, mainly because they have one whenever someone mentions the possibility of a Wal-Mart coming to the Northeast Kingdom.
New Hampshire used to have some of those goat-milk loving, crunchy granola types livin’ off the land o’ Cow Hampshuh, but reality has pretty well caught up with and overtaken them. “A lot of them have gone on to be successful business men and women,” says New Hampshire Commissioner of Agriculture Steve Taylor, a native of New Hampshuh who’s just too damn cheerful to be a Cranky Yankee. “I think they’ve faded into normalcy.”
Flatlanders are the newcomers who really don’t approve of the people and the customs they have found here, but have moved in on us, anyway. They disapprove of hunting, except maybe for the bow-and-arrow kind, and don’t like guns in general. They think it’s vulgar of people to cut their own wood. They tend to freak out in three inches of snow. (Some of them are working the weather center at WMUR-TV, Channel 9. But you’ve probably noticed that already.)
Massholes are Flatlanders with an Attitude. They tend to like the Boston Globe and other Bay State things, like smart-ass columnists who think New Hampshire folk are so dumb it takes us two hours to watch “60 Minutes” (a classic Mike Barnicle line). They like to believe they left civilization and culture behind in Boston and are at the far end of the universe when they are in New Hampshuh. The only culture here, they insist, is in the yogurt. They are still proud of being the only state that voted for George McGovern and think that it’s a compliment when you call their native state the “People’s Republic.”
Then there are those hard-to-define folk who might be called Everyone Else. They come here from all over the place and some of them even think New Hampshire is a good place to retire, believing perhaps that this is Florida with snow. Some of them actually have winter homes in Florida, but like the Granite State because it has no sales or income tax and if you buy up enough land here, you can put it in current use and keep your property taxes low, too. In this respect, they resemble the Cranky Yankees, but they’re not cranky enough and they’ll never “Speak New Hampshuh like a Native” — no matter how many Fritz Wetherbee books and tapes they buy. NH
Puzzle me This
The puzzle used to illustrate this story is a one-of-a-kind, hand-cut wooden puzzle created by David Beffa-Negrini of Fool’s Gold in Harrisville (www.foolsgoldpuzzles.com). Along with creating mind-boggling 250-piece puzzles with irregular edges and double-cut (cloned) pieces, Beffa-Negrini makes more gentle puzzles using art or sentimental images that are perfect gifts. You can enter to win the puzzle on page 48 by composing a short essay (less than 200 words) with the title “The Community Puzzle” and sending it to email@example.com. The best essay will be published in this magazine and we’ll send the puzzle to the writer. Submissions must be received by Dec. 16.
About the Artist
The painting on our featured puzzle is by Sieglinde (Sissi) Shattuck, a native of Austria who received her training at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna. It is one of four panels she created to document the beauty and life of the town of Hillsborough, where she now resides. The prints were shown during the VIP Ausland Niederösterrreicher Treffen 2006 in St. Pölten, Austria, where they were very well received and praised for showing “the other United States” that is less known abroad.
Animist Dawn Survival Community, Hillsborough (Forming)
Founded by a Passamaquoddy Indian, the community consists of one man, one woman and three children. The community is polygamous and seeks more women who wish to be part of the family.
Cold Pond Community Land Trust, Acworth
A reserve of 275 acres for low to middle income families who wish to derive a livelihood from farming in a community setting. Population is currently around 20 adults and children.
D Acres of New Hampshire Dorchester
An idealistic organic farm and homestead with a vision to produce a simple yet comfortable standard of living involving conservation and reduced fossil fuel consumption. Six adults and open to more.
Dancing Bones, Wentworth
Small cabins and sustainable life in harmony with the Earth on a 40-acre land trust. Ten members and open to all ages and genders.
MorningSun Community Temple (Forming)
Planning to be an educational center and residential community developing the practice of mindfulness and sustainable living to address the needs of society and the world.
Namasté Greenfire Center Barnstead (Forming)
Freethinkers and activists are welcome to a spiritually focused circle seeking empowerment, personal transformation and cultural evolution. Six adults and one child, open to new members.
Nubanusit Neighborhood and Farm Steele Road, Peterborough (Forming)
Co-housing project of 29 environmentally designed homes, a Common House, office space, a working farm and woodlands with walking trails on 113 acres.
Pinnacle Project Lyme (Forming)
Multi-age intentional neighborhood, rural setting but 10 miles from Dartmouth College. Sixteen year-round living suites in a common house and 20 rustic cabins on 120 acres.
Tribe of Dirt (town not given) (Forming)
A tribal vision of a heroic extended family living and adapting together to create a legacy of cradle-to-grave security for future generations. Especially seeking committed couples with children.
Twelve Tribes Community in Lancaster
This local outpost of an international community seeks to “love one another and care for each other’s needs the same way that Yahshua, the Son of God, did when he walked the earth.” The 80 members, young and old, are key members of the local community as well, operating successful businesses in the town of Lancaster.
Descriptions above are based upon information that appears on the Fellowship for Intentional Communities site (directory.ic.org), which also details such social factors as underlying philosophies and decision-making processes of each community, diet restrictions, labor contributions required and openness to new members.
In the 1970s they were called communes, and they popped up and then faded as fast as dandelions. But the concept of the small intentional community has never really faded from the scene. The Missouri-based Fellowship for Intentional Communities lists 13 classic communitarian groups, either established or forming (or defunct) in New Hampshire. Some, like the Animist Dawn Survival Community or the Tribe of Dirt, are essentially just idealistic families, willing to extend themselves by sharing their resources and their peculiar visions with others. Others, like the Twelve Tribes (based in Lancaster but with dozens of other locations in the U.S. and overseas), are well established and successful, with clearly defined social order and productive industry to preserve a common quality of life for the members of the group. All represent the desire to distinguish themselves from the modern world by redefining the nature of community based upon common ethics or beliefs.