Up the North Shore the past weekend it could appear a riot (an orderly one with no cars tipped over and set afire) by the numbers of people on the march and streets blocked off. Balmy heat made the 2016 Fisherman’s Picnic a prize winning whopper in the Biggest Fisherman’s Picnic contest. The town was full up with visitors ready to try a fish burger (for some a definitely acquired taste) or snap up their share of fine offerings we’ve brought in special for them all the way from China. (The Chinese, I must say, are more-quality in performance, but it took more than a decade for them to gain Carte Blanche acceptance.) I hear that overall it was a good Picnic. I take the word of others because I stay as far from the aggravating throng as I’m able, this is because being eccentric and difficult doesn’t mean I’m nuts enough to find pleasure of place in a parade of folk in visitor garb. The official Parade is on Sunday, but there is a spectacle of bodies the entire time before.
Fisherman’s Picnic predates the tourism or visitor boom. The end of July and first part of August were slack times for commercial fishing and the other prime occupation when the Picnic began eight decades past, logging. The local fishermen and timbermen, primarily Scandinavian, had a shared passion some might find surprising for Norse, Viking types. They loved America’s great sport, Baseball. Baseball is not what it once was on the American scene, but it is still followed and played by many Americans in much the same way hockey is the traditional Canadian sport. You have to wonder how good guys who choked herring or felled trees were at either batting or fielding. These seem unlikely skills for either group. Maybe it was the sons of fishermen and loggers who did most of the play while the oldsters enjoyed the game on the sidelines in their own way, with beer. Come to think of it, the old Fisherman’s Picnics may have been organized around sport watching while beer drinking. Baseball and beer, these are two things sure to please either logger or fisherman. I suspect when it came to beer being Lutheran played a part because a Baptist or Methodist would have to decline that part of the celebration, at least in sight of wives, progeny, and pastor.
Of course, times change. The Picnic is no longer a one day event leading to an afternoon of baseball culminating in fist fights (some blamed the beer) over who cheated and who won “fair and square.” Times were simpler. Sunday morning after Picnic was known for quieter hymns, a churchgoing concession to the previous day. On the Baptist and Methodist sides, however, the congregations belted out their loudest and best. If you were going to sin you were going to pay. The scales of moral weight and of justice were never idle then or now. A day of abandon at Picnic is paid for by days of work. The more fun a body had the greater the sum they had to fork over to pay the piper. At pennies per pound it took a lot of dressed out herring to meet the expense of Picnic day. For the participants then it was worth it. If you eye most picnickers today you’d strain to see skin weather-beaten to leather or hands large as dinner plates with digits gnarled from pulling net from Superior’s deep. It’s one thing to waddle round these days with fish burger in one paw and a shopping bag in the other than in the past when Picnic Day was not for shopping and you or your neighbor caught the fish being prepared at the community spread where Fisherman, Logger, or Town’s Person brought something to the table. At one time the term community meant something other than a public works project. Spending our way to prosperity is presumed an easier, better way to community, but the result is a community of paid interests with hands out looking for more prosperity. It is community without the communal effort and meal. In older days community required effort, at times as much to bring differing ethnic and religious views together. If your language wasn’t like theirs or your region had been repeatedly invaded by others you might not trust right away.
Trust is a funny thing. We trust that if we get on a bus or drive through a tunnel there will not be someone so “different” they believe their god wants them to blow it up in order to show us who is in the right. A difference in language or whether or not it’s OK to have a beer or play cards is a simpler gap to bridge than one where your disagreement or “otherness” is so offensive to someone they feel obligated to destroy you over it. It is damned difficult to carve out trust if a view segregates itself and insists on the right to be hostile unless agreed with. As damaging (or in my view worse) for trust is one party agreeing to cooperate (love and cherish) but not meaning a word of it except as serves their own purpose. Community means having something in common that rises above the content of a shopping bag of stuff.
In his Second Inaugural Address five weeks before assassination Lincoln spoke “With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive to finish the work we are in”. Lincoln’s generous words assume, however, agreement by all to abandon any right by one person to own another. Short of such agreement there’d be only contention and hostility in a house divided. If any group or persuasion clings to belief their color, origin, language, or worship is privileged and puts others in a lower standing then, as in slavery, any compact or accord is broken. To remain free, Freedom must oppose those standing eager and ready to impose.