Not infrequently I’m asked a tactful version of “What the hell were you thinking?” I’ll often ask myself the same. I thought that (some might say too late to perform any good) both during and after the recent piece around communities along the North Shore. It is a silly thing to try defining the nature or character of a local community. We feel or recognize differences from one place to another, but what exactly is it that’s felt and is it legitimate? I’ll give an example from a person who stayed at my guest cabin. They commented to the effect that they knew Grand Marais by its artists and art colony. But added they also knew it for its number of influential or well-known lesbians. Whether one or both observations are correct is arguable. Though the view is from one individual the artsy side contention is probably clear enough to pass exam. If the other assertion is also correct is more debatable but one thing certain. True or not you’ll not find lesbian brought to highlight in any community promotion.

Community is what a Chamber of Commerce says it is. It is what an outsider sees. It is what those who live there think it is. It is what some hope it to be. The same place, community, is seen from differing points of view. For convenience we often generalize. It’s a safe generality to say Silver Bay is more industrial than Grand Marais or the Grand Portage Casino is the economic giant in Cook County. General truth doesn’t limit Grand Portage to being a casino any more than it is limited to being a historic or native location. It’s all that and a good deal more, but some elements or features will stand taller if not in all views at least for many. I think it’s a good thing to look at community with attempted understanding. That seems to be a deal more constructive than saying such and such a place stinks because it’s full of rednecks. A neck gets red from work outdoors; that is until someone turns the observation into a judgmental slur. What would make a redneck objectionable and a blackjack dealer acceptable other than an individual’s decision to set a role or label above the humanity of the person being described?

If you begin to listen for it you’ll hear people high and low, important and non, influential and incidental play fast and loose as any card shark dealer tossing around shuffled words with their meanings blurred as the buzz of the shuffle. What makes a statement true or accurate? If I don’t like hearing something does that make the something wrong? Words or ideas I don’t necessarily like are not then made wrong because I don’t like them. Subjectivity is vulnerable to whim and as likely to be marred by biased interpretation as is any other point of view. Yelling about it and demanding acceptance are flaws. When substance is wanting in an argument there is always screaming and slandering to take up the slack. What does any of this mean here and now? My meaning is to say I don’t have a definitive grasp of any community but I can offer what is observed or what I’m told as observation. Fair enough? It’s examination not the creation of new gospel.

But then sometimes fate steps forward with a thing curious. From a recently released survey on use of a public property in one North Shore community we have this. 58 of 92 said no safety measures were needed. 70 of 97 said no access trail should be made. 37 of 53 said one ADA parking spot and 2 regular was enough. 63 of 98 wanted no picnic table for users. 63 of 100 wanted no repairs made. 60 of 95 wished no historical or cultural info be available on the site. This seems a “leave it alone” or “forget about it” approach to a public space. It’s clearly puzzling, then, why 37 (an easy majority) of 53 would want a handicapped parking spot at all in a place where most replies to other questions showed the majority did not want anything done including safety measures. Not that it matters as a wheelchair can’t get through the pile of boulders blocking the way. But it’s interesting that where there is an existing boat launch and parking for vehicles and boat trailers the majority view is only three should be allowed to park at that public property.

If there’s insight into the community view in the survey it shows up some in comments that separate wheat from chaff. In differing ways the expression was made that the property belongs to the locals who use it and any accommodation for outside users was unwelcome. The property is almost on Highway 61, but if outsiders were to use it they would bring traffic, garbage, and more than the eighteen wheelers going by. A distinction between local community and outsider is fairly clear; the one being worthy and the other objectionable. Of course the outsider should continue to bring money into the area, but then not hang around or expect too much. By majority voice a community can define itself as expressions of its wishes and views. We tend to honor the concept of community, but a community does not have to be open and welcoming. It can put up mental walls or set barriers to keep the undesired away.

I have to add that I believe such separation can be done in the name of diversity and is not limited to any size community. The strength of diversity can be exclusionary as when a big place like London tells President Trump he’s unwelcome. It’s their right to take a stand and really I quite applaud diversity that has limits. To such I have high hope that they will craft a new form of freedom based on either its limitation or its adherence to a strict code of conduct. Despite there being any resemblance this new freedom should not be confused with the old tyranny.