The Crooked Lake Review

Winter 2005

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The Heart of the Matter


Stephen Lewandowski

Probably you remember having heard that "Ontogeny recapitulates Phylogeny," though the sense of the saying might escape you. In biology, it means that the developing young of a species passes through all the life forms and stages that cumulatively led to the development of that species. I remember it in practical terms: the human fetus passes through a stage in which it is like nothing so much as a tadpole.

Neurologists see this theory played out in the human brain, where nothing is discarded but earlier types of brain material are overlaid with later ones. They speculate that the human brain is draped over the primate brain which, at its core, houses a reptilian brain handling the functions of food, flight and sex.

In the process of working on my village's master plan, I've come to see human communities this way as well. The oldest band of settlers, those who walked in from Massachusetts in the dead of winter and hiked down a frozen lake to the town they'd puchased sight unseen, are buried in the pioneer cemetery, but they're also ensconced in the foundations of the village itself. It may be that we've paved them over with modern amenities, but they still rumble about down below, and we catch a glimpse of them from time to time, out of the corners of our eyes.

We hired a professional engineering firm for the planning job, and they assigned us a pleasant young woman with a background in planning. She helped us to survey the opinions of the residents and to work in focus groups. She mined the demographic data gathered by other agencies and provided us with examples from other communities engaged in the same process.

Finally, however, the document presented to us lacks any sense of depth, history, community and feeling. It is the construct of bright minds considering strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats through a predominately economic lens. Superficial in the extreme and perhaps by plan, it deals in generalities. Its weaknesses are glaringly displayed in considering one village institution in depth, a store that the plan characterizes as "a small apparel store."

The Sutton Spoon Company store has been located in the precise center of the village for over a hundred years, right next door to the library and directly across Main Street from the hotel. It started life as a jewelry store whose owner made fishing spoons as a sideline. The fishing spoon business flourished to the extent that jewelry disappeared from the store. Though the store now appears undistinguished and old-fashioned from the outside, one should consider its continued existence, more that a hundred years after its founding. Why has it remained vital while its cohort of retail shops has withered and died?

Sutton Spoon exists today because the underpinnings of the Village remain sound, active and vital. It would be hard to overstate the importance of hunting and fishing to the village, and Sutton Spoon supplies the necessities of fishing tackle, maps, bait, ammunition, and outdoor clothing. Our seasonal festivals bring large amounts of cash to the village, and their flash (and traffic) is hard to miss; but the Opening Days of hunting and fishing seasons pack a greater social and ecomonic punch in the community.

Hunting parties often stay for a week in hillside cabins, appearing in the village for all kinds of fuel, provisions, accessories and entertainment. Hunting clothes and waders are perfectly normal costumes in season. Stuffed trophy fishes are displayed over the bars and in store wiindows, and backyard trees are festooned with hanging, slaughtered deer. Older children regularly skip school without excuse to hunt and fish on Opening Days. Local businesses plan around employee absences on Opening Weeks.

Much is made of grapes and wine in our village, and they have their own celebration. Though there was an earlier winery in the village (the building now houses a woodworking business), the major winery founders didn't arrive until the late 1880s. Grapes were introduced as a crop in the area in the 1840s but were not planted in Naples until the 1860s. The local hunting and fishing tradition far pre-dates agricultural innovations, extending thousands of years into the past as practiced by the people later known as the Seneca. It continues to exert a powerful influence on the village and is its authentic heritage.

When winter comes in the marshes by the lake north of town, the old lunker snapping turtles ease down in the mud, scoop out a place, and sleep through the cold season.They rest so perfectly immobile that moss and algae grow over their carapace like hair. Their cold, reptilian hearts slow to a few beats.

When springtime sun warms the streambanks, they struggle out, their pace increasing as they thaw, though never reaching more than a lumber. They resent being encouraged to move faster, to the extent that they'd rather fight in the road than be prodded in any particular direction.

Sutton Spoon is best known in the Naples community for the little hand-written sign they tape on the door every morning and afternoon. It says, "Gone for coffee. Back in five minutes."

© 2005, Stephen Lewandowski
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