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July 24, 2009

This Wonderful Life: Forget the Village; Maybe It Just Takes a Big Family


If you visit the Fenimore Art Museum, take a stroll across the lawn toward the lake. Walk down a path that slips between tall, green bushes and vines, and down by the shore, you’ll find the museum’s reproduction of an Iroquois longhouse. To most modern sensibilities, it most resembles a military barracks, with sleeping quarters lining the walls and a long corridor running the length. That is where the similarities end. The Iroquois lived in groups of 20-plus people in these longhouses. Central fire pits kept them warm. During the days, the women worked together to farm the fields, care for the children and keep the household running. The men worked together to gather and hunt. They had no concept of land as a commodity, the way Europeans did (and we do). The Iroquois didn’t invent the longhouse, a living arrangement that archeologists and anthropologists say go back 6,000 or 7,000 years. Neolithic inhabitants of Europe built them. Vikings and Scandinavians who lived in the countryside built them. People living in various corners of Asia built them. When you look at the history we have of living that way, it seems like a brief experiment to keep one house for every nuclear family, a practice that goes back just a couple hundred years; only about 150 years the way we do it now. It almost seems downright wasteful. Think of all that human labor that goes into keeping all these individual houses running. Beyond the efficiency issue, think of how differently we might behave toward each other if our definitions of family were more expansive. Think of how much more compassionate, forgiving and generous we might be. Think of what it might feel like to be on the receiving end of that kind of compassion, forgiveness and generosity. The only problem, as I see it, is the line to get into the shower every morning. Elizabeth Trever Buchinger was conceived in August of the “Summer of Love;” can you tell? You can connect with her at www. moremindfulfamily.wordpress. com.

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