Conflicting Survival Strategies in early Quebec

(More reflections on colonization in Quebec, jumping off from the book Helene’s World.)  Author Susan McNelley writes:

Summer days for the French settlers were long and filled with hard work. This was not the case for the indigenous people. Life was much less demanding in the summer. Fish, fowl, and small game were readily available in the river and nearby forest. The indigenous peoples along the St. Lawrence didn’t worry about storing food to last the winter. To the consternation of their French neighbors, the natives spent much of their time sleeping and socializing with their friends. There were games, story-telling, feasting and opportunities for young people to meet and court.  Summer was a time of replenishment and fortification for the rigors of winter.

A common factor for both Montagnais/Innu people and French settlers in early Quebec was surviving the long hard winter.  But they had quite different strategies for doing that. The French worked very hard in the summer to clear fields, and plant and harvest crops. Bread was their primary food. They were agricultural people, and in the early years were also reliant on ships arriving in summer with new supplies, to replenish their stores of wine and oil and spices and grains. They preserved food and stored it for surviving the long winter. Winter included much less activity, so in some ways it was an easier time, but they were on their own, and their strategy for survival was to carefully ration what food they had among the people in their families.

For the Montagnais, on the other hand, summer was the easy time–they camped by the river, fished & hunted, gathered fruits and nuts, feasted and celebrated with each other, and generally felt a sense of abundance in all sorts of food. As the fall came, they caught and dried eel, and then they left the summer encampment and began to hunt small game in the nearby woods. In winter, they traveled in small family groups into the interior, where they relied on heavy snow cover to slow down the big game: moose, caribou, deer, and bear. When they were successful in the hunt, they shared their feast with nearby families.

hiver_transports_11Susan McNelley describes a winter incident recounted by Champlain when some of the Montagnais/Innu came to the early French settlement, because they were starving, and asked for food.

Although the French did try to be generous, they rationed the distribution of provisions to the aborigines out of necessity. Otherwise, the food would not have lasted a month.

The French believed that the Innu were irresponsible because they didn’t store food, and because when they acquired food in the hunt, they ate all of it, or shared with their neighbors.  But if you are traveling to follow big game, it wouldn’t be practical to carry large quantities of preserved food.  It would be practical to share the abundance that came sporadically depending on who had a good hunt.  Reading between the lines of this incident, I could imagine the Innu noticing that the French had food while they had none, and expecting, according to their own values, that of course the French would be willing to share with them. Their strategy for survival was sharing what became available, as it became available. The French strategy was about storing up and rationing.

And isn’t that just like capitalism, really, and how our modern mainstream society works.  “Save what you don’t need now, to use later. Try to accumulate as much as possible. That is the definition of wealth.”  (But perhaps rampant consumerism and planned obsolescence have superseded that model too.  Some things to think about.)

I feel the pressure of this time of year to preserve what we can from our garden, small as it is–making pesto from basil and chives and parsley, freezing kale, drying herbs–in our own way getting ready for the long Maine winters. We certainly wouldn’t know how to survive on our own, without being able to go to the Food Coop or grocery store. So perhaps both the French settlers and the Innu had better survival skills than we have now.Kale

 

Still Angry

Last week, we got our first electricity bill with a full month of solar energy production on our roof.  I was excitedly looking forward to a bill in which our production exceeded our consumption, and so we had nothing to pay at all.  Zero for electricity!  Well it turns out, that can’t happen in Maine.  Apparently, in the not so distant past they changed the structure of delivery rate payments so that anything less than or up to 50 kWh is billed at a set rate.  So no matter how little we use, I realized, we would always have to pay $11.51 per month.

But then, the very next day I read in the paper that rates were going up July 1st–but I couldn’t find the details anywhere until today–so now the basic delivery rate will be $12.88 for up to 50 kWh. (By the way, that would be .2576 per kWh if you used those 50.) The delivery rate for over 50 is going from .06302 to .066541.  This is in addition to the actual energy charge, which for us with CMP standard offer is an additional .064430 per kWh.

I wouldn’t be so angry if I hadn’t spent a day at the state house at the end of April listening to conservatives arguing that solar customers were getting a free ride and being subsidized by all other customers.  Here’s the thing I was thinking that day, assuming that we did have true net metering–where we only paid for the balance between what we generated and what we used–solar customers benefit the whole grid because we are adding energy to the grid during its highest use demands–summertime in the heat of the day.

And this is our earth we are talking about–we should be creating policies that encourage more and more renewal energy usage, or we won’t have a planet that can support human life anymore. Human life, anyone?  At this point in Maine, only on the hottest summer days do we even reach 1% of the total energy used being solar energy. Shouldn’t we be talking about how to increase that to 50%?  Not castigating those of us who have worked so hard to make a change, by calling us “elite” and acting like we are a drain on the rest of the customers?

Margy and I just spent a lot of money because we really care about the earth. It was almost impossible for us to do–we had to move to a new house and downsize our living situation to be able to afford the investment. But we really really care about the future of the earth. And we also hoped that as we grew older and had less financial resources, this would help us to get by.

But now I know that even if we use no energy at all from the grid, we must still pay 12.88 per month, to be able to be tied into the grid. And I understand that if everyone had solar panels tied to the grid (wouldn’t that be our dream future?) we collectively would have to find a way to maintain and support the infrastructure of the grid. But the attitudes of certain politicians in Maine are downright punitive towards solar customers.  While I was web surfing trying to find the new rates, I discovered that two years ago, they were trying to add a $25 monthly surcharge for solar customers.  It didn’t succeed that time, but everything will be reviewed again this coming year. Oh, and by the way, CMP is owned by the Spanish multinational corporation Iberdrola. So isn’t that the real issue–the privatization of public utilities and profits for the shareholders?

I am dealing with a bit of reality shock about all this–after the initial excitement about going for solar, I am discovering just how much of a battle is involved on so many fronts.  It caught me off guard. I called our solar installer and he apologized for this not being clearer up front–he thought he had explained it before. But I am curious–to those of you with solar in other states:  do you have any zero bills? How does it work where you live?

CMP Bill 0630161004

Compete or Connect?

Monopoly BoardWhen I was ten, my younger sisters and I all got chicken-pox at the same time. My mom helped to keep us entertained at home by playing with us the board game Monopoly. My sister Nita and I were great little capitalists, and played the game to win. We would try to get as many properties and houses and hotels as we could, so we could charge huge rents when the other players landed on our spots. The goal was to bankrupt the other players until one of us was the last player in the game.

But my mom and my sister Vonnie had a totally different approach. They were tenderhearted, and didn’t want anyone to have to leave the game. So if someone was about to lose all their money, my mom and Vonnie would loan them some of their own Monopoly money to keep them in the game.

I remember this now and think—what a picture in miniature of the conflict of values in our larger society! One message we learn, even as children, is to try to get as much as we can, and try to win out over all the other people. Compete and consume. But my mother was bringing us another value, one that many parents want to teach their children, the value of connection and cooperation. She wanted to keep all of us at the table, so that everyone had a good time while we played our games.

What changes when we wake up to the reality that we are all connected to one another?