The Long Way Home 8.4.23

Defining the culture of the community you live in should be easy. 

A Twin Cities-based reporter put me on the spot recently with his question, “What is the culture of Grand Marais?” I immediately felt like Jackie Gleason doing the “hummina, hummina, hummina” bit.

The reporter who put me on the spot is working on an in-depth article for an online magazine about the killing of Larry Scully by Levi Axtell last March. The crime shocked the small Cook County Community and received international press coverage. 

Those of us who don’t like people prying into our lives didn’t appreciate the media coverage of this incident. And now that I think about it, that dislike of prying people is a fundamental part of the Grand Marais culture. It is fundamental to the culture of every community and organization where people gather.

I don’t think the answer I ultimately gave the reporter indicated that privacy is a cultural value here. If my interview makes it into the final story, I’ll know for sure. 

But the quite popular “live and let live” philosophy is a part of the history and current culture found in Grand Marais and Cook County. 

We like to think of ourselves as rugged individualists who come together to help each other in crises. We like the status quo and tend to oppose what some call progress. We like the simple and don’t like when matters are complicated by the powers that be. 

We say, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” And if it is broken, “Let’s just wait a while and fix it when we really have to.”We don’t want to be troubled by the bad behavior of our neighbors as long as we can just ignore it. And we sure don’t want the outside world to think poorly of us when that bad behavior gets out of hand. 

So we often get as angry with “the media” that report the bad behavior as we do the perpetrators.

The reporter I spoke with wondered if vigilanteism is in the culture of Cook County and was partly to blame for the crime that happened that March afternoon. Much of the reporting following Axtell’s action made it seem like the murder resulted from vigilante justice. For Axtell, it may have been. But the community where I live doesn’t condone people violating the law to settle grievances. 

On the other hand, the live-and-let-live culture often leaves problems unresolved and festering for way too long.  

A healthy live-and-let-live philosophy encourages folks to be tolerant and understanding of others. It helps create a community where everyone is accepted and respected, regardless of background or beliefs. 

An unhealthy one encourages intolerance, ignorance of others, and sometimes violence.

I’m glad this reporter reached out to me about the Scully murder and got me thinking, maybe for the first time, about the culture of the community we’ve chosen for retirement. I’m convinced the live-and-let-live philosophy here is mostly healthy.

It is a diverse community in almost all the definitions of that term. And it is made up of people. 

The geography here is unique. Nothing about it is the same as a Mississippi River town or a desert oasis. But the people are the same everywhere I’ve lived. The culture of each community is strikingly similar. 

We all have much more in common than we are sometimes hesitant to admit.