The following text has been altered where it was unbearably condescending, sexist, etc. (the original is available here.)
“Let us go back four hundred years and enter the thick woods of Canada and New York. Let us look once again upon the broad, majestic rivers, the clear streams, the boiling rapids, the foaming cataracts, the crystal lakes, all before the colonizers had defiled them with their blighting touch. Let us gaze upon the forests, broad, dense, gloomy. We shall hear the winter stream roaring through the branches of the great trees and see the North Wind rend and break them in his wrath. We shall see the thick blanket of snow spread down over the world by Winter. And when spring comes we shall see this scene change within a month. The snows melt, the ice disappears, the North Wind returns to his lair. Leaves spring from every bough; ducks, geese, swans, gulls, pelicans and other water-fowl swim, soar, wade and scream. The silver side of the trout flashes as he leaps above the waters now released from their icy fetters. The wolf prowls, and the panther screams to his fellows. The heavy bear lumbers clumsily through the woods and startles the light and graceful deer. Insects hum and whiz and drone. Spring melts into the full and fruitful summer. The oak, the hickory, the hazel, the beech, the walnut, the wild vine, weight their branches with fruit to be ripened by the mellow rays of the hazy sun of the voluptuous autumn.
And what of people? We are here. See that village by the sparkling lake where the blue hills descend gently to the pebbly beach. And another, and still another beyond. They have an expressive and strong language, pagan religious beliefs and complex social systems and political institutions (clans, tribes, rules of order). They cultivate the corn plant, and have domesticated a species of dog. They have become proficient in the cultivation and curing of tobacco, and in the barter of it to surrounding tribes that have come to depend upon them for this luxury and blessing. They long since began to take note of things about them. They have sought to account for all the phenomena of the heavens and the earth.”
This is the world of the Great Lakes basin before settlers illegally occupied it, mainly following the defeat of the British and Indians in the War of 1812. (Truthfully, I’m not sure how far West of the sea those pelicans ranged. The author is really writing about New York and Ontario, not Michigan.) The Wyandot villagers there were no Noble Savages, being known to kidnap women and children into their clans and torture captured warriors to death.
Nonetheless, their world was dramatically more beautiful than the Grid of roads, lawns, square buildings and parking lots which most Michiganders live upon now. Their society was easier to live with than the British-derived settler culture, as related by observer Benjamin Franklin: “When an Indian child has been brought up among us, taught our language and habituated to our customs, yet if he goes to see his relations and makes one Indian Ramble with them, there is no perswading him ever to return. And that this is not natural [only to Indians], but as men, is plain from this, that when white persons of either sex have been taken prisoners young by the Indians, and lived awhile among them, tho’ ransomed by their Friends, and treated with all imaginable tenderness to prevail with them to stay among the English, yet within a Short time they become disgusted with our manner of Life, and the care and pains that are necessary to support it, and take the first good Opportunity of escaping again into the Woods…” (more Franklin here.)
Today, we live in a society that claims “no parent should ever have to bury a child,” and we live with higher rates of depression and anxiety than the Third World poor. In other words, we live with more fear and hopelessness than people who can expect to lose about half of their children. Many commentators believe this is because our communities are so weak or superficial — far debased from what they were in Franklin’s day. In place of conversation we have schooling, television, and, uh, social media.
In what sense has society progressed?
Do you really identify with English culture, or are you ready to run off into the woods?