I have moved. Again! My friends say.
Yes, I have moved many times during my years in America, mainly from coast to coast and back again, except for many months once in the Upper Midwest, more precisely in Minnesota, when I researched my book about the Scandinavian immigrants’ role and influence on Minnesota politics.
Now, after many years in Maryland just outside Washington, DC, and after a year and a half in Los Angeles, my new home is the little town of Great Barrington in the Berkshires in western Massachusetts, in New England, America’s northeast corner, up towards Canada.
Moving is part of being American. People move for many reasons; one is politics, maybe more so today than ever in this politically divided nation. Politics played a role when my wife and I decided to move to Massachusetts. It mattered that this is a blue state, just like Maryland, although both have Republican governors, and just like solidly Democratic Los Angeles. Our congressmen, whose names and political ideology have become more important since we became U.S. citizens with the right to vote, have come to reflect our politics — in Maryland’s Montgomery County through the leading progressive Jamie Raskin; in Los Angeles, through Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee after the sweeping democratic election victory in 2018; and here in the Berkshires, through Richard Neal, for whom the election thrust him into the chairmanship of the important Ways and Means Committee and a leading role in the fight to obtain Donald Trump’s tax returns.
The Berkshires is not an economically rich area with a median house hold in come of $39,000 per year. It’s rural, but unlike many other rural areas around America, its 131,000 residents are Democrats — Hillary Clinton captured over 67 percent of the vote here in the 2016. But, also here, Donald Trump is ever present, well covered in the excellent local paper, the Berkshire Eagle, and dinner conversations, just like elsewhere in this country, are often dominated by the man in the White House. The fact that Massachusetts has three presidential candidates, two Democrats – senator Elizabeth Warren and congressman Seth Moulton — and one Republican, former governor William Weld, has contributed to the heightened political debate in the Berkshires and in the state as a whole. No other state disapproves as much of Trump as Massachusetts, so it’s really no wonder that his only, at least so far, challenger for the Republican nomination has come from here.
In Great Barrington this time of the year, as in all the little towns among the rolling hills of the Berkshires, the residents have gathered to debate and vote on local issues in a sort of unique direct democracy. At my first Annual Town Meeting the residents filled the local high school’s auditorium in an impressive showing of political participation. Still, the 468 who came was only a small percentage of the town’s 4,746 registered voters of whom 1,235, or 26 percent, actually voted in the local office elections a week later. Not so impressive…
The local issues even required an extra evening of debate to resolve. They included the town’s budget, schools and libraries, roads and bridges, and many zoning issues. We gave the town’s middle school a new name, W.E.B. Du Bois, after the legendary African American scholar and civil rights leaders, who was born and raised here; we upheld a ban for the second time on small plastic bottles; and we debated, just like all the other Berkshire towns the issue of pot – marijuana – now legal in Massachusetts.
We already have a shop that sells recreational marijuana and most days, actually every day, there is a long line of buyers, many from neighboring New York and Connecticut, where pot is not, at least not yet, legal. Four more shops have been approved and are set to open. A possible new, big marijuana growing facility is being discussed up the road. Other surrounding towns have turned out to be more skeptical and have voted no to any pot businesses. Now, the residents of Great Barrington seem to be getting a bit nervous and, maybe, we should limit the number of marijuana establishments? Let’s look into that, the Town Meeting decided.
This is the first time I live in a small town. It’s exciting, in a low-key kind of way. Spring is finally here, with lush, green leaves on the trees in our back yard down to the quick little river that flows by. Winter, to which I should be used after growing up in Sweden, was a bit rougher than I had anticipated, especially after the previous so-called winter in Los Angeles.
And summer is rapidly approaching, with all of Berkshires cultural attractions waiting: the Boston Symphony at Tanglewood; art exhibits and concerts at MASS MoCA celebrating its 20th anniversary with Annie Lennox; August Renoir will be at the Clark Institute; the Norman Rockwell Museum turns 50; Herman Melville turns 200. There are exciting new plays at Shakespeare & Company and Barrington Stage; bluesman Buddy Guy is coming to town, and Arlo Guthrie is at his Guthrie Center at the Old Trinity Church, of Alice’s Restaurant fame, just across the street from our new home; and on and on…
It’s almost exhausting. And if the weather holds and you want to get away from it all, it’s easy to go hiking or swimming or canoeing or just sit by the river and listen to the water flowing by, quickly.