Derek Brereton
PhD Student
University of Michigan


Kinship and Landscape at Squam Lake, New Hampshire

The sustainability of the human world relation is a long-term proposition not served by former models of short-term exploitation. Research value thus accrues to instances of people having viable long-term relations with particular places. My work concerns the Squam Lake watershed in New Hampshire, in which many families have stewarded the same properties for six generations. These rustic, unfinished, one season "camps", some of which are still without electricity or running water, have become an organizing principle, beyond blood and marriage, for the families themselves. A complex dynamic has developed whereby camps act as conceptual and behavioral magnets as family members consider and develop their identities, social relations, and environmental responsibilities.

I look at these camps in terms of three interwoven analytical strands:

1) Experimental: as expressions and shapers of personal experience;

2) Social: as vehicles for the organization of the families themselves;

3) Transcendental: as instances of a sustainable mode of human-world relations.

The photos, illustrating these strands in turn, are of one camp built before The Great War. Until after the second war the family's women ran it, with jobs and activities for the children and their cousins. The men commuted to Boston and spend weekends and some extended days at camp. Since the 1970s huge property tax increases, responding to the demand for shorefront property, have forced owners to rent out their camps and place land in conservation. They may now spend only a couple of weeks at their camps each year, making it harder for today's young to develop the place attachment that moved their elders to pay high taxes and practice sound stewardship.

The first photo shows the heart of the home, the mantle area. Though occupied less than the front porch, back kitchen, or side bedrooms, this area is the actual and conceptual center of camp. Pride of place is given to special objects that sustain memories of the camp and excursions from it. Mica brought from the surrounding hills was once intended to form a glistening path to the water to help night boaters find the camp. The path faded into dirt, but a few mica pieces remain on the chimney. One wag placed duck decoys in the mantle as a mock threat to his wildlife loving relatives, a joke which itself distinguishes such families from year rounders, many of who hunt. Large copper kettles on either side normally have flowers in them to brighten the typically gloomy interior. Toy sailboats recall an ancestress that developed area cottage industries during the depression, leading to the present League of New Hampshire Craftsmen. A race held many decades ago with boats like these has been memorialized in wooden bas relief. The kettle in the middle contains matches to light the fire, a moment draws people together in chilly summer nights.