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Squabble Knob

The social science question of which most influences human behavior—nature or nurture—is a fascinating subject. To further cloud the issue, I offer the influence of geography.

In a very broad sense it is easy to understand how geography shaped culture. In Mexico’s high valley and the land between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers the perfect conjunction of land fertility and reliable water created the opportunity for agriculture. It is easy to demonstrate that geographical location influences culture; the Inuit didn’t invent farming, they invented tools for hunting walrus. 

We seem to think that we modern Americans have reached the apex of development and our behavior is shaped by rationality, not our location. I submit that where we live—our habitat—still affects our behavior in subtle ways.

We attended a wonderful outdoor wedding, set in a flower-filled yard with the Cabinets rising beyond the hay field. Large tents provided shade on this particularly hot day. It was catered by Hope’s Floating Restaurant with great music by the Livewires. The groom, born and raised in Heron, has packed a lot of life and made a lot of friends in his 30 years. The bride has a large loving family and many friends from their home in the east attended the affair. Probably about three quarters of the two hundred or so guests were from out of town and obviously enjoying the beautiful rural setting. 

As much as the Washingtonians, Oregonians, and even Missoulians may have been enjoying the day’s festivities in such glorious surroundings, they still carried the tight mistrust that is a result of their habitat. Every out-of-state—even every out-of-county—car parked in the hay field on that hot afternoon had the windows rolled up and were presumably locked. All of the Sanders County cars had windows rolled down and most had the keys in the ignition—in case it had to be moved.

Sure, locking a car is just a little thing, an unconscious good habit.  When your location is filled with untrustworthy strangers, you had better learn to lock your doors and windows. Forming this habit, though, takes a certain mode of thought. And the mode of thought becomes a way of life.

Habitat manipulation of behavior can occur quickly. The country kid who has his 15-speed mountain bike (bought with a summer’s bale bucking) stolen on his first day of college, changes his trusting ways pronto. It isn’t just cities, though, that change our behavior.

There is a narrow strip of land tight up against the north facing bulk of Beaver Peak that has earned the local name of “Squabble Knob.” The land was first settled and farmed by Finns who, perhaps being accustomed to dark winters, were not affected by living in the winter shade. Later residents, for the most part, seem to suffer from living under the mountain’s six-month long shadow. 

Since the 1970s Squabble Knob has been the scene of a stabbing, uncountable lawsuits, disputes over water, damage to property, and so far this summer, what appears to be two incidents of armed assault. The folks who live along the shade strip, in the words of a long-time observer, “do not play well together,” and at times, that statement appears accurate.

With imagination, one could pretend that the mountain’s winter shadow draws argumentative, aggressive people. But, no, I submit that while the mountain shadow does not recruit jerks, it can create jerks. It can change normal folks into suspicious, combative, difficult people.

One Squabble Knob resident who seems to have escaped the curse of negativity has a fulfilling job in Sandpoint and can afford winter trips to Mexico and Hawaii. While the rest of the Heron community cannot afford to ship Squabble Knob warriors to sunny climes, maybe we should chip in and buy them a bunch of those light doodads that imitate sunshine to brighten their gloomy thoughts and soothe their savage ways.

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Author info

Lou Springer Lou Springer lives in Heron when not out on a river somewhere.

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Heron, neighbors, sunlight

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