Aesthetics at Work
It is convenient, and in line with local sentiments, to divide local full-time occupations into three classes: water activities, farming, and services. Each of these classes of work has its own aesthetic dimension, although it is quite limited in comparison with other factors. I consider each of these classes in turn, giving attention primarily to the aesthetic sphere whenever possible. However, as the practicalities of some occupations, especially fishing, are somewhat arcane, it will be necessary to venture into other, more general matters from time to time in order to provide a basis for understanding the aesthetic.
Gathering the wildlife of Tidewater Sound for sale has been a local activity for at least a century, yet it has rarely provided a complete family income. Today only one or two watermen do not have a supplementary income of some kind to see them through the inevitable lean times. In the past even the market gunners, who often made substantial sums during the season, had small farms or other businesses for additional income or support. All the watermen agree that to survive in the business one must have a keen eye for a dollar. Turning scraps of this and that into money is called “hustling” and might be called the major feature of all successful watermen. The term does not have the negative connotations it holds in other parts of the United States but is instead a mark of approval. The following story is a good example of a successful hustle:
One year V. B. caught around a thousand pounds of rock on one day. [Rock is customarily the highest-priced fish.] Now the buyers if they see a big catch of a high-price fish will slash the price. Instead of carrying his haul directly to the buyer he phoned ahead and asked what he was paying for rock that day. When the buyer told him the regular price, he carried in all thousand pounds. You see, the buyer had to stick to his price because he had given it out over the phone.
The story was often repeated as a model of how to make money out of fishing. The buyers are said to be rapacious middlemen who make money out of other people’s hard labor. They have to be humored and placated because they can refuse to buy at any time on any pretense, but the watermen do not like them. Watermen tell stories of buyers who force them to sell to one company only and then refuse to buy a particular catch or who threaten to stop buying altogether if the catch is offered to anyone else: “Your buyers is what controls you. Just like up here. This fellah wants you to sell to him, but yet he wants to cut you off at a certain time. And if you go to sell to anyone else, then he gets hot and won’t buy your fish, or crabs.” They also tell of buyers who lie about the retail price of fish if they sell out of town, in order to get expensive fish cheaply. Watermen conceive of themselves as largely helpless in this situation, because they cannot both catch and market fish. Hustling remains their chief weapon against the buyers.
To the man trying to make a living out of the sound, every little helps. A road-killed raccoon will not remain on the roadside for long. A trapper will pick it up and freeze it until trapping season comes in, when he will thaw it and sell it with his other furs. At thirty-five dollars per pelt it is worth the effort. The waterman also learns to be a Jack-of-all-trades. He must know how to repair motors, nets, pots, boats, and all of his equipment. Having professionals take care of these repairs would be prohibitively costly and take his gear out of service at the wrong time. Furthermore, it is hard to take a faulty motor to the shop if you are three miles from shore.
Not only must the Tidewater fisherman be a general handyman, he must also master several different jobs and skills. He must be a skilled boatman, able to control a skiff with ease under power or with a poling oar; he must be acquainted with the bottom characteristics of the sound to find the best fishing areas and to navigate in fog; and he must be able to read weather signs both to profit from wildlife movements and to avoid personal danger. Watermen vary in their abilities in these areas and suffer or benefit in proportion. One extremely knowledgeable waterman can tell his exact location in thick fog, which can descend with alarming speed, by feeling the bottom with his poling oar. Others sometimes spend foggy nights in their boats. The year-round waterman must also handle two or three separate jobs, since no single one will keep him employed for more than six months. Options include commercial fishing, crabbing, eeling, guiding for sport fishermen, trapping, and guiding for duck hunters. There are also choices to be made within some of these categories. For example, a commercial fisherman may use haul seine, gill, pound, fyke, or submarine nets, although the last three are rare these days.
How each waterman employs himself throughout the year depends on a number of factors, some financial, some aesthetic. The basic choices are (in the winter) between commercial fishing, trapping, and guiding for hunters and (in the spring, summer, and early fall) between crabbing, eeling, and guiding for sport fishermen. Most watermen choose one activity from each group, but some combinations, though unusual, are possible. One may guide for hunters in the early winter and fish commercially for the rest of the season, or one may guide and trap. In the summer season some watermen both crab and eel, varying the number of each pot they set according to market prices and the size of each catch. In early spring before the crabbing grounds in Maryland have opened up the price of crabs is high, and it is profitable to set as many crab pots as possible. As the Maryland waters become more productive Tidewater fishermen who have the gear turn to eels.
The several dimensions to each water activity are tabulated in Table 5. This table shows equipment needed, number of people needed, regular expenses, whether the task must be done daily, and the advantages and disadvantages of each as articulated by the watermen. Items in parentheses are not absolutely necessary, but they make work lighter or increase profits. The crabber, for example, can reduce overhead by using gill nets to catch his own bait instead of buying it from a commercial bait dealer. All of these activities require a skiff and gasoline for the motor, which are not listed in the equipment and expenses columns.
No single activity is free of disadvantages, so the waterman cannot avoid compromises. The basic variables are high versus low income, stable versus irregular income, working alone (or with one or two friends) versus working with the public, and low versus high initial capital outlay. The first mentioned of each of these variables, which the watermen themselves offer as binary variables, is considered a good feature, whereas the second is considered undesirable. Because of fundamental relationships between the variables, each activity is associated with two desirable and two undesirable characteristics (see Table 6).
A man’s choice depends primarily on whether he has the capital to buy, or can inherit, the equipment for the high profit/high risk occupations, which are generally preferred over the stable profit/low risk occupations. How much capital is needed is also a significant factor. A combination of commercial fishing in the winter and crabbing or eeling in the summer is highly desirable but the most expensive to get started. A combination of guiding for hunters in the winter and fishermen in the summer requires almost no capital but is extremely undesirable. (For combinations of occupations in terms of cost, see Table 7.) This progression is somewhat ladderlike, although the maturing waterman need not step on every rung. It would, for example, be undesirable to move from step 3 to step 2, which would involve a complete change of summer and winter equipment, trading the cost of the summer equipment down. A waterman would almost certainly move from step 3 to step 1. Very few actually reach the top because of the extreme cost of haul seine fishing. A waterman calculated for me that to get started in haul seine fishing with all new gear could cost over $10,000. Few watermen start at step 8 because of the general distaste for dealing with the public throughout the year. Most balance the year with one high- and one low-cost occupation.
There is not only a financial but a personal risk attached to these occupations. All watermen run the risk of drowning, and all have had friends and relatives who drowned. A man in heavy-weather gear sinks quickly if thrown overboard, whether a good swimmer or not. Hip boots ship water instantly and act like lead weights. In addition, two occupations have special dangers that make them undesirable. Guiding for duck hunters is especially hazardous because the hunters are usually inexperienced in the use of firearms, heedless of safety codes, and intoxicated or under the influence of alcohol while in the duck blind; daily the guides return with harrowing tales. The trapper runs the risk of being bitten and clawed by trapped animals. Because of these dangers commercial fishing is much preferred over the other two occupations. Hunting is preferred over trapping because of the characteristics outlined above, even though it is potentially more dangerous than trapping and involves dealing with the public. The act of killing to eat is greatly preferred over killing for pelts.
Local men like to stick to the rule “Only kill what you will eat” in all of their dealings with the wild. This maxim reduces the aesthetic pleasure derived from a number of activities including eeling, trapping, and bass fishing. Men dislike fishing for eels because they do not consider them edible (and believe they are exported to Europe or Japan) and cannot understand the desire to eat them. Local women do not wear furs, so the act of trapping is doubly pointless on the local level. Just like the local farmer who grows millet because he feels impelled by external market forces (eels regularly bring a dollar per pound), the watermen does what is necessary to make a living, but the desires of the outside world alienate him in aesthetic terms from his labor.
The decision to be a waterman is itself founded on aesthetic desires. All watermen say they enjoy their work because of the beauty of the environment, and their behavior supports this claim. When they are not working for profit, they still spend much of their time on the sound. Some sport-fishing guides will bring their charges in when they have caught their limits and go back out immediately to fish by themselves. Jobs that involve guiding are disliked in part because they reduce the waterman’s aesthetic appreciation of his surroundings. They say they have to spend so much time avoiding a fish hook in the face or a leg full of shot that they have no time to relax and look about them. Two watermen independently told me they loved the sights of the sound so much that on several occasions they have ridden to their duck blinds without guns, simply to observe the waterfowl.
The aesthetic pleasure derived from working on the sound is considered fair compensation for the lack of great financial reward, the hard labor, and the often repetitive chores involved. Crabbing, for example, is no less repetitive than most factory jobs on a production line. It mostly entails raising, emptying, baiting, and resetting one hundred or more crab pots, six days per week. All of the watermen in Tidewater have had jobs that were more regular and paid more than fishing, but the lure of the sound is mighty. One crabber, a qualified mason, turned down the opportunity to lay the foundations and brick veneer of a new, four-bedroom, two-story house, which would have paid well with no capital expenditure on his part, in favor of crabbing, which at the time was netting him fifteen dollars per day on those days when he could sell his crabs. Besides, watermen consider their work to be “real” in a double sense. They are in command of the process from start to finish, whereas the factory worker on a production line is responsible for a minute part of the finished product. Also, the products of fishing (with the exceptions noted) have a direct, obvious, and fundamental use. A fish caught in the morning can be in the pan by night. The products of the waterman’s labor have direct aesthetic appeal.
Married men with children are usually forced to take out-of-town employment because the income from fishing is too irregular to meet daily needs. But a man who has started his working life as a waterman inevitably returns to that life upon retirement from paid employment. These older watermen may take on a year-round work cycle or may fish in the summer only. Younger watermen point with pride to men in their eighties who still fish regularly. Only severe physical infirmity can cause a waterman to quit his skiff.
Despite these strong aesthetic attractions, the life of the waterman has negative aesthetic components as well. Fish caught in a haul seine by the gills must be removed by hand, generally without gloves. In January the feel of slippery, icy fish for several hours on bare skin has no appeal. By contrast, the blazing noon sun of August on old fish boxes and crab bait can raise a mighty stench. Yet the waterman treats these aspects of his employment stoically. Not all aesthetic experiences are enjoyable; they must be weighed in the balance.
Perhaps surprisingly, watermen have little overt aesthetic interest in their boats. I could elicit aesthetic judgments about boats from only one man, and then about shad boats, a kind of sailing vessel used on the sound for fishing and hunting in the early part of the century:
There’s a lot in shaping a boat to make her look good. You could build a shad boat and it would look awful. Then another man could build one’d be just as shapey and nice-looking as a yacht. Wallace O’Brien could build the prettiest shad boat. They sailed those shad boats when I was a kid and they were good sailors.
This statement is unusual, but several hidden meanings make sense of it. The comparison to yachts is the significant point. Yachts sail across the sound regularly—north in summer, south in winter. Watermen use a vulgar phrase for them that likens them to inedible waterfowl. “They fly up and down here like a bunch of [expletive] geese, that are no use to no one.” These yachts are pleasure craft; the watermen see them as idle toys that have no function. The above anecdote is pointing out that a working boat could be thought of as pretty as a yacht, yet it was functional. What is more, the men in them were better sailors than yachtsmen and worked harder:
We used to carry ballast for sailing made out of canvas bags. They’d have a hundred pounds of sand and sewed up tight. To go on up against the wind to get where you wanted to go, it usually took three men to sail ’em. Two men would stand right a-straddle of the center board, and when the man would tack they’d shift that ballast from one side to the other, mighty quick. Two men can shift five hundred to a thousand pound of ballast right now. It was hard work but we didn’t mind it. God damn it, I’ve shifted ’em. Shifted ’em for twenty miles.
Stories about boats and boatbuilding are rare, and no folklore is connected with the craft: no boatbuilding rituals or superstitions, no proverbs, no paintings or models of boats. Of course, boatbuilding itself is a traditional folk craft. All watermen know something about boatbuilding and have built or helped build at least one boat in their lives. They never use written sources but rely on their own skills learned by watching and helping expert craftsmen. There is, however, a general feeling that real expertise in building boats runs in families:
Pat O’Brien was the best boatbuilder in Tidewater. And every O’Brien that I ever saw around this section was a boatbuilder. James O’Brien, brother to Pat, is a good boatbuilder, and he’s about seventy. His grandfather and his father before him, all the O’Briens just had the knack to build a boat. Pat could take a piece of wood to build a stem lining, and he’d take it and lay it out with a pencil and his finger against it as a guide, and lay it out, and take a hatchet and chop it out, and dress it off. When he put the side planks on, damn if they wouldn’t fit. He just knew what the hell he was doing.
But expert or not, there is always plenty of free advice:
I know one time there used to be this feller, I’ve forgot his name, But he said that every time he got ready to build a boat somebody’d come round with their opinion, telling him how to build it. So one time they said that he set up two boats to build. And when there wasn’t anybody around he’d work on one boat, when somebody’d come around he’d work on the other. So long as they were giving him an opinion he said, “I’m going to build this one to suit you, but that one over there I’m going to suit myself.”
The opinions so readily expressed by watermen concern crafting the boat for practical purposes and have little to do with its aesthetic qualities. Yet no two boats, even two built by the same man, are alike, and a waterman can easily distinguish and identify them at some distance: “Each boatbuilder has his own way of building boats. I don’t care who he is, he won’t ever build two alike. There’ll be a little bit of a difference in any of ’em. I’ve never seen anyone build two that were exactly alike.” However, these distinguishing features—length, bow rake, draught, attitude—do not appear to contribute or detract from the aesthetic qualities a boat might have. No waterman is interested in the look of a boat except inasmuch as it reflects its capacity to be employed in certain ways.
Most watermen use flat-bottomed skiffs because of their clear practical advantages over other designs. Many of the bays and marshlands of Marsh County are extremely shallow (three feet or less), and only a flat-bottomed boat can navigate in them. Also, a flat-bottomed boat can rise on its bow wake and travel at full speed in much shallower water than one with a keel or V-bottom can.
The carrying capacity of a skiff is determined by its relative width, length, and depth, but which dimension is lengthened or shortened to suit the carrying needs of the waterman is determined by the speed and handling characteristics the waterman needs in the boat. A large fishing skiff used in conjunction with a smaller skiff for haul seine fishing must be large enough to hold several thousand pounds of fish and need not be fast or maneuverable. This kind of boat is, therefore, built broad in the beam and deep. A crabbing skiff is deep and long but narrow in the beam so that it handles easily but can carry a moderately large catch. A sport-fishing skiff is narrow and shallow, for carrying capacity is unimportant yet it must handle easily in the shallows.
Watermen paint their boats drab grey or green. They are fastidious about keeping their boats clean, and these colors make their job easier. Drab colors are also important for camouflage in hunting season. These boats have no painted ornaments and no painted names, only the mandated state registration number.
On the job, watermen dress for comfort and convenience, but they remain in working gear during leisure hours. They may not wear oilskins around town, but hip boots are a badge of their calling. In the winter they wear “Dr Roberts’-style hunting caps and in the summer baseball-style caps bearing motifs of personal significance.
The local farms are owned by a very small number of families, all of which have deep genealogical roots in the community. One old plantation family was buying and selling parcels of land in the area at least as early as the turn of the nineteenth century. These families now are survivors of the mid-twentieth-century technological revolution that led to the heavy mechanization of farms and their subsequent consolidation. Several farms in what has become the center of the town did not survive, and between 1935 and 1950 they were carved into building plots and sold or given away to family members. This platting has created a slight feeling of nucleation in the town. Those farms which have survived seem reasonably secure at present, but all of the farmers are deeply pessimistic about the future. All have such large amounts of capital tied up in farm machinery and loans that a bad harvest or a succession of poor years can spell ruin. These farmers have unwittingly and unwillingly become involved in the global commodities market and see themselves less and less as free agents. They are tied into a web of government grants and regulations, international politics, high-finance mercantile trade, and global supply and demand they scarcely understand. These forces are major influences on what they produce, which in turn affects the aesthetic dimensions of their labor.
The aesthetic judgments of the farmer at work are few, though not necessarily insignificant. What aesthetic judgments he does make are closely tied to practical decisions. The clothes he wears at work, for example, are chosen for comfort and convenience; they also mark him as a farmer to the rest of the world. When the farmer leaves his farm he does not change his clothes (jeans, workshirt, work boots, and feed cap)—he prefers to appear in public as a farmer. The only item of dress that is cause for remark is his cap. Each farmer wears a different cap advertising agricultural products of some kind, whether seed, fertilizer, or machinery. These are objects of some pride and a tinge of vanity. Farmers are so rarely out of their work clothes that when they dress differently, it is a cause for comment by friends.
Many crucial decisions on a farm are based on the perceptible qualities, especially the sight, of land, crops, and animals, and when these are combined with matters of taste and affect, as they sometimes are, they may be said to have an aesthetic dimension. The decisions when to plough, sow, and harvest are in economic terms critical. At each of these stages a bad choice can drastically reduce income by reducing yield. How the soil or the crop looks is the principal determinant in each of these cases. The act of inspecting a field is practical and technical rather than a question of taste, but it does have an aesthetic aspect. A sodden field in spring or a crop riddled with parasites is both economically and aesthetically displeasing, but a healthy stand of corn or wheat is pleasing. However, modern agricultural products have confused this aesthetic area.
In the past, crops were diversified and satisfied local needs for farm produce while also producing a surplus for sale elsewhere. Farmers grew crops they understood the need for and in growing which they had a great deal of family experience. Now to survive they grow what is suggested by county agricultural agents or in demand on the commodities market. Thus they grow soybeans, millet, and linseed, but they do not know what these crops are used for and hence do not know their value in human terms. These crops, in consequence, do not look as good to them as fields of corn or truck crops. Farmers idealize themselves as primary food producers, filling the tables of the community with things to eat. Modern crops weaken this vision and in turn affect the aesthetic appeal of their cultivated environment.
Finally, the decision to become a farmer has a major aesthetic aspect. Because the occupation is not financially secure, those who take it up must have other reasons for doing so. One of these reasons is aesthetic. All farmers agree they enjoy working in the open and appreciate the aesthetics of their rural working surroundings. Some contrast this open-air work to the close, unappealing environment of the factories that for them are the alternative to farmwork. Although farming is technical and practical, it rests on an aesthetic foundation.
The service jobs in town are not as male-oriented as farming and fishing. Most are run by husband-and-wife teams, a few by men or women alone. The two most important services for locals in town are the general stores and the eating establishments. Local residents use these services regularly, whereas other services—for example, legal, realty, home repair, and building supplies—are specialized and only occasionally used.
The stores have two distinct sources of business: locals and transients. Locals buy gasoline and oil, perishable items such as bread and milk, things they unexpectedly run out of, and small items such as candy and soda. They do their main grocery shopping at supermarkets in several large towns nearby, where the prices are lower and there is greater variety. Tourists, campers, and fishermen use the stores to buy the same kinds of things the locals buy plus a wide variety of groceries, such as tinned meat and vegetables, cleaning materials, paper goods, fresh meat, snacks, and so forth. The storekeepers estimate that about 80 percent of their trade is from transients, although this figure is nothing but a good guess because neither keeps records of who buys what. Nonetheless the figure is an important expression of who they think buys most, particularly as the stores are set up more for the comfort of locals than for transients.
The reliance on transient trade and the decline of local business were caused by the arrival of trunk roads. These roads gave local people a way to get to cheaper markets and outsiders a chance to gain quick access to scenic and sporting water facilities. The stores have had to change to accommodate these new circumstances. Before the new roads the stores survived exclusively on local business, and the people of Tidewater depended on the stores. The modern stores do stock some items not commonly found in groceries, such as car fuses, oilskins, and fishing lures, but in the past general merchandise was as important as groceries. The major store in town, now defunct, carried men’s and women’s apparel, piece goods, shot and powder, cosmetics, nails, horse collars, dishes, in fact virtually everything one might need.
I’ve heard some of the old heads say that this fellah, Field, furnished the powder and shot and the fellahs would go shoot the ducks and bring them here for him to ship and they’d pay off their bill. He let ’em have it till they killed enough ducks and he got it back, more or less of a barter thing. But there come a winter, it was very mild. There were no ducks. The ducks didn’t come this far, it wasn’t cold enough. And nobody could kill any ducks. They stood up around his store and pitched horseshoes, the gunners did, and finally he said to ’em, “Well boys, if we don’t make it this year it’ll be all right. I’ll put it on the bill next year. You’ll make it next year.” That’s the way Tidewater’s always been.
Store credit was, and is, interest-free. Such credit is perceived as fundamentally different from interest-bearing loans, and the two go by different names. Interest-free loans are called “credit” or “bills,” and interest-bearing loans are called “borrowing.” Credit is acceptable, borrowing is not. The credit system built up a series of trading relationships between households and particular merchants which survive to this day, even though the stores have changed owners several times and it is the adult children and grandchildren of those households who now do the buying. Everyone in Tidewater shops at one general store only for day-to-day items. Each household has a deep sense of loyalty that outweighs practical considerations such as comparative cheapness. One woman told me emphatically, “My father and grandfather traded at that store, and I’m not about to go elsewhere just to save a few pennies.” As Tidewater people are thrifty with earned money, this remarkable statement indicates a hierarchy of values. Loyalty to a trader who through the credit system has helped the family survive outweighs the desire to buy goods as cheaply as possible.
Loyalty to store owners is reinforced by continuing debt relationships. Every household in Tidewater keeps a line of credit with one of the stores, even though most have enough money in the bank to stay clear of debt. It is also common for people to buy groceries on credit when they have enough money in their pockets to pay for them. The line of credit is a symbol of loyalty and cohesiveness, not a practical necessity. Once I observed a storekeeper accuse a young farmer of taking gasoline for his truck without recording it in his credit book. Outraged at the accusation, the farmer demanded to know what he owed the storekeeper in credit, took out a wad of bills, paid the whole debt, and left the store. By paying his debt he severed his loyalty to the store.
Because of the change in their business the stores now look different. In the old stores the owner waited on the customer, but with the periodic inundation of transients there is no longer time for “old-fashioned service.” The stores now are laid out like small supermarkets, and customers pick items from the shelves and pay at the cash register. But storekeepers still wait on locals who are old and infirm. The changes in the layouts of the stores have left little room for people to sit and chat, and many locals feel that the homelike coziness of the stores has been lost. At one store the changes have drastically reduced the practice of sitting and general visiting, but at the other the old ways are still going strong even though customers have to share social space with a stack of motor-oil cans on one side and cat food on the other.
The stores of the past had a homelike appearance that survives today. One store was a converted house; the other was built along the same lines as an old-style house but built end to the road, and the ground floor, the store, is one large room. Storekeepers of past and present feel that the homelike quality is essential for good business. Local customers, they believe, should feel comfortable enough to want to stay awhile. If for some reason a local must make a quick purchase, the owner will chide him, “Don’t hurry.”
There are two kinds of eating establishments in town. Three are takeout sandwich stands, and one is a sitdown restaurant. The former are very recent and cater exclusively to the transient trade. Their mainstay is American fast food: hamburgers, hot dogs, French fries, and fountain soda. The restaurant is also new, but there have been others of its type for a century. Its stock in trade is home-style specials, and it caters to both locals and transients. Tidewater men who work in town eat here at lunchtime, and they make up a substantial, convivial lunch crowd. They always eat the daily special if it conforms to local culinary norms. Any dish out of the ordinary by local tastes, such as stuffed peppers or spaghetti, finds no local takers. The owner, a widow, makes a point of creating a home atmosphere in her cooking and attention to customers. Even the name, “My Family Restaurant,” evokes a homey feeling.
Creation of a feeling of being at home extends to all services in town. Most services are delivered in a special part of a family home or in an adjacent building. They run the gamut of legal services, television repair, haircuts, commercial bait and fishing gear, and general house repair. Only three services do not strictly adhere to this type: two are real estate offices, one a legal practice. All three are new, and the great majority of their customers are not local. Appropriately enough, though, one realtor works out of a converted house trailer, the other out of an office that is part of someone else’s home. Only the law practice stands in splendid isolation, both physically and culturally. However, the lawyer is an out-of-town practitioner with offices in several counties and townships. He is the exception that proves the rule.
A few general points can be made about the aesthetics of work. Tidewater people at work are generally isolated from one another. Farmers, fishermen, barbers, and lawyers work by themselves or with one other person. In consequence, the aesthetics of the work situation is highly personalized. The farmer and waterman gain personal, not shared, aesthetic satisfaction from their environments. The service people run their businesses from buildings or offices laid out to suit their own tastes. In many ways the man (or woman) at work is as isolated as the woman at home.
The association between work and home is strong and important. Watermen usually have docks in their yards and use their barns for storing equipment. Farmers live adjacent to the fields they tend, and service people work out of their homes. The physical association with home varies from job to job, of course. The waterman works at a great distance from his home, the farmer works nearby, and the service person works in his home. The distance of employment from home is strongly correlated with the stability of each job and the amount of aesthetic control that is exerted in each sphere. In essence, the farther from home the job takes place, the less aesthetic control the worker seeks to wield.
The waterman does nothing to change the aesthetics of his environment and claims to have no aesthetic interest in the things that of necessity he brings into it, such as boats and nets. His aesthetic pleasure is derived entirely from nature in the raw. Many who seek aesthetic satisfaction while at work ride out to a favorite deserted spot, away from floats and crab pots and out of sight of houses on the peninsula. There they sit or stand and gaze beyond the confines of the skiff at a soundscape devoid of artifacts. The waterman is also acutely aware at all times that his survival, while assisted by appropriate behavior, is not assured by attempts on his part to control this environment.
The farmer gains aesthetic pleasure from domesticating nature. He transforms segments of the natural environment through careful cultivation. But he works in nature and must continually deal with such realities of the natural world as pests and weather. The products he works with are partly natural, in that they are plants and animals, and partly controlled, in that they are domestic varieties grown under regulated conditions using commercial feeds, fertilizers, and pesticides. His measure of control is midway between the waterman’s and the service person’s and analogous to the aesthetics of gardens, which lie midway between houses and wilderness.
The service person totally controls and transforms his environment: it is entirely an artifact of his making. In the general stores, for example, all products are laid out with bureaucratic efficiency, cleaning products in one aisle, automotive supplies in another. Even goods of natural provenance, such as fruits and vegetables, are carefully controlled. Identical cans of pineapple segments sit in neat ranks and files, just like the motor oil two rows over. Everything is itemized, indexed, and inventoried.
This diversity in aesthetic control is matched by the economic stability of each occupation. The waterman’s is the most unstable. He has little way of knowing what he will earn from day to day, there are no government programs to ease his losses in bad years, no insurance companies will insure his gear, no bank will accept his equipment as collateral for a loan, and no county or state programs educate him in better ways to do his job. Farming has its risks, but the farmer has a certain amount of state and federal protection. He can insure his equipment and borrow against his holdings. He can predict with some accuracy what his profits will be, and the county agricultural extension agent is always available to give free advice. Services are almost all stable, with regular, predictable incomes.
The degree of control the worker exerts over the environment is, perhaps logically, proportional to the amount of control he is perceived to exert over himself. Watermen are characterized as “wild” and “roosters” and are generally thought of as rough and unruly. People in services, on the other hand, are seen as orderly and respectable. Farmers, too, tend to be seen as in control of themselves. One principal index of such control and respectability is church membership and activity. Men in services and farmers are active and engaged members, fishermen either do not attend or are reserved in their involvement. However, speculation about the relationship between aesthetic domains requires exploration of the church in some detail.