The thing about the past, an Irish saying goes, is that it’s not even the past. Learning the history of the people, places, boats, cars, rocks and wildlife around us builds an informed understanding of the present and helps guide good decisions for the future.
Local historian, storyteller and librarian Bob Pyle, who died on Christmas Day, was a master of helping people connect the past to the present. One of the best ways to honor his memory will be for those who value his work to take up that mantle.
Each generation laments change, saying things aren’t the way they used to be, but few in any generation can back up those concerns with the level of detail he had at his fingertips: when and why the rules changed, buildings were built, buildings were torn down, businesses and organizations opened or closed their doors.
History can also help communities remember and prioritize the values and traditions that make them unique. But the stories must be actively shared, to include newcomers and new generations in the story of the place. The stories Bob Pyle told, one friend noted, are funny and kind and reflect a deep love for this place and its people.
“He cherished the traditions of our community and did everything he could to see that they were passed on to the next generation and to new people who moved here,” said another friend, Durlin Lunt, town manager in Mount Desert.
“He would take them under his wing and try to instill in them that same love of community. It was extraordinary.”
And, as the story of the renovations of his beloved Northeast Harbor Library illustrates, a respect for history does not mean trying to prevent change. Sometimes the old does need to get cleared away to make room for the new.
But the stories will survive, if we tell them.