As we drive west with the morning sun off our port quarter, Betsy is sleeping in the back and Amelia is playing with her wooden toys, occasionally giggling or making some little sound to let us know she’s cool. We have a very long drive ahead of us, so I busted out the computer to edit and finish another post. But in a classic MTV Generation move, my short attention span got the best of me and a song spun on the CBC radio program we are listening to kicked my cursor down to a fresh page to start the long-simmering “Pete Post”.
In a string of excellent artists including personal favorites Frank Sinatra and Bruce Springsteen, came the brilliant folk-rock band, the Byrds. I have heard “Turn Turn Turn” countless times and have at least 3 different versions of it in my collection. And despite this exposure it still manages to tug at my soul every time I hear it. Those first three rich notes on the 12-string guitar followed by two solid percussion hits in the Byrds’ popular version seem to breathe happiness and hope into me like bellows into new fire. The waves of complex, yet soothing music carry the words – from the Book of Ecclesiastes – flowing from the radio with thoughtfulness and grace and power. It is a composition that exemplifies all the wonderful things about it’s creator, a man who I am privileged to call a friend and without whom I would not enjoy the life I’ve had.
Pete Seeger is thoughtful, on both a small scale to each individual he encounters, and on a large scale – when considering or discussing the larger issues facing society today. He is graceful, whether it’s picking on his famous banjo or chopping wood…even at 93. And he is indeed powerful and that power emanates from a prism of personal traits and life experiences with integrity at its core.
I cannot begin to speak meaningfully on those experiences in this one little blog post; like his kick-starting of the American folk music revival, flying in World War II, his defiance of HUAC and subsequent blacklisting, his inductions into both the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and the Kennedy Center Honors, and his wonderful marriage to his wife Toshi, now approaching 70 years. Indeed, as I meander around the web to find links for this post, I find new tidbits – quotes, recordings, honors – that amaze and inspire me, like this video that happens to include a few verses of my favorite of Pete’s songs. All this merely scratches the surface and certainly can’t quantify the unfathomable impact he has had on humanity.
His impact on my life however, is very real and very measurable. His vision of a sailing ship that would raise awareness of the polluted plight of the Hudson River in the mid-60’s came to fruition through hard work and faith and lots of music and has grown into a landmark organization for environmental education in the Hudson Valley and the world. I started on the Sloop Clearwater as an apprentice in the early-90’s, had the opportunity to work with an exemplary group of people and decided that a career in sailing – working outside, traveling, using a boat as a platform to teach students (of all ages) – was my calling. That was almost 20 years ago. I worked my way up the hawsepipe to become Captain and like to think I made a worthwhile contribution.
I met some of my closest friends, learned the true meaning of work ethic, teamwork and leadership and realized a life in which I found meaning and joy in my job. Never mind the fact that I would not have met my husband had I not chosen this unique life. Clearwater is family to Amelia and I know that good times and friends await her there.
I have sailed and spent time with “Uncle Pete” periodically throughout these 20 years and like a potent spice, one needs just a taste of his spirit to fuel years of creativity and hope. His remarkable optimism is truly infectious. Add to that his vast knowledge of history, his respect for people of all backgrounds, his joy in engaging his audience in the music he creates, his courageous vision and his unwavering honesty and you have a recipe that has seen him through tough times and immense triumph. A recipe we can all strive to incorporate into our own lives. Pete Seeger is a gift, and if I can pass on to my daughter an iota of the magic within him, I will consider myself a good mama. I am eternally grateful for his profound impact on my life and the lives of my family and friends.
From a Democracy Now! Interview:
AMY GOODMAN: And for someone who isn’t so hopeful, who is listening to this right now, trying to find their way, what would you say?
PETE SEEGER: Realize that little things lead to bigger things… And this wonderful parable in the New Testament: the sower scatters seeds. Some seeds fall in the pathway and get stamped on, and they don’t grow. Some fall on the rocks, and they don’t grow. But some seeds fall on fallow ground, and they grow and multiply a thousand fold. Who knows where some good little thing that you’ve done may bring results years later that you never dreamed of?