Since last post, I’d been struggling with getting my loosely floating ideas to gel for a new post. For a couple of weeks, I was feeling pressured, albeit self-imposed, to crank out a blog entry. But like jelly jars fresh out of the canning bath, you just have to cover them and leave them set for a while. Churning out weekly posts isn’t what I had in mind for this blog, because I want whatever I put down on these pages to be inspired, intentional, and relevant. I can eventually get around any kind of creativity block by making peace with the ebb and flow and just waiting for the wave of inspiration to wash over me. Because to everything, there is indeed a season. So if you’ll allow me to wax a little philosophical (and sentimental), then please, read on.
On Monday, at the age of 94, Pete Seeger breathed his last and left this world. At 6am on Tuesday, I heard the news blurb come over the radio announcing his death. The man behind that voice that was so familiar to me was gone. A few seconds of shock gave way to a stream of tears. I cried on and off for most of the day. I actually debated whether or not to include that last bit for fear of making myself feel too vulnerable, but this blog is for me as much as it is for you, so why should I hide the emotions that are driving the clickety-clacking of this keyboard? I was afraid to include it because it brought back the same feeling I had when Jerry Garcia died. (oh jeez, here comes a tangent. deep breath…) I had just turned 15 a few days before Jerry died, and with him went my hopes and dreams of following the Dead. I so badly wanted to experience the solidarity and sense of community that comes from within a large group of like-minded people from all walks of life (plop me down in the middle of Philly Folk Fest, and….I’M HOOOOME!). I was just 14 at the time, but I did manage to experience the lot outside the Grateful Dead’s last show in Philly in the spring of 1995. I never did get that miracle ticket though- one of my life’s biggest regrets. Six- yes, SIX- of us piled in a friend’s old VW beetle and puttered down to the show. (I’ll spare my mother the rest of the details in case she’s reading this.) The day Jerry died, I let a candle burn itself out at the end of my driveway. (Given the chance, my siblings will still poke fun at me for this.) Just like then, I am not sorry now that I mourned a man I didn’t know. But I digress….
Driving to work Tuesday afternoon, I plugged in to a Pete Seeger tribute broadcast streaming on folkalley.com. They mentioned that his hometown was Beacon, NY, and I thought, of course! “Beacon.” If you could use one word to describe him, that would certainly be fitting. As faithful as the moon is to the tides, the waves finally came crashing in at that moment, and I felt inspired to write again. Whether with song or spoken word, Pete was a beacon for so many, refusing to dim his voice so that even those out in the farthest reaches of humanity could hear him. So that even those with the hardest hearts would soften to his message and see the need for social change. He sang out so that we might overcome such social injustices as racism and sexism. (Yes, Pete was a feminist, too!!)
Ok, his sister wrote that. Beyond that, his protest songs pleaded for international disarmament, and he was a bastion for environmental conservation. Unwavering even in the face of imprisonment, he stood firmly in his convictions. His idea of utopia was peace, love, and understanding (what’s so funny ’bout that?). One of the things I find most admirable about Pete was that his brand of activism never included violence. His music would be his hammer. “…My hope is that the guitar is gonna be mightier than the bomb,” he said.
It was with the help of this machine that he could get crowds of thousands to join their hearts and lift their voices while he floated off into a harmony. All he had to do was shout a few key words and the audience knew what course to follow for that verse. A conductor guiding them in unison, melding a menagerie of voices into one glorious anthem that I’m sure resonated long after leaving the concert hall or the demonstration field.
The value of reaching out to children with his music was not lost on him, either. Thanks to another mom in my kindergarten car pool who played folk music for us on the way to school, some of my earliest memories of folk music are Pete’s songs. He believed that “as long as you sing for children, you can’t really say there’s no hope.”
So how exactly does Pete Seeger fit into the context of this blog? Well, for one thing, I want to be a beacon in my own capacity. For whatever I am passionate about, I will let it shine. Unapologetically shine. Like “I don’t care if my ‘Stop Pipelines Here’ sign offends you”, I’m gonna let it shine because I so fiercely believe in maintaining the integrity of our wild and open places. Incidentally, Pete also sang out against fracking. I was watching this video of his collaborative “This Land is Your Land” from last year’s Farm Aid, and at the 3:06 mark, he made me jump joyfully out of my seat. Preach it, Pete.
He was 94 in this performance. NINETY FOUR. We should all be so lucky. His grandson said he was out chopping wood 10 days before he died. My Nana had the same kind of relentless spirit. Plodding along, putzing around the farm on her lawn mower until her body just gave out. She missed 100 by just 15 months.
You see, I believe in the same kind of peace-loving, war-free utopia as Mr. Seeger, and it occurred to me that I can be a beacon using my own talents. I’ve been given hands that comfort and heal. I find favor with the plants that are food and medicine for my family and friends. My love of nature makes me an ambassador for our sacred Mother Earth. All of these things- my gifts and passions- can be means to that same end. But how can a girl with a garden tucked in the woods of Pennsylvania affect any kind of social change? (Inch by inch, row by row…) The same way a banjo pickin’ beanpole-of-a-man from small town New York who wore flowered shirts did. He kept doing it. He didn’t let up. He took it further and wider with every chance he got, singing to whoever would listen, regardless of their station in life. “I have sung in hobo jungles, and I have sung for the Rockefellers, and I am proud that I have never refused to sing for anybody.” He waded waist-deep into the muddy water, still singing out. The name of this blog “ved foden af hyldebaer” means “at the foot of the elderberry”, and just as I observe the spirit of the Elder Mother, I think it’s wise to take a lesson at the feet of an elder such as Pete in the essence of tending our own light.
And to close out this post…..
On this day in 1899, J.H. Keim writes…”Cloudy with some snow. We cut some fodder. 16 bundles. We then threshed 700 sheaves of wheat. Got a lot. 21 bu (bushel). John Cannell(?) helped us. Snowed this evening and is cold.”
On this day in 1900…”One duck egg, 21 eggs. Clear and windy, mercury about 18 but falling. Lena and father went to Pottstown. House was so untidy that I got not much else done. Mrs. Noble called this forenoon. I was quite miserable…Sewed a little to finish Lena’s under skirt and mending mother’s dress.”
On this day in 1939…”Snow, blow, clearing. A very stormy snowy day. I did a lot of mending and some other jobs. Cut out a couple head-tray covers and crocheted an edge to one. Too wintry, wasn’t over to the farm today. No company.”