The Rock Remembers

“Tell me one more time why we’re here?” he asked, with a deliberately affect-less tone that belied his growing impatience.

We’re here to find pretty rocks, like we do every year.”

The middle aged couple stood side by side on the stony beach facing the Atlantic Ocean, just below Montauk Lighthouse. Looking out across the vast expanse of shimmering blue, beyond the knee-high waves breaking in front of them and out to the sharp edge of the horizon, where blue sky met the indigo sea, the woman tried to visualize the unimaginable distance between them and the next landfall to the east, Portugal. The man was worrying about traffic on the roads highways.

This was the spot they returned to every summer to commemorate their engagement. Nearly two decades ago, he proposed to her on that beach, bruising his knee on the rocks as he knelt. He joked that he had lured her there for a rock-gathering excursion so he could give her a rock while standing on rocks and surrounded by rocks. He thought the connections he drew were funny and clever, and out of love for him, she chose not to disagree.

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I Remember Pete

seeger(From The New York Times, January 28, 2014: “Pete Seeger, the singer, folk-song collector and songwriter who spearheaded an American folk revival and spent a long career championing folk music as both a vital heritage and a catalyst for social change, died on Monday in Manhattan. He was 94.”

I met Pete Seeger during the summer of 1972, when I was a 16-year-old volunteer on the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater. I don’t think I knew anything about him or even who he was before I sat in front of him as we rowed a small boat to the anchored Clearwater, but the strength of his spirit and the warmth of his personality immediately captured my heart. We sang as we rowed, letting the music keep our oar strokes in synchrony. That was my first lesson from Pete, although I wasn’t aware then that I was being given a priceless education.

My second lesson came shortly thereafter when I sat next to Pete while all of us on board the Clearwater joined him in singing one classic folk song after another. I didn’t know how to sing a single note then, but I didn’t hesitate to raise my voice. I remember singing “If I Had a Hammer,” “We Shall Overcome,” This Land is Your Land,” “Guantanamera,” “Garbage” (a particularly dear song for us on the Clearwater), and my favorite, a children’s song called “Abiyoyo.” There was no end to the singing and our joy grew with each verse. Though I would not realize it for decades to come, that day Pete taught me the power of song and the importance of community. We were all united in spirit and in purpose simply because Pete united us in song.

We were all so very young and determined to change the world. With Pete, we learned that the task need not be a struggle marked by conflict. Rather, it can and should be an act of joy and it is probably best accomplished when accompanied by folk songs and banjo music.

Thanks to Pete, I now joyfully raise my voice in song in support of great causes whenever I can. And I don’t particularly care that I’m still tone-deaf (My voice may be a “barbaric yawp,” but it is mine.).

Farewell, Pete. I love you, I will always miss you and I will never stop singing.

Remembering Toshi Seeger

Toshi and Pete Seeger in 1992.

Steve J. Sherman
Toshi and Pete Seeger in 1992. Ms. Seeger helped bring many of his ideas to fruition during their seven-decade marriage.

(From The New York Times, July 11, 2013–“Toshi Seeger, whose husband the folk singer Pete Seeger has credited for at least half his success — from helping to organize the first Newport Folk Festival to campaigning to clean the Hudson River — died on Tuesday at their home in Beacon, N.Y. She was 91.”)

In 1972, when I was a teenager of only 16, I spent part of my summer vacation aboard the sloop Clearwater as part of the volunteer crew. I met Toshi and Pete Seeger at one of the many stops we made along the Hudson River, championing the then nascent cause of environmentalism. I remember sitting on the deck of the Clearwater next to Pete, singing folk songs with him. I never did much singing and didn’t really know how, but that didn’t matter. When Pete was around, you just couldn’t help but sing with him.

And, wherever Pete was, Toshi was always there, too. She arrived on board the Clearwater even before Pete and talked to each of us to make sure we had everything we needed. Like any mother, she had to make sure we had enough to eat and brought us a huge basket filled with her homemade peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. She had made everything herself; the bread, the peanut butter and the jelly. They were not the best sandwiches any of us had ever eaten, but we didn’t care; we were grateful and finished them all in no time at all and with smiles on our faces. Toshi’s joyful and nurturing spirit was as infectious as Pete’s singing. We just couldn’t help but love her.

Together, over the course of that summer and the next, Toshi and Pete helped shape my world view and inform my developing morality. Now, as then, I know we must be good stewards of the Earth and loving neighbors to each other. Most of all, we should never ignore the songs in our hearts.

I will never forget them and I will always love them. I simply cannot imagine Pete without Toshi. It is with a mix of deep sorrow and joyful memories that I extend my sympathies to Pete and his family. We will all miss Toshi.

When Is A Cave Not A Cave? (new fiction)

My wife and I had already completed our list of the more typical adventures: Bungee jumping, white-water rafting, skydiving, mountain climbing, even diving with Great White sharks. But, with each new adventure, the adrenalin rush seemed a little less intense. So, when we got to the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park for our latest adventure vacation, I thought I had to do something to ratchet up the excitement. My brilliant idea was to explore one of the newest and freshest caves on the planet: A new lava tube.

The trouble with a lava tube is that it’s not like an ordinary cave. Those are usually cold and damp. Lava tubes are hot—really hot. After all, they are formed as hot lava forces its way through older and cooler lava, called basalt, leaving a nearly perfect tube. Even the old dead ones never seem to cool down.

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Take me out of this ballgame (new fiction)

“Why is it so important that I pretend to be a Yankee fan, Sue?” I said, trying not to be heard above the din at Yankee stadium. “What difference does it make?”

“You can’t pretend!” Sue hissed at me. “Don’t you dare tell anyone in my family that you’re pretending. I don’t want to give them any more reasons to wonder about you.”

“Wonder about me? This is crazy! I’m the baseball fan! You don’t even know how the game is played.”

“Shut up and cheer when I do.”

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Brevity Is the Soul of…What?

This post was transferred from

This is an addendum to my previous post, in which I gave President Abraham Lincoln most of the credit for the spare writing style used today in Twitter posts (I’ll never get used to calling them “tweets.”) and phone text messages.

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