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.

While it was physically impossible to enter a truly fresh lava tube, I figured we could explore a recently cooled one in an active field. Even a cooled tube could fill again with lava at any moment, making the danger and the excitement greater than ever. All we had to do was keep from being incinerated.

We also needed to con one of the park guides into finding us a good tube and guiding us through it. We found our victim—I mean guide—Michael, during our initial tour. At first, he laughed at the idea. Then, when he realized we were serious, he looked frightened. A generous cash advance procured his cooperation. Volcanologists don’t get paid much.

Three hours later, it was just the three of us a hundred yards or so into a tube and Michael looked more nervous with every step. The air inside the tube shimmered with heat in the light of our helmet lamps. It was becoming impossible to breath and I was getting dizzy. There was a constant rumble from a distant eruption, which seemed to be getting louder. Maybe it was just the heat pounding in my head.

As I lowered my head to gain my composure, My light caught an object on the cave floor. It was a geologist’s rock hammer, its point driven deeply into the rock.

“Michael, is this yours?” I called,

“Is what mine?” Michael gasped.

“This hammer, here,” I replied, pointing to the hot basalt at my feet.

“No, mine’s still on my belt,” he replied, putting his hand on his waist.

“Well, it’s not mine, either.” I said.

“Or mine!” said my wife. Her voice was weak and thready and the look on her face told me that this adventure was no longer thrilling.

“Someone else must be in this tube!” shouted Michael. “But I don’t understand. I thought I was the only one who knew about this place! I never even told my grad students about it. At least I don’t remember telling them.”

The sudden panic helped clear my head and gave me my first taste of adrenaline.

“Do you think the owner of the hammer must still be here in the cave somewhere?” asked my wife, her thrill quickly turning to dread.

“I don’t know, but we can’t stay here any longer to find out. And it’s a tube, not a cave! We’ve got to get out. Now!”

“But, we haven’t gone far enough yet,” I protested. “And, we need to find whoever left this,” I said giving the stuck hammer a tug and staggering back as it released from the rock floor with almost no effort.

“You see! This place is going to melt down any minute now! Let’s go!”

Michael was right. The lava tube was even hotter than before and the distant rumbling had turned to nearby thunder. As we stood there arguing, smoke began to rise from the floor. It was definitely time to go. We ran for it.

We reached fresh air and daylight with fresh lava glowing in the tube behind us and Michael’s grad students standing before us.

“Thanks for fetching my hammer,” said one young man. “But, you really didn’t need to.”

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.”

Continue reading

Brevity Is the Soul of…What?

This post was transferred from http://www.hebner.org

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.

Continue reading

The Twitter Style of President Abraham Lincoln

This post was transferred from http://www.hebner.org

I’m not a big fan of Twitter or Facebook, principally because of the way most people use it. I have no interest in accessing a global communication platform to read about visits to Starbuck’s or Victoria’s Secret. Nor do I have any interest in responding to such missives. I do, however, fully recognize the importance this technology has socially, commercially, and even politically.

Continue reading

Can words Change the World?

This post was transferred from http://www.hebner.org

Some time ago, I was teaching a business writing skills class in New York City. I typically begin my classes talking about the power of language and good writing. I tell my students that words can change more than perceptions and behavior. They can change more than entertain and inform. Words, I tell them, can change the world.

Continue reading