To every thing there is a season

In memory of Pete Seeger, some photographs of the great Hudson River, which he campaigned to clean up, rather quixotically when he started in 1969, after more than a century of its being used as an industrial toilet. And some reflections.


Looking north from Fort Tryon on Sunday.

In Ullapool, Scotland, some years ago I went to a pub late in the long summer day to hear some traditional music and drink the local water of life. There was a fellow from Glasgow at the bar whose accent was so thick I needed subtitles, but I got his gist: he’d come up there especially just to hear the band, claiming there were few places to hear the stuff now in Scotland. The quartet’s songs were unfamiliar, but those tunes and melodies were like ghosts in my ears. I heard the rolling river of “Shenandoah” and I kept trying to place it. (Springsteen and company on the Seeger Sessions album have an affecting version.) The long journey of the Scots to Ireland and then America seemed to roll out of that music. Some of them may have been my ancestors, particularly on my mother’s side, but I don’t know enough of that history to say for sure.
Looking south from Little Stony Point.

Looking south from Little Stony Point.

My mother I know about. She was an “Okie,” born on a farm in a hamlet southwest of Oklahoma City, abruptly uprooted as a youngster during the Depression. Instead of the classic route to the promised land of California (or maybe not, if “you ain’t got that do-re-me,” as another Oklahoman, Woody Guthrie, noted), her parents retreated to the Illinois they’d started from. Then, somehow, she signed up with the State Department after a couple years of college in St. Louis and ended up in Baghdad, Iraq, in the 1950s. Later she worked in Frankfurt, where she was secretary to the head of the Escapee Program (escapees from the Eastern Bloc, that is; the then current immigration law was too exclusionist to let them into the US as refugees). That’s where she met my father, who was working for State’s Courier Service. When I was very young, she played folk music on guitar, much influenced by Joan Baez’s folk revivalist phase (that song book survived many a move around the world), complete with long straight hair (later, also like Joanie, she wore it short). Somewhere along the way she stopped playing and singing. Perhaps it was just a fad, as it was for many.
Looking north past Storm King.

Looking north past Storm King.

To this day, though, folk music — especially those plaintive gal singers (like Baez doing Seeger’s “Where Have All The Flowers Gone”) — tends to make me cry.
Sloop Clearwater

The tiller of the sloop Clearwater, docked on Pier 5 last year.

“A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance” ~ from the third section of Ecclesiastes, the King James Version — certainly the only worth-while committee-written book — put to music by Seeger in the much-covered “Turn Turn Turn.”

Goodnight, Pete, rest in song.

4 Responses to “To every thing there is a season”

  1. 1 Edward Olivera January 29, 2014 at 9:03 am

    Thanks for that lovely meditation and the pictures too. I spent much of yesterday sad over the loss of this great man who exerted a powerful influence on me. I am one of Woody’s children. From an early age, in elementary school, I was blessed to have a great music teacher who first introduced me to the folk tradition which was just gaining steam then. The Weavers, New Lost City Ramblers, early Dylan, and Joan Baez made a huge lifelong impression on me.

    The thing that always got me about Seeger was his generosity. As I got on in yeas, I come to realize my most valuable asset is Time, and to give of it freely is my duty and obligation to others. Seeger was a great example of that kind of understanding. If you want to keep it, you have to give it away.

    I lived in Dutchess County for many years and lost a friend and neighbor at an early age who was instrumental (pun intended) in the Hudson Valley Folk Guild, the last harbinger of this now relic of a musical movement. At his memorial attended by many of the Guild shortly after his death a letter was read by Pete about this man and you could feel the power of his words as they were read.

    A light has gone out.

  2. 2 crumpet212 January 29, 2014 at 11:27 am

    I was talking to my sister last night about Pete Seeger, who was an intimate part of our childhoods-we’re both in our sixties. My parents had the Weavers records in their collection of classical/left wing/blues/ music, and my sister and I often danced to their music as our parents admired our moves.
    My sister told me something I didn’t know–my parents put paper over the album covers, to avoid them being easily identified. Must have been when Pete was under investigation for being a commie, with a small “c”. My parents had been too, and every once in a while I discover another memento of their attachment to social justice.

  3. 3 Peggy Herron January 29, 2014 at 12:07 pm

    Pete Seeger ,thank you helping us get our Hudson back. Matthew thank you for your photos and blog.

  4. 4 Kathleen January 29, 2014 at 10:02 pm

    How nice you paid tribute to Pete. He was a blessed soul who will remain in my heart forever. He was a picture of inspiration and courage.

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