Tuesday, January 28, 2014
Pete Seeger, Ray Brock, Henry David Thoreau: Notes on a Berkshire Map
It was the summer of '63. We were driving my dad's 1957 Ford station-wagon on Rattlesnake Mountain Road outside of Stockbridge, Massachusetts. I had just graduated from high school. I wanted to be a folksinger -- and there on this twilit country road was a tall man and a short man, walking. I recognized the tall guy immediately and slowed the car. I was keeping pace with them for a moment. The tall one was Pete Seeger, the shorter one was twelve-string guitar master, Bob Davenport from England.
I pulled the station-wagon over to the side of the road. I got out and walked over to Pete and said, "You mind if I walk with you?" It was brazen, and foolish. Pete looked at Davenport with less than a smile and more of a question mark. Davenport whispered, "I'd like to know what they're thinking, these American kids." Pete turned to me and said, "Come along then." I waved to my cousin Kyle and she got behind the wheel and drove off ... and I was alone with a legend and the legend's friend, who was really the one permitting the walk-along-side.
In my memory that walk lasted forty hours. But whatever time it took walking the length of it and then coming back and walking another length was sweet to me because these two great musicians were talking about everything under the sun. And then -- after the real sun sank behind Monument Mountain, Pete made that statement I'll never forget: "If you squeezed that mountain the sap would run out and turn into culture." I knew what he meant -- the Berkshires of Massachusetts was the heartland of New England poetry, prose and let's not forget maple syrup. The way Pete said it, and explained it, the dripping sap off that mountain contained the souls of Hawthorne, Melville, Thoreau, Stowe, Sedgwick, Bryant, Longfellow and the rest.
After a while we sat down in a field and counted fireflies. I'll never forget that night. Nor will I forget, some years later meeting another folk legend, Ray Brock who gave me a pancake recipe that he liked to use in the Virgin Islands on a Baltic ketch, "and don't forget the fresh nutmeg" -- and I never do, Ray!
All this may seem like a long time gone, 1963-1968, but to me it's the wink of a firefly on a summer's night.