Smile With Pete [on Two Artists Tuesday]

It is a hot and humid morning as we sit to write. The sky is dark and rumbling. A storm is moving in. Dogga doesn’t like the thunder. He stays close. He studies our responses. Kerri jumped up to close the windows against the rain.

News of Pete’s passing came yesterday. And, although I have not seen him in a few years, it sucked the air from my lungs. His path through life was not easy. He was the first truly free spirit I met in my youth. I’d met lots of pretenders, cape-wearing artists that fancied themselves to be free. Angry activists. Pete was different. His protest against the Vietnam war meant that he simply refused to fight. Peace made him a criminal so he went where he could live as he believed, a hippie, living off the land and off the grid. He understood that his actions mattered. He understood that his choices impacted everyone so he was dedicated to making sustainable, non-violent life-choices. Pete was way ahead of his time.

He was a beekeeper and, occasionally, when he needed help, I rode in his old truck and helped him lift the heavy hives, moving them to the next field. He collected the honey for sale and made beeswax candles. If a puritan work ethic smashed into a Buddhist mindset, Pete was the result. He worked hard. He relaxed hard.

He believed in the illumination of human consciousness. He meditated and practiced presence. We talked endlessly about the nature of…nature and what it was to be of the earth and not on the earth.

One night, after a long drive and a long day of moving hives to a farmer’s field, too late to drive home over the passes, the farmer gave him permission to camp overnight. Pete rolled out his sleeping bag and fell asleep under the stars. Two county ditch riders, seeing a hippie in a farmer’s field, decided it would be great fun to run their truck over the hippie. Pete’s hair got caught in the bumper. He was drug behind the truck for a long, long way before his hair finally released from his head.

No one can explain how he survived. His body was broken, his brain was damaged, but his spirit was unharmed. I’ve never seen another human being go through so much, lose so much, and come out smiling. In my middle age, years after the “accident,” sitting with Pete at family picnics, I’d ask him how he was doing. “Greeeeaaaaat!” he’d say, smiling his famous smile, closing his eyes again, turning his face to feel the sun.

No one I’ve ever known had more reason to be bitter yet had less capacity for self-pity. A peace-lover who became a survivor of horrific violence, an independent spirit who became impossibly dependent, a man of nature who was rendered incapable of doing any more than looking at the mountains and the fields, and his response was to smile.

Pete was rendered present. He embraced a simple gratitude for every day of life. He was capable of being no where else and inhabited his limitation with appreciation.

Even in his wreckage he managed to live fully his convictions. Isn’t that the mark of a great person?

read Kerri’s blog post about GRASSES

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