RIP Peter McFarland

peter mcfarland

I’ve been lucky enough to meet a few of the greatest visionaries of the last 50 years, and men and women who have shaped the course of our culture, but I say with complete honesty that the most amazingly creative person I ever met in my life was my uncle, Peter McFarland, who passed away last week at age 67.

Peter was a painter, a novelist, a poet, an architect, a game designer, a textile weaver, a philosopher, a millwright, a sawyer, a carpenter, a humanitarian, a politician, an environmentalist, a soldier, a master gardener, a horseman…there isn’t much he didn’t try his hand at. And when he tried it, he did it well. The live action role playing game he started—since maintained by his son Truax—turned into the Maine Adventure Society, which has lasted nearly 20 years. He was a published poet and his paintings were shown on two continents.

duct tape viking peter mcfarland

His paintings can be seen at his website—I’ve linked to them before here. They don’t photograph too well—they are huge—but the dark, disturbing images bear little relationship to the man who was loved by his family with utmost devotion. Although I knew him all my life, and loved him with all my heart, I have no idea where these startlingly original visions came from in the nurturing man who was so devoted to the land, sustainability, his dear wife, Peggy and his six children. I asked him sometimes to tell me what the paintings were about, and he had explanations for every symbol and allegory, but I don’t know if we’ll ever figure them out on our own.

Peter lived on an 80 acre compound that over the years turned into a vision of the kind of magical world he tried to make manifest.

201210221017.jpg

He built this house.

20121022-100702.jpg

And this one.

And this 12 sided barn.

201210221014.jpg

And this more conventional one.

When I say built I don’t mean he hired some people to do it. I mean he sat down with some graph paper, figured out the plan, bought some lumber and cement and started hammering until there was a house. In my youth I helped him on a few of his projects and if my carpentry skills were nowhere near his, I at least learned the basics of drywall and roofing.

He had the amazing ability to look at raw material and see potential and a better, more magical thing. A visionary. If he had ever put all of his skills together, I think he would have been a theatrical director like Peter Sellars or maybe a less melodramatic Barnum…someone who knew how to instill wonder and awe in others and make life more filled with beauty and fantasy.

eels peter mcfarland

The great tragedy of his life is that he had battled COPD, emphysema and lung cancer for 20 years. This active man, who had delighted in running a sawmill and riding draft horses bareback, eventually struggled to climb the stairs. Although watching him fight against this was a heartbreak that all of us who loved him shared, he didn’t give in; when he could no longer walk his land, he took to painting, turning out canvas after canvas. When he couldn’t walk to the studio, he rode his tractor. When he couldn’t do that he started writing and using the internet. He fought and fought to get out his message. And eventually there came a battle he could not win, and a place where we could not follow him.

Peter was my mother’s brother; by a cruel irony, my step-father’s brother, Joel, also died young, at only 60. Both Joel and Peter were the people you went to when you needed to know how to do something. They gave wise advice on any topic, mentored and protected. Maybe it’s fate’s way of telling us that we need to figure things out for ourselves that they were taken away so soon. Being a grownup is a lonely place.

I could devote a whole blog to Peter’s saying and creations, but I’ll just leave you with one more. He was as astute politically as he was every other way. Back in the depths of the Iraq War, we were both sitting there being gloomy, and I asked him, “But what will happen?” He went into a 10 minute analysis of China’s rising economy, the environmental impact of coal, and America’s doomed reliance on real estate, banking and finance to fire productivity. Nothing he said hasn’t come to pass. I guess I should have asked him this a lot more, but I was afraid of the answer.

There is much more to tell and write, far outside the scope of this blog. Just know that without Peter I wouldn’t be the person I am; he taught me whimsy and fantasy. When he went in the Army I inherited his collection of fantasy books from Tolkien to Burroughs, and we all know where that has led. He inspired me to love the land and respect its cycles of birth and death. I know he knew of his own coming place in that cycle, but didn’t accept it. I can barely accept it myself. A few people really do live on forever, and Peter will be one of them.

20121022-100344.jpg

20121022-100426.jpg

20121022-100446.jpg

20121022-100614.jpg

20121022-100635.jpg

Comments

  1. TrishMulvihill says:

    Lovely tribute, Heidi. Peter sounds like the kind of guy you never forget meeting. What a treasure to actually have him as your uncle.

  2. Karen says:

    What a beautiful tribute, Heidi. I’m sorry for your loss, but happier for you for all that you clearly gained.

  3. The Doctor says:

    I am so sorry for the sadness you feel, Heidi, but what a glorious person, what wonderful memories you still have in your heart. For that, I’m glad for you.

  4. So sorry to hear. As a longtime reader, it makes total and perfect sense now where your own unique aesthetic began. Those gifts don’t end.

  5. Carl Pietrantonio says:

    Heidi, I am saddened by your loss. Peter sounds like a fantastic person. He will live on though as long as you remember him at the very least. Best wishes and take care.

  6. Shannon O'Connor says:

    Thank you for this, Heidi. You write so beautifully.

  7. bruce taub says:

    a knew peter from 1968 and was with him and shannon at the settling of the earthworks commune in franklin vermont thru 1973. there is great footage of peter at earthworks on a blogsite maintained by dylan nolfi, son of another commune founder, at http://vtcommune.blogspot.com/

  8. Hey Bruce, I think I may remember you…vaguely. I as a little kid who came to visit the commune once in a while. i do remember Dylan as another child on the commune. Thanks for writing. We watched the footage of Peter on Dylan’s site as we gathered around on the last weekend and it was wonderful to share one last time with him.

  9. What a wonderful tribute – thank you so much for sharing it with us. I was another fellow communard at Earthworks, the other horse driver with Peter. I loved Peter’s flamboyance and creativity – and the energy that blazed from him, his laughter and his devotion to (then) Shannon, Truax and Alice… Peter certainly lives in my heart.

  10. Tim Downey says:

    I knew Peter mostly as the the Franklin commune was breathing it’s last. The principals had for the most part, departed. Peter stayed . He was a born teacher/leader with a markedly different agenda than his peers and I related. For me Peter will always be one of the handful of people that I think we all have had in our lives that, through example, gave context and clarity to ones vague sense of place and purpose. I was a very young, curious and without much direction.Peter got me facing forward on the path . I’ve thought often of him and his gentle example as he effortlessly found the balance between the cerebral and the practical. Who knew that would be a key component to happiness? Peter seemed to understand effortlessly.

  11. Wow, I just heard of Peter’s passing and loved reading your words about him. I too lived with him in Vermont and just last week (! I had no idea he had passed away) I was relating to another friend from Vermont how I considered Peter to be a true genius and an inspiration. I learned so many things from him and watched him work with horses, build a sawmill, arc weld, forge metal and a myriad of other difficult things. He always approached these complex tasks with a great sense of humor and humility and was able to demystify the processes so a young and dumb kid like me could understand. I remember him sitting by the large wood stove, warming his feet by the fire and reading an enormous catalog of tool and die tools cover-to-cover, for which I made fun of him! I had always hope to run into him again someday, so am sad to hear of this. He will be missed.

Speak Your Mind

*