Remembering Peter

By Hugh Rogers

At the celebration of Peter’s life, a full house, very few of whom would have been Jewish, learned multiple meanings of the Hebrew word “shalom.” It is not only “peace,” it is “community,” and also “home.” During the service, this pregnant word was repeated almost as often as “Adonai.” It seemed especially significant for Peter, who yearned for a world in which human beings would be at peace with their natural environment, and who loved to share his and Marilyn’s home with others who could help in that effort.

West Virginia Highlands Conservancy board and committees met at their house in Timberline, in Canaan Valley, and we were aware of Peter’s active role in preserving the best features of that neighborhood – including a stern defense of the lake against invading geese. But as Marilyn reminded us after Peter died, his heart home in these mountains was really at Goshen, on North Fork Mountain. Our meetings there featured afternoon scrambles from knob to knob, view to view, that always seemed to require pushing through pack-stripping thickets on our hands and knees.

Pushing through obstacles invigorated him. He loved to tell stories of long backpacking trips out West and in Canada. At the funeral, we heard one of those stories, involving a glacier, from his son Andrew. It reminded some of us of a winter hike much closer to home. Peter wanted to show us a favorite campsite in Dolly Sods, and he more or less lured us with an easy beginning, a drive up Timberline roads nearly to the top of Cabin Mountain. It was snowing – not so hard in the Valley, but ferociously when we hiked up that last hundred yards into the wind. Pretty soon, all landmarks were erased. You couldn’t have tracked us as we wandered in search of, and then into, and then more or less along a stream that kept playing tricks. We finally stopped by a spruce windbreak to fire up a little stove and make some tea to go with our apples and chocolate. Was this the place? Hard to say. Anyway, our return, though no quicker, was fortunately more direct: head west to the edge, then find the path down to the car.

Peter’s version of going his own way did not exclude, indeed invited, anyone who could be persuaded to come along. The Jewish funeral, in Davis, with a rabbi who had come down from Cumberland, was very much in that spirit. Hebrew (and Aramaic) was translated, songs were explained, connections were offered to Christian prayers. We learned that Peter had insisted on going to Hebrew school, and preparing for a traditional bar mitzvah, against his very secular parents’ wishes – precisely the opposite course of the typical Jewish teenager, who hates all that “extra” work. I can’t even guess about what moved him in that direction; but I can tell you that Peter did not hate work. He thrived on it. For many years, the Highlands Conservancy benefited from it.