Updated: Oct 3
Peter at the Texas bioregional gathering in 1992
“We didn’t play it for the Big Time. We didn’t play it for the Small Time. We played it for the Real Time”-– Peter Berg 7/24/11
Peter Berg — bioregional founder, radical rascal, one of the original Diggers, mime, guerilla theater artist, writer and kind of light that blasts everyone in the room awake — died this week, for and in real time. I met him in 1984 at the first bioregional gathering when he was already a charismatic presence shining his bright and argumentative eyes at us all and giving talks that rocked our world. I was less than half his age and a little afraid of him. He said important things. He challenged people. He spoke with eloquence and daring. And years before that gathering, he shifted the view for thousands, maybe tens of thousands of us, when he wrote “Amble Toward a Continental Congress: A Bioregional Overview of North American History Following Columbus’ Landing.”
He went on, in the decades since, to write some important books (most recently, Envisioning Sustainability), found the Greencities movement, edit with his wife and partner extradinaire Judith Goldhalf Raise the Stakes, and run an Eco-Ecuador project that is transforming a local city.
But when I think of Peter, I think of quieter moments, one in particular in his and Judith’s San Francisco apartment where I stayed about a decade ago when in the city for a conference I didn’t actually end up attending. “You look different,” Peter said when I walked in. Judith nodded at me, and added, “He notices things like that.” I felt different, having been through some pertinent changes in my life involving crossing over from years of giving birth and nursing babies to what came next, and I was thrilled someone noticed. And Peter was the kind of person who, while writing and speaking to all kinds of theory and practice to transform the world at large, tended to notice small nuances that often eluded others. He and Judith lived in an apartment of a building they owned and used every which way to support bioregional activism, drawing in interns, writing grants, editing publications, speaking and traveling on a whim whenever there was cause.
Gary Snyder, poet of the earth and consciousness, said of Peter, “Throughout his long career he stayed with living right in San Francisco and in word and deed was a proponent of a non-dualistic urban/hinterland view of bioregionalism. Peter was a unique and cranky figure.” He could be cranky, and I witnessed him arguing people up the wall and across the ceiling on occasion because he was right, and he knew he was right……or he wasn’t, but he didn’t believe that. In any case, he lived what he argued, and he wrote and spoke what he lived in a ways that still continue to unfold in my life, such as what he wrote in “Amble”:
Let the light shift. Full moon and a single glaring searchbeam fades out-of-center in the silver night sky. Walking through shimmering woods without a flashlight. The circle of the possible fills with soft diffuse luminosity. The World’s electric-relay box empties into a small part of that circle. Our miraculous genetic heritage, the amazing cultures which have preceded, each human being alive now — all are connected in a species identity which has barely been explored. And it is only part of the life-identity which carries through all the other species and to the planet itself. We are relocating ourselves from world-nation to planet-region, joining the biosphere by participating in local ecosystems with all the species in them. We are accepting our human species identity.
Yes, Peter, you didn’t play it for the big time or small time, but for real time, and for the real time of my life too. Thank you.