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.
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.
He built this house.
And this one.
And this 12 sided barn.
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.
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.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.