Mrs. Sheepandgoats and I blew into Ithaca just as the whole city was about to “stand up for peace.” Of course, we didn’t know they were going to do that. We’d just come down to catch the tail end of the three day music festival. But we hadn’t been in town more than half an hour before some counterculture type person urged us to get to Stewart Park where, at 3 PM, folks would congeal into a giant peace sign. They planned to photograph it from the air and submit it to the Guinness World Record organization. Instead, we risked being seen as warmongers and stayed in the Village Court section, where a cajun band called Bayou Road Krewewas playing.
For a quick mini-excursion, you can’t go wrong traipsing down to Ithaca. My wife and I do it a lot. Just 90 miles southeast of our Rochester home, Ithaca is a college town. SUNY (State University of New York) at Ithaca perches high on the hill to the south and Cornell University straddles the eastern one. The city proper is crammed on a shelf at the foot of Cayuga Lake, but it doesn’t really fit, so it flows up into the surrounding hills, climbing as if ivy. Up there, the streets…commendably gridlike on the shelf…throw off all restraint and writhe here, there, and every confusing where. Descending one of those hills on a snowy day is no job for an atheist.
Four or five creeks cascade from the heights into Cayuga Lake. “Ithaca is Gorges” say t-shirts and bumper stickers. It’s true. Gorges cut deep into the earth right through the heart of the city - two of them pass through Cornell itself. Students bustle on campus above while, two hundred feet down, others hike the gorge as if in a different world. Within ten miles of the city can be found over one hundred waterfalls…I’ve heard some say as high as 150 (Mrs Sheepandgoats and myself strive to find them all).….and some of them are truly spectacular. The local earth museum highlights the fossils and sedimentary layers thus exposed. Try visiting sometime, as I have, with Tom Pearlsandswine. Hear him muttering throughout about the “wiles of Satan,” and challenging museum staff at every exhibit. You’ll want to bury your own head in that sediment.
So alluring is Ithaca that some graduate from the colleges and stay put. They obtain four year or six year degrees, then they hole up in some commune on the hills growing organic food. Or work at the local bookstore. Or start an earth-friendly “green” business. According to this webmaster, Ithaca’s been called "One of America's Most Enlightened Communities" and one of "The Top 10 Places to Drop Out of Society." Perhaps the two titles aren’t as mutually exclusive as they at first appear.
An eclectic bunch….some of them. Generally quite pleasant, though you can’t be one who clucks his tongue at unusual characters. Opening day parade for the music festival consisted of “an automotive ballet composed of a procession of Volvos in synchronized driving formation. A group of burly He-Men toting chainsaws as if they were trombones…..A distinct absence of Odd Fellows, but no shortage of weirdos,” according to the Ithaca Journal. I’m told by the local congregation that these folks tend not to be real receptive to the Bible’s message, perceiving it as a ploy to restrict their freedom. I once worked with a young woman whose divorced father turned up years later as a nudist in Ithaca. So I’m not so sure I want to run down to Stewart Park and make a giant peace sign with them. Besides, what would Winged Migration Man (WMM) say? Were any of his old buddies among those who called the peace sign the "footprint of the American chicken?"
WMM is the retired fellow who spent 24 years on a nuclear submarine (see comment section) keeping the world safe, he maintains, by deterring Soviet attack. It sounds plausible enough to me. And if he plays the “Neville Chamberlain” card, I will absolutely acquiesce to him. Mr. Chamberlain was the British Prime Minister…there were several like him… who “stood for peace” just prior to WWII. He reached agreement after agreement with the tyrannical Nazis, each of which was broken, yet each time he was lauded to the heavens as a great peacemaker. But history judges him harshly. Had he and his peers stood up to Hitler early on, tens of millions might not have died. Unfortunately, hawks tend to see Hitler everywhere, and are ever ready to strike. Many say the current President is like that. Only in hindsight do we know which concerns were appropriate and which were overrated.
Besides, an aerial peace sign strikes me as a frivolous gesture…..appropriate for a music festival, okay - but for a serious political statement? What if it had rained that day instead of the picture perfect weather that was really had? Would even half of the participants have shown up? You must understand that I come from a people (Jehovah’s Witnesses) that have stood for peace when it cost them their freedom and, in some cases, their lives. Over 10,000 Witnesses were incarcerated in Nazi Germany for their neutral stand during the 1930‘s and 1940‘s. In the United States, 4300 were jailed for refusing military service. To this day, our draft-age people in certain countries are routinely incarcerated for their peaceful stand. So having seen people really stand for peace, I don't read too much into a human peace sign on a sunny day of leisure.
About 6000 people assembledfor the big sign. It will be a record if Guinness accepts it, since they’ve not yet kept track of peace signs. An organizer enthused that "we're not going to trash any weapons because of this, but if everybody has the same idea in their mind, that they are coming together in peace and unity, then there's a community started." Um….yeah….I guess....whatever that means.
Actually, there is one circumstance in which I gladly would have taken part. If I could have driven down with a busload of my friendsfrom the home. It would have been a win-win for all. My friends would have had a ball…..they’d each have gotten a peace sticker. Since about half are in wheelchairs, they'd take up more space when seen from above, a plus for the organizers. Civilians could easily be drafted to wheel them around, especially in Ithaca. And if Carolyn decided to indulge in her favorite ranch dressing and milk beverage, or if Jackie ate her peace sticker, no one would bat an eyelash. They’d chalk it all up to our beautiful diversity.
Wolfgang Kusserow, a 20 year old German executed by the Nazis for refusing to go to war, made this answer to the military tribunal:
“I was brought up as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, according to God’s Word contained in the Holy Scriptures. The greatest and most holy law he gave mankind is: ‘You shall love your God above all else and your neighbor as yourself.’ Other commandments read: ‘You must not kill.’ Did our Creator have all this written down for the trees?”