Franklin Countys First News

Letter to the Editor: Regarding the passing of Peter Armstrong

In Peter Armstrong’s passing our community lost a remarkable person. He would be the last to think of himself as anything but ordinary, but ordinary he was not. Peter was a master gardener, a highly regarded orchardist, and a naturalist without peer. He lived and worked very much in the earthy world and trod on it with care, deep attention and endless curiosity.

For most of the past 35 years or so, Peter was the mostly constant gardener at our office at Wilson Stream. We were privileged to see, walk through, and be surrounded by his conjurings of color in the gardens he crafted and tended for us. Day in and day out, no matter the elements - intense heat, biting cold, rain - Peter patiently practiced his art with a constant heart-like rhythm. Never hurried, never anything but attentive to his tasks and methodical.

Although he technically worked for us, those gardens were unmistakably his, and woe unto us if an employee filched a few sprigs, left footprints in the soil, or mishandled his hose. In fact, he once ‘fired us’ and quit because we were sloppy with our winter plowing. Hence ‘almost’ constant gardener. Lucky for us he consented to come back.

Peter and I often talked birds and weather. For Peter, these were serious subjects, not light banter. He knew which birds were coming and going, who was calling on the grounds at the office, or in his and Janice’s territory near Drury Pond. No stirring, chirp, or cluck got by him. Peter knew the birds, but more than that understood them and their seasonal doings and strivings. He could recall last year’s arrival and departure dates and he knew how many broods the office catbird was raising through the breeding season.

Likewise weather meant the inches of snow or rain of the last storm, the daily high’s and lows, and the monthly average all cited from memory. The weather was a source of endless wonder and interest for him, never grounds for complaint. Today’s weather was always an interesting comparison to last month or last year. He is the only person I ever met who, among the usual records, also kept track of the moisture content of winter storms along with the snow. I knew when I saw his snowshoe tracks on our camp road at Drury Pond that he would be telling me about snow depths, ice thickness, and what the local beavers and otters were up to.

All of this bespeaks a man who was thoroughly immersed in his work and ramblings and through it and by it, his connection to the physical world around him. He showed by example how we could enter that wonderful space through the simple act of quiet attention and care.

Peter died with his boots on. Many of us wish for that sudden departure that relieves us of the miseries of decline and suffering. But it also is so much harder for those left behind, especially his loving wife Janice but also countless friends and neighbors, who cannot say our farewells or express our thanks and appreciation for his work and example.

Steve Bien

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1 Responses »

  1. Steve, thank you for this well-written and illustrative letter. I did not know Peter, but can not only picture him and his presence--I can feel what he meant to you and yours. He sounds like a sweet, knowing, and peaceful man. I'm sorry for your loss.