Michael Whaling, November 12, 2014

Title

Michael Whaling, November 12, 2014

Subject

Race
Art
Environmentalism

Description

Michael Whaling is an artist and environmental activist. Whaling was born in Sharon Springs, and currently resides there. He has lived in Sharon Springs, New York, Hallandale, Florida, Maine as well as around the world in U.S. Naval bases. Michael has been creating art since he was a young man, and for the past twenty years he has weaved his environmental concerns into it. Michael grew up during the 1950s and 1960s, and had many experiences with race and racism growing up, which were formative for him.
Whaling’s art often takes the form of manual works, such as building stone walls or furniture. As stated before, he also creates works of art that weave his environmental messages in them. These messages often relate to local issues that Michael is passionate about, such as pesticides on Doubleday Field in Cooperstown.
Whaling’s recollections range from his experiences from childhood to his recent environmental concerns. His most interesting recollections are in regards to race and growing up with parents with racist parents. Also he ruminates about local environmental concerns.
I interviewed Mr. Whaling in his home in Sharon Springs. His home is a converted barn, and is filled with his art and hand-made furniture. He lives with his dog, and lives without the distractions of modern technology.

Creator

Lynds Jones

Publisher

Cooperstown Graduate Program, State University of New York-College at Oneonta

Date

2014-11-12

Rights

New York State Historical Association Library, Cooperstown, NY

Format

audio/mpeg
28.8mB
audio/mpeg
25.3mB
audio/mpeg
3.3mB
image/jpeg
1836 x 3264 pixels

Language

en-US

Type

Sound

Identifier

14-037

Coverage

Florida

Upstate New York
1943-2014
Sharon Springs, NY

Interviewer

Lynds Jones

Interviewee

Michael Whaling

Location

5 French Street, Sharon Springs, NY

Transcription

MW = Michael Whaling
LJ = Lynds Jones

[Start of track 1, 0:00]

LJ: This is November 12th 2014 interview of Michael Whaling by Lynds Jones for the Cooperstown Graduate Program Community Stories, recorded at Michael Whaling’s house at 5 French St.
MW: 159
LJ: 159 French St. in Sharon Springs, New York. So Michael, I want to start off with where were you born and where did you grow up?
MW: I was born in Cobleskill New York, October 3rd 1943 and I grew up in Sharon Springs largely, when I was in 2nd grade we moved to Florida. My father was a plumber and a fisherman, and he really liked Florida because he fish all year round, he could fish for trout up here and for other things in the ocean down there. So I had my first grade, I spent in Sharon Springs, my father’s sister was my teacher.
LJ: Was the Florida home a vacation home?
MW: No the Florida home we rented down there the first few years and then we purchased the house in Hallandale just south of Hollywood.
LJ: Hollywood, Florida?
MW: Right.
[Track 1, 1:30]
LJ: Alright, so I want to kind of jump into some of the other stuff, more of your interests. So what was your first real inspiration to pursue art?
MW: Well I was encouraged by my family, my mother especially, to draw. My father was very good at sketching, he could illustrate a conversation and I found that it was easy for me to do, and I enjoyed it and people said nice things about it when you did something. There wasn’t much of it when I was a kid, and when I got out of the Navy in 1968 I began to take an interest in the work of Andrew Wyeth. I purchased a little book for $7 in Augur’s Book Store in Cooperstown of his pencil drawings and dry brush paintings, and the simplicity of them really appealed to me. Plus they looked like Otsego and Schoharie county.
[Track 1, 2:45]
LJ: Could you tell me the types of mediums that you work in?
MW: My favorite thing to work in is to build in stone. I’ve done some stone walls around here, the largest project was the garden wall at the Beekman Farm, which used 340 tons of local limestone, mixed with granite from local hedgerows and stonework is something that I have been drawn to for a long time, the simplicity of it. All you need is a small bag of canvas tools, and a couple of bars to move the bars with and some gloves and you’re on your way. I found it to be very easy to do.
[Track 1, 3:40]
LJ: I have also noticed around the house, you have watercolors. Could you tell me about why you like to do those as well?
MW: The watercolors are part of a realization, I guess, that I grew up in some of the prettiest country that I’ve ever seen. I wasn’t really aware of that until I traveled a bit. When I got out of the Navy I went to Switzerland for a week and Lucerne, and I was just knocked out by that place, the depth of the hills and the valleys and so forth. But in Schoharie county and Otsego county as well, the seasonal changes and this country, I think we are very fortunate to live in such a beautiful area and I find great satisfaction in capturing it. I don’t do complex scenes, I like to something like catch reflections and hillsides, that sort of thing.
[Track 1, 4:54]
LJ: You also seem to have taken an interest in wood. What has drawn you to that as well?
MW. Well I was fortunate that I was hired to do some work up on the Busch property back in the late 80s when Louis Busch Hager decided to transform an old building that was originally the Woodland Museum into a lodge for him and his family. I had previously done some what's called “twig work,” its actually Adirondack style log and twig railings at Sam Smith’s boat yard. The work at Hager’s lodge was nicely featured in the Architectural Digest, and that was a big ego trip for one thing, but it also gave me confidence to branch out, and that was when I started building furniture from limbs and roots and that sort of thing. And then when I moved to Maine for a few years, I lived near the coast, and the old orchards up there, because of the exposure to wind have much nicer, more graceful curves than the apple trees in this area which tend to grow at sharper right angles. So I built some furniture up there and was encouraged by that, and I just generally enjoy working in manual pursuits.
[Track 1, 6:35]
LJ: So you’ve mentioned manual pursuits and one of your favorite things is stone walls. Where does that interest come from?
MW: I’m not sure where it came from. I know that I like the feeling of accomplishment from building something that you can actually see, whether its a painting or a piece of furniture or a stone wall, there is a gratification thing going on there probably. But also its nice when somebody comes and tells you how much they like what you’ve done, and these opportunities whether its watercolor, furniture building, or stone wall building, they are very individual. If you gave the same pile of rocks to four different people, you undoubtedly would get four very different looking walls. Same with a pile of limbs somebody says “Make a chair out of that.” That part I enjoy, the interpretation of the material and the form and function of it.
[Track 1, 7:45]
LJ: Do you have any messages or any intent? Like messages that you you intend to get across to an audience, or is it something that is for you?
MW: Well there have been some messages. I’ve done some posters, a watercolor of a dandelion with a caption that says “Celebrate Diversity. Tolerate Dandelions.” That was done for a campaign against lawn chemicals in Cooperstown. And there is another one with a blue swirl on a poster that would be a swirl which would be created by a canoe paddle, and that was done for Motorless Lakes, and it says “Motorless Lakes”, and then theres the swirl and then it says “Cleaner, Safer, Quieter” below that. That was done for a campaign back in 1998 when Governor Pataki purchased land from Marylou Whitney to fill out the Adirondack park. After that land was purchased there was a lot of pressure from the industry to open it up to jetskis and motorboats and we went up there with a campaign, with the committee to preserve the Adirondacks as well, they were actually behind it, and I did a poster for it to keep it primitive and to keep the jetskis and the big boats out of there. And Governor Pataki graciously signed that as primitive areas so everybodys efforts were successful in that. There are other things that have been done. There was an effort to put a motor boat launch on Otsego Lake, back in the early nineties by the New York State Department of Conservation. They wanted to put it up by Hyde Bay, and there was a great campaign involving a lot of people in Cooperstown to stop that. Henry Cooper chief among them, Louis Hager, we didn’t want it. The late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan was very helpful in stopping that and as a representative of that fight, a representation of that fight I should say, I took a map of the lake and cut out a piece of plywood in that shape and then mounted a mirror behind it and then took a chisel and hit at the place where the motor boat launch would have been built and threw a series of cracks radiating from that, and that was to celebrate the defeat of that proposal and its entitled “Bad Idea 1993,” and it hangs on my porch.
[Track 1, 10:45]
LJ: So when you have a message in your art it seems to be environmental.
MW: It does seem to be that way, yeah. I stay pretty much out of other things, the environment I think has to do with living in a beautiful area and seeing encroachments and sometimes you can do something with an image that people get the idea quicker than reading four paragraphs and that seems to work. We did it with burn barrels. I did one with a burn barrel up on blocks with smoke coming out of it, that was the way people disposed of garbage around here for a long time, and then in the last thirty or forty years it’s become more toxic since there are more plastics in the packaging. So this is a burn barrel up on blocks with smoke coming out of it, and then the caption reads “A symbol of failure for public health, solid waste management the local control.” And we sent some of those down to D.C. when the campaign was on and Martha Clorvo and a lot of people in Cooperstown were tarred and we finally got a ban against burn barrels. That was another example of taking something, making an image, and trying to turn it into a campaign.
[Track 1, 12:14]
LJ: So stepping away from your art, and moving more towards environmental side of things. Could you tell me, do you remember where your desire to speak out about environmentalism started?
MW: I think it came from a lack of involvement by my father. My father was an avid trout fisherman and he would take me out, when I was little for trips down the West Kill creek over in the northern Catskills and you know we would take a steak and cook it out, and he would hike the creeks and fish, while I would walk along in the woods and stuff. He was always in such great moods when that would happen and he would sit around in the evening with a couple of drinks and talk about the environment, but he never got out of the chair to do anything about it. He never wrote a letter or argued on behalf of anything and I guess it was sometime in the seventies or eighties, I started reading some of the stuff David Brower wrote, and then Edward Abbey. It dawned on me for some people their spirituality is associated it with the natural world, and preserving it and instead of going to a church or so forth, they work to preserve what they see as vital work. I saw the honor in that, and became involved in it.
[Track 1, 14:00]
LJ: Is there a spiritual aspect to environmentalism for you?
MW: There is. It’s hard for me to talk about it, except to say there have been instances when, well for one I went down to New Mexico a couple times back in the nineties to a ranch that belong to Drum Hadley, belongs to Drum Hadley today, and right on the borderlands and hiked canyons down there. We would get off of work at three in the afternoon, and I was working as a carpenter there, but I would take a knapsack and a bottle of water and just hike for the rest of the day and pick up projectile points and pottery shards and stuff like that. I drew a map of the area, I numbered the sites, and numbered all the bags and kept it all seperate, and I only brought one thing back with me and that was a small obsidian projectile point. I mention that because I can remember, just wonderful feelings of hiking that country and I could never understand exactly what Edward Abbey saw in the desert reading his stuff, until I got down there and actually walked it. These canyons or auroios and you see creeks in these areas that look so barren, just the plain simple beauty of the place, I don’t want to use the word spiritual, but I can’t think of anything else that really sums it up. I find the same thing around here, hiking up in back of Roseboom, up behind Cherry Valley, some of those back roads in that country up there, I think there is something very special about just walking and thinking about stuff in country like that.
[Track 1, 16:04]
LJ: I’m the same way, so I agree. So taking kind of a different route because I think it’s important to talk about. Something you mentioned to me last week, was that you felt that art was an escape for you. One of the reasons why you went into it was because you didn’t want to be exposed to what you had been in construction. Could you elaborate on that?
MW: I think some of the racism that I was exposed to would come into play here. I didn’t realize at the time, I mean I grew up in the fifties and sixties. and my mother was from South Carolina and my father was an uneducated from Schoharie county. I grew up with all the bad words and it wasn’t until my thirties that someone in Saratoga suggested that I had what they called “contaminated thinking.” I guess I had to come to terms with a lot of what I grew up around, because a lot of the kids that I grew up with here in Sharon had parents that weren’t like that. So it’s been a bit of a struggle. One of the hardest parts was when PBS did a program a couple years ago on Oscar Hammerstein and his music, and particularly South Pacific. Oscar Hammerstein was talking about racism before anybody in this country was getting into that conversation, certainly not at the national level. He was dealing with it in his musical plays, particularly South Pacific. I didn’t know that at the time, and at the conclusion of this broadcast there is a quote from Oscar Hammerstein, where he says that one of the worst things that parents can do is to pass their prejudices on to their children, and that really got my attention. I didn’t see that until recently, but I have with my history I can tell you that is true.
[Track 1, 18:47]
LJ: Could you elaborate on what this, what’s the word you used, contaminated thinking is?
MW: I think contaminated thinking is, from my point of view, it’s something that is narrow in scope. By narrow, you’re not letting any new ideas. I didn’t have the pleasure of going to college, I went part-time before Vietnam came along and I enlisted in the Navy. But if I had gone to college and spent four years there certainly that exposure would have introduced me to a lot of things I was isolated from, because there was great racism in the Navy as well. I was stationed in the Middle East at a communications site during the Six Day War of 67. I was there from March of 67 to September of 68. The Navy was certainly intergrated, but I saw how black sailors were treated and it wasn’t right.
[Track 1, 20:22]
LJ: Could you elaborate? How was it treated? What did you see that you felt was not right?
MW: Yeah I can actually. There was two instances. The newspaper we got over there was something called Stars and Stripes it was a military publication for all the armed forces, and as such it was a pretty narrow, very narrow editorial view. When there were riots in Newark, and New York, particularly the ones in Newark I think, I was stationed, I was over there then and I picked up the Stars and Stripes and there were pictures of black guys running down the streets with TV sets. So I was stationed a couple of black guys and one of them was from New York and I walked up to him one day at coffee break and I pointed to it and I said “What’s all this about?” He just stared at me and he says. “You got about a half an hour or an hour sometime, you and I will sit and I’ll tell you what it’s about.” And he did. We made the time and he told me what it was like to be walking down the street with your friends in the city, to have the police pull over, throw you up against the wall, call you names, frisk you and then drive away, and things like that. As a kid from Sharon Springs, it never occurred to me that stuff like that happened. But as I got to know these guys, there were other incidents too which I won’t go into, but I’m looking back on it, it wasn’t that I was a slow learner I just wasn’t exposed to this, but I knew that the stuff in the Stars and Stripes newspaper was sensationalist, but this was pretty extreme.
[Track 1, 22:21]
LJ: Was that your first experience, kind of, having your eyes opened?
MW: Yes it was. My mother being from South Carolina and her brother, my uncle, was a successful business man he had his own trucking company, and when we would ride around there he would make references to a bridge where a black man was lynched, and he wouldn’t say black man, and I was a little kid. They had a black woman who was their help in their house, and her name was Cora. She always made a fuss over me and was always really nice to me, but Cora had to come in the back door. As a little kid I didn’t understand that, and when I asked about it one time, I was seven years old, “it’s just where Cora comes in the door, don’t even talk about that anymore.” So a lot of this was hard, at the time I didn’t think of much of it cause I had no point of reference, now I do.
[Track 1, 23:24]
LJ: There was another incident that you told me about last week, which involved a bus and your mother.
MW: Yeah
LJ: Could you elaborate on that one?
MW: Yeah that was one of the early ones. We had moved Hallandale, Florida, it had to be around 1951. I would have been 8 years old, second grade. At the time my father had sent us down there and they had arranged for a house and he was going to drive down later, so while we were there, the point is, we didn’t have a car, so we had to take these little shuttle buses that went between Hallandale and Hollywood and North Miami and so forth. They were just these little, like a city bus cut in half, and that was what we used to travel and buy groceries. We were on one of these buses one time, I was sitting in the front seat with my mother and my sister was sitting in the seat behind us and all the seats were taken in the front of the bus and they stopped and a black woman got on. She looked in the back and went over and grabbed one of the rails that hang from the ceiling and I got up and motioned to her “take my seat.” She looked at me and just walked right to the back of the bus. So I sat back down and my mother said “don’t you ever do that again!” I said “what?” She said “you don’t offer your seat to a black woman.” I said “I was taught that when a lady walks into a room and there is no place for her to sit, you offer her your chair.” My mother said “that was no lady, that was a black woman.”
[Track 1, 25:20]
LJ: So you have this history of this tension with racism. In your explanation last week, you mentioned that you had to face it in your job as well. Could you expand on that?
MW: Yeah. During 1963, it was actually right during the Cuban Missile Crisis. My father got me a job working as a carpenter’s helper building these apartment buildings in South Florida near Hollywood. There were black guys there that worked on the job, they did the labor, they dug the footings where they would pour the concrete, this was before they had little backhoes. The guy who was in charge of them was named Moe. Moe looked liked a running back from the NFL, he was probably 5’10” almost 200 pounds. All of us, the guys my age 17, 18 years old, we always said hi to Moe because he was a friendly nice guy. And one morning, I think it was a Monday because it had rained on the weekend, and the footings had caved-in and they had to be dug out. The guy who was in charge at our level was the son of the superintendent and he went over to Moe and he said “Moe, get a couple of niggers over here and clean this out.” Two or three of us my age were standing there and we looked at Moe, he just looked over the top of his eyes at that guy, and we just looked to the ground because we thought he was gonna skin him. He just walked away and got some guys and they dug it out. But that to me came back to Moe, he was a very capable guy, he was a carpenter, he could concrete work, he could do anything, but because he was black and he was a tough guy he was given the job of being in charge of the other black guys but he was given no credit or no authority beyond that. He was a natural leader and we knew it was wrong, we just knew it. So that was, yeah, that’s a hard memory. I often wish that I had been able to have another conversation with Moe.
[Track 1, 28:00]
LJ: How have you gotten away from that? How have you gotten away from your past, being taught and raised with this?
MW: Well I think that the art has given me new things to think about. I’m convinced that had I had more information I would have spoken out sooner, I would have gotten more involved. I often wonder sometimes at some of the environmental stuff I get into, it is perhaps a late bloom that I didn’t get into social issues earlier or something. Be what it is, I think that the reality now is that a lot of us know better. We knew better back then, but we didn’t have the power to do anything about it, because you just didn’t say anything then. My father was a violent man and I got slapped around quite a bit as a kid and so there was always that if I had spoken up. My father didn’t like Jewish people. So there was a lot of stuff there. I think that maybe getting into art, and getting into manual arts and building things, for me, has been a way to stay busy and not contemplate that too much
[Track 1, 29:45]
LJ: Is there something in the act of doing, of building a wall, or building a chair that is special to you?
[Track 2, 00:00]
MW: You get lost in it. Your concentration is, I don’t know what it’s like to do knitting, but I think someone who is really good at knitting and enjoys it would find an absorption there that is good for you. The stone work, I’ve tried to write up what it’s like to get lost in it, cause you do get lost in it. A simple bag of tools, a pile of stone, and you have your layout. A friend of mine, who I sent a copy of the book we did on the wall at the Beekman Farm, wrote back to me and she said “You must have gotten lost in that wall.” I hadn’t written that before, but now I use that in my own thinking, cause I did get lost and I didn’t realize how wonderfully lost until I wasn’t building it anymore. There are all kinds about Zen, and getting into something and I think stonework, for me at least, was an example of that. More so than anything else I’ve ever done. I mean building a chair, you’re looking at some limbs and you bolt them together in a way that you make a structure, but also that it’s visually pleasing, and you try all these different things and you get lost doing that. But it’s nothing like doing stonework, stonework is just a total absorption, and it’s hard to explain.
[Track 2, 01:42]
LJ: So you’ve mention a couple of times the Beekman Farm wall. Could you kind of expand what that project was?
MW: Yeah, Brett and Josh when they first came here, I don’t know five, six years ago now, on a referral from some folks down the road that came to talk to me about building a wall around the garden on that property. They wanted it in the shape of an L instead of a closed rectangle. So I went down and looked at it. As you come in the driveway to the Beekman Farm there are two nicely built columns of local limestone and in Sharon Springs we have old quarries down here on the way down to the lower village where they quarried the stone and you see it in a lot of foundations here. So, anyway, we talked about and I said “well we should use as much local limestone as we can, because that’s what was used here, and it’s native.” So it would be about a hundred feet north south, another hundred feet east and west. We wanted it to be, I believe, almost forty inches wide, and thirty two inches high. I knew of a source of limestone up near Cherry Valley, where when the State Department of Transportation widened Route 20 back in the fifties they dumped all the limestone that they blasted from those ledges down over a property of someone there. So we made a deal with him, a man by the name of Robert Lowks. We hired a trucker to go down and get it and haul it and then to mix with it we used chunks of granite from hedgerows around farms in Sharon, where we didn’t take any walls apart to assemble that wall, everything was from found stone. So by mixing the limestone with chunks of granite, we broke up the monotony of the pale grey and we also broke up the line of the wall, so that you’d have a round one here, and a rectangle, and some angles and so forth. But the wall itself took, I believe, two seasons to build. I was gonna say most of it was done the first year, but that’s not true. It’s funny it wasn’t that long ago and I can’t recall how long it took. The season would be from say, April to October, so there were two seasons, so it took about a year to build it.
[Track 2, 05:01]
LJ: What makes that, to you, a work of art?
MW: The randomness of it. There are opportunities there, you know, where you have a chance to make something that’s a little more fun to look at, that’s still structurally strong, or in some cases stronger, you have to go for it. I think that, as I said in the book, if you gave the same pile of stones to four different people, and told them to build a wall, you would very likely get four very different walls. Everybody has an idea of how it should look. I really like to break up the horizontal and the vertical patterns in a wall, as well as to put in some color and the granite that we have around here really helped with that. They were great guys to work for, I mean, it was the kind of thing some days I would work four hours, some days I’d work five, and some days I’d work two hours. It just depended on how I felt that day.
[Track 2, 06:25]
LJ: Do you think that part of getting lost in it is the randomness and that’s one of the reasons you enjoy it so much.?
MW: Yeah I think so. I think it’s always a challenge because you have to follow certain rules. Like you never ever have a running joint, in other words where two stones come together the next stone that goes on top of that has to cover that joint. That pattern has to follow whether you’re using round ones, flat ones or angled ones, and sometimes when you’ve done a flat section, let’s say, for four feet with maybe various thicknesses, sometimes you're just dying to do something in there that’s going to jazz it up, either with color or with shapes, so you get a couple of angled ones in there and tie it in. Also used broken slates from the roof of the old bathhouse down here in Sharon, which I could slide in, to shim and level stones and wedge them as well. So there was a lot of design opportunities and chances to make it more exciting to look at. As a matter of fact some people stopped by on a tour one time, unannounced, and they came up and a lady came up and said “why do you put those big round ones and angled ones in with all the nice flat ones?” And I said “because it’s more fun to look at a quilt than a piece of corduroy.” And for some strange reason that night when I came home I had a glass of wine and I thought “that was pretty good.” And then I thought “listening to organ music is like staring at corduroy,” and I wrote that one down.
[laughter]
[Track 2, 08:23]
LJ: That’s really good. That’s a very good analogy. Alright, so stepping away from that, moving more towards the environmental side of things. What are your concerns now about the environment?
MW: Well I think that at the level that I live at, my concerns mainly are the things I can have an effect on. There are a lot of things I’d like to change. We got involved in getting the pesticides off Doubleday Field here, about a year ago. That’s the kind of thing that, I think, is really important, I mean we have, as I said to someone they were talking about that for the paper,
I mean we have all campaigns every year about wearing pink for Breast Cancer Awareness month or whatever. But let’s stop these poison to kill these dandelions and spraying stuff on playing fields. I mean, I think, that in the not too distant future we’re going to look back on the time we sprayed chemicals for aesthetic purposes or so we could more effectively play a game like golf, and wonder how we could have been so damn stupid, to be real blunt about it. I feel that herbicides and pesticides, the state of New York sprays roadsides at enormous cost, and these signs that they’re saying that they have to protect, these signs are eight feet off the ground, there is no way those weeds will reach that sign before the next frost. You have to wonder why they do it. I could get into a real rant about that. I think as you get older, for myself, I find things that looking back I wish I had said more about. Not to go after the pesticide thing too much, but that to me is just an outrage. They got people believing that they can control their destiny if they go out and spray the daylights out of the dandelions in their yard.
[Track 2, 10:57]
LJ: Just to have a little bit of clarification, when we’re talking about environmentalism, you usually use the word “we” when you’re describing going after something. Who is we?
MW: Well there are organizations out there that are doing it. I’ve written a number of letters about things from my point of view. I think there is a “we” out there. Some of us are more vocal than others. But most people that I talk to agree, not everyone is willing to sign a letter to that effect. So there is a “we” out there, if we can line them all up and get them to march with us, but they are out there.
[Track 2, 12:00]
LJ: So you mentioned that the environmentalism that you care about, in general, is the stuff you can effect. Is there anything other than, as an example, the pesticides, is there anything else locally that you feel strongly about?
MW: I think that I’d like to see more done about is not local, but, you know, there is all this with the space program, we’re spending an enormous of money to check out the solar system, and that is probably how it should be. However, when I see pictures of little kids picking through a smoldering dump in the Philippines with all this packaging that they’re picking through, and I see pictures of other places, like in the Middle East where they are recycling things effectively, because their economies benefit from it. In this country, we’re spending all this money on the space program, but we’re generating all this packaging for stuff that we ship to Europe and Asia and so forth, and there’s no plan.We generate this stuff, but there is no plan to get it back to the source. So in Pakistan and India and other places over there, these children are picking through these dumps. I guess I’m saying there should be some responsibility when you generate something that has the potential to poison the atmosphere and the water. You have a responsibility to recycle that and not just say “ oh it’s in your country now, burn it, whatever you want to do.” You shouldn’t burn that stuff, we know enough now. So anyway, not to get on too much of a rant on this but that’s something. All this money for the space program, fine, but we should be cleaning up the way we deal with stuff here on this planet before we export bad attitudes towards our space. I think we have a lot of housekeeping to do here. That sounds like a rant, and I suppose it is, but it troubles me that everything is packaged in plastic, and yet there is no to vendor clause in that which makes us accountable as the originator of that stuff to prevent the health effect that it ultimately has.
[Track 2, 14:48]
LJ: So do you feel like a lot of the issues in environmentalism come down to responsibility?
MW: I think so. I think so. I think there is the profiteering, the money that’s being made in this country on these things and on this packaging. There needs to be some accountability from those that are making the money that are generating this.
[Track 2, 15:23]
LJ: How do you feel about something that I’ve noticed is big around here, or at least I’ve seen a lot of sign around here, how do you feel about fracking.
MW: I’m not knowledgeable about it. Most everything I hear about it, that it has potential to contaminate ground water. If it’s that simple then I’m opposed to it. The whole natural gas thing has got so much money behind it that I’m nervous that we’re going to get a fair hearing on the environmental impact of it. I saw the movie about it, the folks down in Pennsylvania who had their wells poisoned by it, and that’s not an isolated case, it’s happened a lot of places. I know a retired doctor, who lives just outside the village here from Oregon, and his wife who are organic farmers. He’s a lot smarter about technical things than I am, but he’s opposed to fracking because of the potential for damaging ground water. So I’d line up with him, opposed to it. When I don’t know enough about something, if I don’t read up on it, I talk to somebody I respect who does know a lot about it and that’s where I am on this one.
[Track 2, 17:07]
LJ: Would you say that you have allies therefor, and people you respect in these fights for environmental causes?
MW: Yeah there are people that I communicate with, not a lot, a couple. You know the golf course in Cooperstown has been an issue for a long time. Otsego Lake is the headwaters of the Susquehanna river and as such I think we have a downstream responsibility. It’s probably somewhere scratched in a rock by Native people that when a river goes by where you, you don’t do anything to it that will louse it up for those below you. I have great affection for Otsego Lake going back to my childhood, in addition. I think that the playing of a game is hardly worth spreading poisons on the ground, especially on the shore of that beautiful lake. I have offered an alternative to the owner of the golf course, there is a golf course at Martha’s Vineyard that got written up in the New York Times in 2010. It’s totally organic and I recently mailed that to the owner of the Leatherstocking course, saying that “I offer for consideration, that I believe it is an option for the Leatherstocking course.” Previous to this all I’ve done is criticize the use of herbicides, this was the first time I was able to hold up something and say “here is a course that is very high end where they don’t use anything.” Yeah that’s a local issue, and I think that, for me, has been, I don’t know I don’t want to say it’s an obsession, but I’ve been very concerned for some time.
[Track 2, 19:29]
LJ: Did your interest in the pesticide use in Cooperstown, and the greater area, start with Doubleday Field or does it go farther back than that?
MW: That’s a good question. I think it goes back to when I was a kid living right here. There is an apple orchard across the street behind that house. My childhood friends lived over there. My mother would never let me play in that orchard because they sprayed it. This was before Rachel Carlson wrote the book Silent Spring. She instinctively knew, that’s really quite something when you think about that. This is back in the late forties early fifties, you don’t play up there, they spray there I don’t want you near that. That’s pretty good. She didn’t go around complaining about fruits and vegetables, she just didn’t talk about it, but that she talked about. So she was way ahead of her time and God bless her.
[Track 2, 20:49]
LJ: That’s really interesting, that’s unexpected. That’s unexpected that she would.
MW: Yeah, that early. I’m quite taken with that piece of information myself.
LJ: So we have about nine minutes or so, is there anything that you want to talk about? Anything you want to expand upon?
MW: No. I guess I could talk about the fact that I don’t have a laptop. That might take a little too long, but I guess I’d finish by saying that Josh, one half of the Beekman guys, and I were having a conversation not long ago, and he was teasing me about not having a laptop. I told him that I knew too many people that spent too much time on it. I have friends in Maine mailing me down these cartoons and all these little sayings, and their just sitting there just scanning this stuff and I don’t want to get drawn into that. He laughed and said “yeah you’re probably right, people get drawn into it.” And then without even thinking about it I said “I want two things in my life. I want simplicity and texture,” and I stand by it.
[laugh]
[Track 2, 22:30]
LJ: For you what does “simplicity” and what does “texture” mean?
MW: Texture is that I want to cook with olive oil in a skillet, I want to be able to split my firewood, I want to wear good boots, leather boots, keep as much plastic out of my life as I can, and not have a schedule where I have to call people or be places or do things that I don’t want to do. [laugh] It’s pretty selfish. But yeah, I don’t know, but those two words keep coming back, and I don’t want like some sage here, but this is an interview so, I’m doing the best I can.
[Track 2, 23:22]
LJ: Makes sense to me. Expand on why you don’t want a laptop?
MW: Why I don’t want a laptop?
LJ: Yeah.
MW: Because there aren’t that many things that I need to do that I can’t do with a telephone and the U.S. Mail. I have a cell phone in my truck for emergencies, but I know very little how to use it other than how to dial out and check my messages when I’m away from home. That is the high point of my technical achievement, is being able to push the buttons that can play messages when I’m in Cooperstown. I know that’s probably goofy, but that’s kind I’m going to keep it. If someone wants to find me, they can find me, write to me or call me. If I want to order a pair of boots I can do that.
[Track 2, 24:31]
LJ: So does it fit into texture or does it fit into simplicity? The lack of the laptop?
MW: I think simplicity. And texture. I guess a little of both, because I’ll write a letter, I’ll sit down and scrawl a letter out to somebody that’s pretty simple, I guess the texture part is the writing, I mean I have to pick up the pencil and write it. And drawing, I don’t how much art I would do anymore if I had access to a computer I could pull up more interesting, or God knows erotic things even that I hear about. Who know, my art my suffer.
[Track 2, 25:28]
LJ: I think the dog agrees. Alright, that’s very interesting. Alright I think we are almost at the end, so is there any last comments you’d like to make or anything you’d like to say?
MW: Just that I feel that at this point I realize that I grew up in one of the most beautiful places and this wonderful summer and fall we’ve had, I drive from here to Cooperstown on the back roads from Cherry Valley and I’m more aware of that then I ever used to be. I love where I live.
[Track 2, 26:17]
LJ: Alright, well thank you very much Michael.
MW: My pleasure. Thank you.
LJ: Alright.
[Track 3, 00:00]
LJ: Alright. Michael just as a postscript you said, you wanted to explain another story you had from your childhood about your experiences with race.
MW: That’s right. When we moved to Hallandale, Florida, we eventually bought a house in the north-west section of that city. In Hallendale the avenues ran north to south and the streets ran east and west. About four blocks north of us was the black section of town. There was a row of warehouses following the street down there. You could just see how they’d zoned these warehouses right through there so that the two areas were separate. It was like a huge fence. Then south of us by about three blocks was a large food market. A lot of kids, black kids would walk by our house, with canvas bags on the way to that market to go shopping for their parents. They would come down Fifth Avenue where we lived. The kids who lived behind, some of them were my age, and we had adjoining backyards, and we would play football out there. This was in junior high school is when it began. We’d be out there throwing a football around, and the lots came out to the edge of the avenue there, and these black kids would walk by, some of them our age, and they would hold their hands over their shoulder like in the position you would be in to catch a football. They wouldn’t say anything, they just smile and hold their hands up, and we would never thrown them the ball. Because if my father, or my friends father, ever came home and saw us throwing a football with black kids we would have been beaten, pure and simple. This went on and it was really hard not to throw them the ball. It was my instinct, my instincts were to do it. That confirms something to me, that if they had integrated the schools we, as kids, would have worked it out. There wouldn’t have been any problems. I look back at the friends we could have made and the football games we could have had. Throwing a football around is pretty natural thing for little kids to do when you’re in your early teens and so forth. Some of these guys we knew they would be fast, and so forth, and I even wrote up a little script about it titled “Football on Fifth Avenue,” where we’re out there throwing a ball and a guy says “hey man how come you throw me the ball?” And one of us honestly says “because my old man says you’d steal it.” And then he says “well if you guys are as fast as you act like you are, then my speed isn’t going to be a problem for you.” And then further on this little skit we found a lot they can play where they don’t walk by. We’re throwing a long pass and next thing you know, a black guy jumps out of the bushes and runs with it and then comes back and says “here’s your ball.” And then we have games. That would have been the script I would have written but we couldn’t do that because we were afraid of what our parents would say to us, and I hate.that.
[Track 3, 03:21]
LJ: Thank you Michael.

Duration

30:00
26:22
3:24

Bit Rate/Frequency

128 kbps

Files

Whaling_Jones_12NOV2014.jpg

Citation

Lynds Jones, “Michael Whaling, November 12, 2014,” CGP Community Stories, accessed May 21, 2022, http://cgpcommunitystories.org/items/show/204.