CGP Community Stories

Earle Peterson, November 20, 2013

Title

Earle Peterson, November 20, 2013

Subject

Veterinarian
Environmental Conservancy
Greenwoods Conservancy
Otsego County (N.Y.)

Description

With early roots in agriculture and farm life, Dr. Earle N. Peterson has always been much in tune with nature and the environment. It is no surprise that his life work reflects these influences. Growing up on a farm, Dr. Peterson worked very closely with large farm animals, which became his primary interest in veterinary school. He earned his doctorate degree in veterinary medicine at Cornell University in 1958, a seven-year-long process where he not only met the love of his life, but also had a tremendous mentor. In the interview, Dr. Peterson reflects on his childhood, undergraduate experience, life endeavors, career, and more. As the founder of the Greenwoods Conservancy, a local foundation committed to protecting the environment and improving a local habitat, Dr. Peterson has contributed substantially to the Otsego area. In addition, Dr. Peterson was instrumental in creating a neuroscience institute in a hospital in New Jersey in response to the inadequate care of strokes many people were suffering from at the time. Throughout his life, Dr. Peterson has had a number of successes that not only benefitted his life, but also the lives of many others.

Creator

Araya Henry

Publisher

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

Date

2013-11-20

Rights

New York State Historical Association Library, Cooperstown, NY

Format

image/jpeg
2448 x 3264 pixels
audio/mpeg
28.8 MB
audio/mpeg
28.8mB
audio/mpeg
24.7mB

Language

en-US

Type

Sound
Image

Identifier

13-05

Coverage

Upstate New York
1933-2013
Cooperstown, NY

Online Submission

No

Interviewer

Araya Henry

Interviewee

Dr. Earle Peterson

Location

10 Pine Blvd.
Cooperstown, NY

Transcription

AH: Araya Henry
EP: Dr. Earle Peterson

[START OF TRACK 1, 0:00]

AH:
This is the November 20th [2013] Oral History Interview by Araya Henry of Dr. Earle Peterson at Dr. Earle Peterson’s home at 10 Pine Boulevard, Cooperstown NY. What is your full name?

EP:
Earle Norman Peterson

AH:
Where and when were you born?

EP:
I was born November 13, 1933 at Saint Joseph’s Hospital in Yonkers, NY

AH:
Did you have any siblings growing up?

EP:
I had a brother, and he was three years older than myself. I had been named Earle as a contraction of Erland, which is Swedish. My parents being Swedish, that’s why it happened.

AH:
What does the name Erland mean?

EP:
I don’t know.

AH:
How was the relationship between you and your brother growing up?

EP:
He was three years older than myself. We were very different. I was a lot more adventurous, and like most siblings, we fought a lot, nothing serious but you know, kids fights, but he was three years older, and in a European family, the older child has the advantage of all the things. He got to do things I didn’t get to do because he was the elder child.

AH:
Tell me about your parents.

EP:
My mother, her parents came from Sweden and her father had entered into a rifle shooting competition in Sweden that was held every year, and the King of Sweden gave the winner a gold medal. My grandfather as young man had made and bored his own rifle and he won the national competition. And with the gold medal, he purchased passage to come to the United States. On that same boat, there were cattle down in the hold, bringing the cattle over, and my grandmother, they had never met, she was on the boat, and she was in the hold taking care of cattle. They landed in Boston, Massachusetts, and spent their entire life in Wakefield, Massachusetts—ten miles north of Boston. My grandfather had great skills with his hands and he was a clock maker by trade, and he made clocks for the likes of Teddy Roosevelt and Lucius Beebe, a very famous undersea explorer at the time. He also worked in a piano factory where he held 32 patents. He was mechanically inclined, no doubt, and he was the first person in the town of Wakefield to have an automobile, and my grandmother, being from I guess you would say [the] lower class in Sweden, he would be working on his automobile frequently and she would be holding the parts and doing all the grunt work. He went on to the United States to excel in rifle shooting; he shot on the U.S. Olympic team. He held world records in the .22 rifle, and with the .22 pistol and the .38 revolver. He passed in 1952, I believe it was. My grandmother lived another several years.

AH:
Did you particularly have a relationship with your grandparents?

EP:
No, very little relationship with grandparents on either side. Children should be seen and not heard, and you were not encouraged to join in on adult conversations.

AH:
How did your parents discipline you?

EP:
My father normally did the corporal punishment, with a razor strap when I was very young, and it was hard spankings with an open hand as I grew up, and being sent to bed without supper, either food or water, sit in a corner for hours – that was not abnormal either for the time or for Northern European children. I could never remember my mother or father putting their arm around me; there was no such thing as a hug. It was very strict. [phone ringing] It was very interesting, when I was in high school, I lived on a farm fourteen miles from the town, so you had to be home every night for milking, you had to be home by 4:30, so there was no opportunity to participate in any sports, or anything like that. It was a lot of work, I mean you worked, you get up in the morning, you went right to the barn, you worked, you had to get the cows out and fed. Then the school bus came, you climbed in the school bus, and soon as you were out of school, back to the farm to milk the cows again, and feed them and clean eggs for market, and do homework. I didn’t do a lot of homework. Weekends you worked at the farm, and in the spring at that time it was during WWII when I was growing up and farm kids got ten days off a year to work, either planting or harvesting crops, and so it was all about the farm. It was all about the farm and the family getting through it. It was right after the Depression and the Depression lasted a long time in the middle of New York State. In fact, it did not start to recover until World War II. I can remember being in fifth grade, and it was in a three-room schoolhouse, and the teacher would have three grades to a room. And, the fire whistle would blow because there was a brush fire that was started by the railroad tracks and boys who were fifth grade and above went to fight the fire because the young men, they were all at war, they were all overseas. It was a very different time; it was a good time in that everybody was pulling in the same direction. Everybody was very patriotic; everybody was working hard for the war effort. Automobiles didn’t have bumpers because they had steel in them, and you had them taken off to give to the government to build tanks and airplanes. We used to collect milkweed pods to go in life vests. Everything was directed towards the war. It was a very patriotic time, and the boys came home from 1945 through I guess 1946 they came back, and they started their own businesses, they went right to their life work. They had great work ethic, and they were happy to be home. There was of course no TV at that time. A family would have one radio they’d sit around in the evening and listen to. People went to church on Sunday. There was always chicken for Sunday dinner, and it was just, almost homespun life. The school bus came within a mile of our farm, so I only had to walk a mile to the bus. Bus kids were basically farm kids, and when you went to the high school, there were town kids and bus kids – farm kids – and the farm kids, I recall, that when it came time for me to go to high school, they said he’s a farm kid he’s going to take Ag and Shop as his major. Whereas the town kids, they would be saying, they’re going to go college and they’re going to go to business school, and they’re going to become secretaries and whatever, but the farm kids were expected, I would say they dumbed us down. I didn’t know what a college was—even though my mother had attended college, and she had majored in, of all things, Classical Greek and Latin, which was an acceptable thing for a woman to do. It wouldn’t be acceptable for her to take many of the other majors that are open to young people today. But she never really got an opportunity. She did teach. She taught English to young Swedish immigrants, and it was there that my father met her, taking a course in how to speak English, and that is how they had met. In high school, I majored in Agriculture, that’s what you did as a farm kid pretty much, and two of my teachers, a History teacher and an English teacher, had sent to Cornell for an application and applied to Cornell on my behalf. I didn’t know it, and two of the most important businesspeople in the village had been recommenders for me. One was a gentleman named Sid Mang, Sidney Mang, and he formed Mang insurance, which you will see offices throughout Central New York State. And the other person’s name was Tom Mirabito, and you’ll see fuel trucks and all sorts of endeavors that that family is in. I still know some of them because they had helped me. And so, I went to Cornell. I had a veteran who had come back from the war from our village, he was going to Cornell to be an electrical engineer. I was the first person from our village who had gone through grade school in the village to go to college, and this person who had been a veteran in going to Cornell as an electrical engineer, he had made arrangements for me to have a job in a fire house, assisting and doing cleaning and such, for which I got my room at the fire house. He had also made arrangements for me to get my meals washing dishes in a dormitory. So I had my meals; I had my room. And in those days, tuition at Cornell was $52.50 a term.

AH:
What year was this?

EP:
That was in 1951. In 1958, seven years later when I graduated from Veterinary College, it had gone up to $101.50 a term. Unbelievable. And, I had met my wife, Cindy, Cynthia, at Cornell. She was working as a waitress. She used to clean house for a professor to get money for books.

AH:
What did you study at your undergrad at Cornell?

EP:
I started in general agriculture. They had a two-year program that if you did well enough you could transfer into a regular four-year curriculum, for a bachelor’s degree, a bachelor of science. I got great grades. I got 90+ grades that first year, and I was able to transfer over my second year into the four-year curriculum and utilize all the credits that I had gotten that first year. So it was basically a pre-med curriculum once I got into the second year—inorganic chemistry, organic chemistry, physical chemistry, biological chemistry, physics, anatomy, biology, and botany – it was very much science oriented. I did take a course in public speaking, and the same course taught you how to manage and effectively run a meeting, which I got to use a lot in later life. It was a great time; it was a great time. Students went to school to study; they had fun on the weekends. I was at Cornell seven years, and I never had any day when I did not have my classes start at 8:00 a.m., even on Saturday mornings. Every year I was there, I was going 8-12, and so was everybody else who was interested in a science curriculum. I think it was a lot more rigid than it is now. Girls who lived in the dormitory, and they had to live in the dormitory, they had to be in the dorm signed in by 10:30 every night, and if they weren’t they were assessed minutes. For every minute they were late they were assessed a minute, and if they got a certain number of minutes they were kicked out of school. I remember a gal who her sophomore year had gotten pregnant and she was kicked out of school; the guy wasn’t. That’s not really fair. Cornell had a lot of fraternities. At the time I was there, it had 68 fraternities. More than half of the men from the sophomore year on lived in fraternities. Fraternities weren’t what they are now, and in many of them, there was no drinking. The buildings were well kept, and people respected the buildings and their libraries, I might add. Cornell was a very good experience back in the 1950s. There were a number of veterans who had came back from the war, and there was no nonsense to them. They were there to study and get ahead. And as a farm kid, all I knew was work, it was like being on vacation to go there. I couldn’t believe it. I remember my first night at Cornell, I had never used a telephone; we did not have a telephone in our house. I remember once we had a sick cow, and my father had me get on a horse and ride three miles to a farmer’s house that had a telephone to call a veterinarian. And so when I was at Cornell, my first night that I was there, early in the day I had gone to the dormitory where I was washing dishes, and it had happened to be a freshman women’s dormitory, and so I got to meet, you know I never had a date, I never [had] anything, and so I got back to the fire house and I called the girl that I had met at dinner, and we went to the movies, and on the way back from the movies, I had my first beer. I was seventeen years old, and so I made my first phone call, had my first date, and my first beer. I always thought it was a trifecta. [laughter] It was, as I have said, it was a very different time.

AH:
How was dating for you back then?

EP:
Well for me, it was easy because there were sixty girls working as waitresses, and there were ten of us serving on steam table and using the dish [washing] machine. So we met a lot of young girls, and many times even the prettiest and most popular young girls would be sitting home because guys would think that they probably had a date and they wouldn’t call. And so oftentimes, what are we doing tonight, and we would go out as a group and we’d go to some of the old taverns and oftentimes they’d have a large room downstairs with big tables and stuff. And we’d go down there, you’d buy pitchers of beer, and sang songs. You sang college songs, you sang popular songs, you played drinking games, but nobody was getting drunk. It was different. Girls were quite proper; you wouldn’t consider even a peck on a cheek or kissing a girl goodnight until you’d gone out at least three times, and she probably would have made a decision before that I’m not going out with this guy twice you know. Men expected to marry virgins, and girls, for the most part, lived up to that. As I said, it was very, very different. There was no sex education; there was nothing of that type. But in many ways, it was a better time. You knew what the rules were and if you didn’t, either you were out of school or out of your house, whatever the penalties would be, sure. Am I doing all right?

AH:
Oh yes, definitely, definitely. I want to talk more now about your veterinary career. Where did you go for your training?

EP:
At Cornell. My last four years at Cornell were at the Veterinary College. During the summertimes, I would usually have a job with a veterinarian. I was taking the farm calls at that time. I intended to practice with dairy and beef cattle and large animals, food production animals, but I still received training with pet animals. A lot of training with dogs and cats. My junior year in Veterinary College, I was fortunate in that the most popular and probably best professor asked me to stay at Cornell over the summer and to ride with him, and basically I had a tutor. I had a really good tutor; so when I graduated from college, I had had the same roommate for 7 years, he was a farm boy from Western New York, and I had talked him into going to veterinary college and so we had been through all the classes and sat next to each other in class for seven years. When I graduated from college, he and I were hired by the same veterinarian up in Massachusetts, and I was doing mostly dairy work with very fancy show herds. There was a [U.S. Secretary of Treasury, Chester Dillon, who] had a herd that I took care of. The secretary of [state], number two guy [John Foster Dolles], had a show herd of Guernsey cattle and the Senator [Leverett] Saltonstall from Massachusetts had a show herd, and I took care of those herds amongst a lot of others, but it was very high end care of the animals, and a lot of the animals were shown at large livestock shows around the country for ribbons and bragging rights. I was there a year, and Cindy and I had gotten married when we graduated. She got her bachelor’s degree and I got my doctorate of veterinary medicine the same year, and we got married right out of school. I was in that job in Massachusetts for a little over a year, and then this professor had arranged for me to get a job in New Jersey, and the cattle in New Jersey, the farms were excellent. The herdsmen were all Holland Dutch, very good with cattle, very good farmers, and I had been accustomed to New York State where the average production of a cow at that time was 7,000 pounds per year, and I went to a county in New Jersey where the average was 24,000. So, much better cattle, much better farms. They had five cuttings of alfalfa and grew all their own grains and corn. I worked for some really good farmers, and I stayed doing that for four years. At the end of that time, the towns down there were growing rapidly in size and developments came in and the farms were squeezed out. And, so one of my classmates, his father had had a veterinary practice in New Jersey that was small animals, the first small animal hospital in the country. I leased the practice for a year and a half and then succeeded in purchasing it. I grew that practice from just myself and a [part-time] high school kid. Even my kids at that time, as small as they were, I used to put them in dog cages if I had to babysit them. But I grew that practice to the point where it had twelve veterinarians and 50 employees and five offices. I retired from that and came up here. While in New Jersey, I was very active in the community, and I had been on the board of trustees of a hospital, which ultimately became a hospital system, and I was board chairman there for 10 years. We had more than a thousand doctors working at the hospital. So it was a big hospital.

[START OF TRACK 2, 0:00]

EP:
That’s where my training on how to run a meeting helped a lot. Working in a hospital, I had been instrumental in developing a neuroscience institute, which at the time there was none in New Jersey, and so people who had had strokes would have to wait many hours before they could get help, and by then frequently their brain was shot. So we got a neuroscience institute, and I spearheaded getting New Jersey to have a stroke protocol. We taught them that a stroke was a brain attack. You have heart attacks, everybody was aware of that, you got help right away, but if you had a stroke, the symptom of a stroke, consider it a brain attack, get help certainly within 3 hours and get medication within a half an hour of being presented at the hospital. As a result of that, I was awarded an honorary doctorate from Seton Hall University School of Medicine, which I thought was unusual as a veterinarian getting a doctorate from a human hospital, and I actually gave their commencement address. It was interesting times. My children, Susan, who I mentioned earlier had passed away earlier this year at age 49, and it bothers me to no end that it need not have happened if there had been a little more attention paid by the doctors involved. I did get her out to Houston, Texas, to the best cancer [center] in the United States, but by that time it was too late. She had lived in California for many years. She was unmarried but was very talented. She had been Steve Jobs, the apple computer guy, she had been his family’s personal chef for five years. She had started out as a buyer; she was a senior buyer at Saks Fifth Avenue, which is a big store in New York City. And she had gone on from there to Banana Republic, and Marshalls in Chicago, big stores. Had a very successful career, but she decided to do something different and went to a culinary arts school in San Francisco, and became a pastry chef and worked at Chez Panisse, which is in this country probably the number one restaurant in the country. She, like myself, did a lot of things in her life. She was an athlete, a distance runner, distance cyclist, marathon runner. So that was Susan, and she had gone to Cornell. Very hard worker, but loved to party.

AH:
What type of cancer did she have?

EP:
Ovarian cancer. Women today are deluged with information about breast cancer. There’s hardly anything told to you about ovarian cancer, and it’s a disservice to you. Ovarian cancer, if diagnosed in stage 1 and stage 2, almost always is cured. If it gets to stage 3 and certainly to stage 4, it’s a death warrant. If you have stage 4 when first seen, you’re not going to last a year. It’s very unfortunate because men are always talking about prostate cancer, and if there is a suspicion that your prostate may be enlarged, they do an ultrasound and can pick it up easily. They could do the same thing with women, and with women, there are markers, potential markers for having ovarian cancer, and one is if you have one or more grandparents who have had colon cancer, you should be watched carefully. Or, if there are other abnormal signs. Unfortunately, it is not being done, and I do not know why it isn’t. I get on my soapbox now and then and tell young women, first of all find out do you have any markers, and if you don’t probably at least every five years, get an imaging study done. It’s not x-rays, so you’re not going to harm it. Susan had had a problem with that ovary with cysts earlier, and the doctor in San Francisco operated to take care of the cysts, and I said Susan, while she is in there, have her remove the ovary, it can’t help you, you still have one left, if you want to have children you can. And the doctor told her, I don’t want to take it because you won’t feel like a real woman, which is a terrible thing to say. No physician should ever exercise their opinions with a patient. It’s the patient’s decision, or it should be. Sorry I got off what you wanted, but it was just unfair. Our son was older. He was 17 months older than Susan, and he went to high school and he went to a Catholic High School—although he was not Catholic, because he wanted to play the sport lacrosse that they had there. He subsequently played in college; he went to Rutgers University. He left Rutgers to join the Marine Corps, after two years, and he was in the Marine Corps for 26 years, coming out a Command Sergeant Major. He graduated summa cum laude while he was in the Marine Corps, and he speaks five languages fluently. So it’s not what you think of the typical Marine. In his 26 years, he was in two wars, spent time in many countries, married a Philippine gal while he was stationed there, and they have one child, Joseph, and he lives in Fly Creek, three miles down the road. He is retired. My wife, Cindy, graduated from Cornell, majored in Sociology and Psychology, and she worked her first several years as a social caseworker. Working almost entirely with indigent people, many of them Black. She wanted to do something different; she had too much trouble handling the poverty and the terrible situations, the battered women, all the things that were going on, so she went to John Jay College in New York City and got her master’s in Criminal Justice. She did very well there, and she was hired by the mayor’s office in New York, and she was a criminal justice planner for the city of New York for almost 40 years. She came up here; I retired and came up here earlier, and she would take the bus up on weekends and work all week, but three years ago she retired and moved up here – good person. Here, I always loved animals of course, and I had a particular interest in wild animals, and so when I came up here, I used the opportunity. I started buying land 40 years ago, and I had told the realtor that I wanted to find some land, I wanted my kids to have the experience I did, in a rural setting. We didn’t have any other kids to play with or anything so I was always out in the woods, or playing in the streams and whatever, and so I told the realtor I wanted to find a large plot of land on the end of a dirt road with water. I found such a spot out in Burlington, and I initially bought 245 acres, and with it went part of this very old important wetland called the Cranberry Bog, and I decided that I was going to save the bog for posterity, so I started buying adjacent land, whenever it became available, until we finally we owned the entire watershed of this 125 acre bog, and I had succeeded in that. We now have 1200 acres and are probably going to be adding as many as several hundred more. The State University of New York uses this site for research studies, and for teaching graduate courses in wetland ecology. I converted a dairy barn into a teaching space for them, so there is a classroom that seats 50. There are handicap access bathrooms and small labs, and I converted an 1840 farmhouse into small offices and meeting rooms for retired professors to have a place they can hang their hat after they’ve left the college and continue with their studies. We also have 16 miles of trails out there that are managed, so that the public, or a bonafide hiking group, or if the college wants to take groups hiking, they can take hikes out there. As I said, there are 16 miles of trails. And that is where I spend most of my time, out there working, clearing trails, managing the timber, and that’s it. I [helped start] a land trust in this community, Otsego Land Trust, and myself and [a few] other people were instrumental in starting that, and I served as its president for about 10 years, and grew the organization to the point it is now, and they have under their protection now in excess of 10,000 acres. And my goal is always that one day they would have 25,000 acres. The state and county currently protect about 25,000 acres, and if we get 25 and they have 25, that would mean 50,000 acres in the county, which is roughly 10% of the county, and that’s enough. If they can protect that in large blocks of land, and near the waterways, and so forth, it’ll preserve the ecology, and the wildlife and birds for the future.

AH:
What is the name of the land trust?

EP:
The Otsego Land Trust and the name of our place is the Greenwoods Conservancy, and the Land Trust, we’re joined at the hip with SUNY Oneonta and with the Biological Field Station in Cooperstown, but we are also joined at the hip with the Otsego Land Trust because we gifted them the development rights of all of our property. That means that once they get the development rights, then they retire them, so nobody can ever develop the property, at least as long as we are ruled by English law. Nothing is forever, but you do the best you can.

AH:
What is your philosophy regarding conservation and the environment?

EP:
It’s critical, and we’re doing a better job, it’s just that they’re more of us. It is very important that it be legislated and monitored by the government because people by nature are greedy. They try and convert as much as they can now of the land into dollars, and if we’re going to be a successful society, I think we’re going to be probably only as successful as we are in getting along with each other, and getting along with Mother Nature. I always told people that, yes I’m married, but I have a mistress, and her name is Mother Nature, and like most mistresses, she’s very expensive. Every time a species is lost, we’re diminished. Darwin will tell you, changes occur, and some species, by the process of natural selection, are going to be lost, but others are going to appear. I think we have a responsibility to ourselves as a species but also to the species that are coexisting with us, we share. I like the Iroquois philosophy, the Iroquois Indians, Haudenosaunee, I think is the name they like to be called now. When they kill the deer, they thank the Great Spirit for the deer, and they thank the deer for feeding them. They didn’t hunt anything to extinction, but of course there weren’t that many of them, and even without the appearance of the white man, there’d be a lot of abuse of open space and wildlife. You’re from the Caribbean, you know that many of the Caribbean Islands are approaching [protein] shortage because the fish have all been decimated, and it seems to happen with every society. I don’t know what will happen down the road, nobody does, but maybe it’ll be a super volcano, maybe it’ll be an asteroid striking the earth, maybe viruses will win and there’ll be a great reduction of people in the world, and then there could be enough raw materials for us all to do well again, and start the whole process over. I’m not being unkind to humankind, but we tend to be our own worst enemy. Through the better use of passive sources of energy, to be less damaging to the environment, man maybe [able to] learn to coexist with the Earth. But right now, it’s being turned into dollars as fast as can be done, and part of that’s going to have to be population control. China, when I was a child growing up, they’d always talk about the starving Chinese, there just wasn’t enough food, and when the Communist come in power, they decree they can only have one child, it only took a decade or two of that and now everybody in China has enough food. Population dynamics, and yet you hate to enforce or legislate size of families, yet that may be the only salvation. The Philippines, terribly overpopulated; people are very poor. The Catholic Church dictates that they should have as many children as possible. My son’s wife was one of 28 children, all single births to the same woman. No ecosystem can support that type of growth. She lost six to disease; she ended up having six that survived to adulthood, the others all died, parasitism, disease, poor nutrition, lack of vitamins, all of those things, and no woman should have to endure losing all her children because a church decrees that they should have as many as they can – doesn’t make any sense. That’s true in Central America; there are population problems. So, do I believe in population control? I believe in population education, and people will say I want a better life myself; I selfishly want a better life. If I have two children or three children, I’m going to have a better life, they’re going to have a better life and be able to make their own decision. I’m rambling aren’t I?

AH:
No, this is great, this is really great. With all the advice that you have, what advice to you have for upcoming environmentalists, young environmentalists?

EP:
Don’t expect to make a lot of money. Go where your heart leads you. You can still have a great life, but you may not have the material things, but you’ll have done a great service to the world, you’ll have done a great service to your fellow man, and you’ll live a high quality life. You can make a difference. So, if you’re interested, you’ve got to go to college, probably have to get a graduate degree, and you may end up teaching because there’s only so many jobs. As a person who starts out in the environment, you may be coopted by industry, because they’ll want to use your knowledge also, and hopefully, it’s a green industry, but in many cases, they will use your knowledge and you to exploit the environment. The more you learn, the better you’ll be, and stay with it, but don’t expect to get wealthy.

AH:
What are some pressing environmental issues that you see in this area, specifically?

EP:
This area is fortunate, in that it has several organizations and a nearby local university, two of them, so there’s no lack of expertise or experience for communities to have, as far as doing things correctly for the environment. The biggest threats I see at this point is, ultimately, too many people living in the area and gobbling up the land and taking it away from the life cycles that are important to the Earth. We are very fortunate here in that we basically live in a Northeast rainforest. If you look around here, the hills are all covered with trees, and that’s because we have a very significant rainfall compared with most of the rest of the country. So, hard and softwood trees are the dominant species on the hills, and they prevent erosion of the soil, and if you don’t have erosion, you’re going to have more soil left for trees and other crops to grow. A tree, even down to its basic part of a leaf, pulls nutrients out of the air and creates simple sugars. If you look at a maple tree for instance, what does a maple tree do? The maple tree, when you walk in a forest, it’s cool. When you think why it is cool, part of it is shade, but most of it is that on the underside of the leaf, it’s basically an air conditioner. There’s water being excreted at the bottom of the leaf and then it evaporates, the evaporation is cooling. Cool air is heavier than warm air, so when you’re standing underneath a large tree, and you feel cool, it’s because the tree is an air conditioner and in addition it is physically blocking the sun’s rays from you. The process of photosynthesis, which basically takes carbon dioxide and water and ends up producing nutrients. With the maple tree, it’s very obvious because the sap is sweet, and you can turn it into maple sugar or maple syrup. But all trees, to a lesser or different degree, produce simple sugars and carbohydrates. The biggest threat here would be if they denuded the forest, which was done back in the 1800s. If you look at pictures of what the area looked like back then, you see bare hills, and you just see a few trees here and there. The trees that were left were on the steepest part of the hills, or in very steep ravines where they couldn’t get to cut them. But left alone, the trees came back, and hopefully, through better management of development, [we will] be wise enough to retain trees here. There’s a lot of farming here, farming comes and goes in cycles. It used to be dairy products and dairy farms, which were very huge.

[START OF TRACK 3, 0:00]

EP:
We don’t the quality of soils that they have in other parts of the country, and we have short growing seasons and long seasons that the cattle have to be fed with harvesting crops. There are other parts of the country where they can raise a cattle outdoors almost all year. Because of longer growing seasons, they can grow crops and grains to feed the cattle much more efficiently and so when you look at land for agriculture, you’ve got to think of the best utilization of that land. Here the best utilization is probably forestry, because we have high quality forest products. Our hardwoods are some of the best furniture hardwoods in the world, Farming, except in the river valleys, you don’t have the quality of soil. In the river valleys, the soil has eroded from the hills and is down in the valley. The valleys tend not to be as windswept and as eroded as the hills. You have better soil there and you can have large dairies, where they may have several hundred to a thousand cows. In California, they have 40,000 cows in a [single] dairy, because they have a lot better growing seasons and crops, but here we have ready access to markets. We have the whole northeast megalopolis. Boston on down through Baltimore, and since you don’t have to transport the foods, agriculture products, as far, you don’t need the efficiencies that they need in another part of the country. This area is becoming a lot of what I call boutique farms. They have a few sheep; they may have a few llamas; they may have cottage industries in which they spin the wool or whatever you call a llama’s hair, and have tourists who will come [to] buy it, people from the city who will come up and buy it. So it can be a tourism agri-business; and I see that as the future for agriculture here, a lot of hobby farms. But, as far as sustainable agriculture in large dimension, we don’t have the soils or the climate to support it. Risks here, gobbling up of land for housing, and stupidly we buy that level piece of land, that level field, and put 50 houses on it, where it could be producing crops. Instead, they should be building the houses on land that’s too steep for crops. Doesn’t make any sense. With smarter growth, and looking at other parts of the country, how they got ruined by excessive development, hopefully we’re smart enough so we don’t let that happen. Unfortunately, politicians are in charge of the rules, and politicians go where the votes go, so it’s tough even for a small village to sustain correct code requirements, because people always want more for “me.” It’s the way we are. But that’s the biggest threat I see here. There is heightened awareness now of pollution of water and air; I think that’s going to do nothing but get better. The trees help clean it up; they pull the CO2 out of the air and send back oxygen – not bad. Certainly, better technology is now producing solar panels that’ll work in this climate. In the past, we didn’t have the right angles of the sun, now with enhanced, improved technology, we can use solar and certainly wind. We’ve got to think in terms of sustainable energy, because even though they want to harvest the natural gas in this area, it isn’t going to happen because it’s not economically feasible. The Marcellus shale formation beneath us is too shallow, too close to the surface, and much of the natural gas has already leached out into the air because there wasn’t the pressure to hold it into the shale, because it wasn’t deep enough. I think we’re going get by that. I think we will have sustainable, clean air and water. I think we’re on that track, so that, in my mind, if we stay on top, it will not be a long-term threat. But this area is largely dependent in one way or another on tourism. It’s crazy that it’s dependent on baseball. We’ve got to do better than that, but nonetheless, agrotourism, museum tourism, history there’s so much. The whole United States, the majority of everything out West, came through the Erie Canal, came through New York State. It was the Empire State; we created the empire, going through and across the Erie Canal, and up the Hudson across the Erie Canal. So, I think we’re going to get our act in order. Politicians make the war and your kids and my kids fight them. Their kids don’t go to war; I think if they did, there might be less of them. Oftentimes it’s just individual personal greed. I don’t know if humans can get by that. I’ve strayed again.

AH:
[laughter]

EP:
You’re going to end up with this much you can use.

AH:
Have you, or the Greenwoods Conservancy, taken a stance on hydrofracking in the area?

EP:
By dint of the conservation easement that we put on it, we don’t permit hydrofracking. We don’t permit drilling for gas at all. I’m not sure if that’s a correct stance or not. There are people on both ends of this that are so polarized; they aren’t looking to the middle, and like most things in life, the answer lies in the middle. I think it’s a good thing that people have been very active against the fracking in that it’s called attention to it. Ultimately, it will occur; economics dictate that it [will] occur. It’s absolutely crazy that this country, at this point, has most of the natural resources it’s going to need, even going down to coal, for the next 400-600 years, that we go out and engage in wars to drill or mine things elsewhere and bring them here. I’ve sent my son to war twice to the Far East, all to ensure that America had enough oil and gas, and if we’ve got it here, sitting underneath our feet, and we should, if we could put a man on the moon, we sure as heck have to find a safe way to get that out of the Earth and get it to the surface, and use it as a clean fuel. It only makes sense, and purely [from the] standpoint of economics, it’s going to happen. We just have to make sure that the technology is there to do it correctly; if it’s there, there’s absolutely no reason not to do it. We can’t afford to mess up our environment; we can’t afford to mess up our clean water. It’s just a matter of getting the gas from its subsurface point to the surface in a clean manner. It would make sense that that could certainly happen with secure piping, and secure protection around the pipe, so the stuff can’t sneak up. I think it can happen; I firmly believe it will happen. I think that people that protest it so much are irrational, [but] have done a great service to help ensure that it will be done correctly. The people who are on the extremes, it’s interesting, they’re also the same people that don’t own land. The people who own land, are saying do it, because they’re going to get dollars out of it if it happens. I’m in the middle, I say do it if it’s good for our nation and good for the world, but only after the technology and the science has caught up so they can get it up safely. We can’t do it on our property, but the interesting thing is that we cannot prevent anybody from going horizontal underneath us. Current technology permits you to go laterally for a mile. If people put wells on the periphery of our land and reach underneath us, they will get the gas out. There are ways right now, technologically, that they will know how much gas was taken out. Even though the other person has the well, we will get paid for the gas that’s underneath us. It makes no difference right now because the Marcellus shale is not thick enough to be economically feasible to take it out. It is in Western New York and Pennsylvania and people are making large sums of money. I know a person with 150 acres, and he’s already gotten two and a half million dollars of gas from his property. You’re not going to be able to stop that from happening, particularly when the gas is needed by industry and is preferable [to] other sources of energy, such as coal and even oil. So, I think that a lot of hooting and hollering, a lot of meetings, in the end number one in this area it’s a moot point, because it is not economically feasible. A couple thousand feet below the Marcellus shale is the Utica shale, and the Utica shale at this area is very thick – as much as 500 feet thick. It’s very tightly bound in the shale, the gas is. Probably within the next 20 years, 50 years, certainly within 100 years, they’re going to go down and tap the Utica shale, by then, I have to believe that the technology will be done so we can get it out there safely, and that will make this area wealthy.

AH:
Have you been [approached] by any industries?

EP:
Oh sure, we’ve turned them away, time and again. But if it can be gotten out cleanly, and if there is that kind of dollars under there, I would welcome it because it will let our charitable trust do something. We would not benefit from it personally, but we would be able to do so much more for the environment, for human services, for all those things at hospitals, all those things that are good. So, if it could be gotten out safely in time, and if we think is there what we’re told is there, we’ll be able to do some very nice things. I guess that’s my shale [outlook].

AH:
With all that you’ve done in your life with the conservancy, veterinary studies and your training, and having your practice, what has been the most difficult experience that you’ve had to overcome?

EP:
I’ve been very lucky; I’ve been very lucky. I could have been a much wealthier person, but I’m rich in the things that I’ve accomplished. The hospital system, it wasn’t popular, but we had a lily white hospital, and it was making all kinds of money, this is in New Jersey. I had them incorporate another hospital in the surrounding town that was in a largely Black community and they were not being well served, and we got our quality service in that community. So, there’s a lot of successes, you know it’s a team success. I had a gift, my gift was that I could get people marching in step and headed the same direction. Every organization I’ve been involved in I’ve been able to bring it up. I’m not tooting my horn, but it’s the way it worked, and it’s all the result of hard work. You just have to keep your eye on what the goal is. Don’t waver, you get little setbacks here and there but on the whole keep marching in that direction and ultimately you’ll get to your goal. In every endeavor I’ve had, you know whether it’s forming our own nature preserve and conservancy, getting the land trust kicked into gear, getting the hospital in New Jersey much better updated, getting the stroke protocol for a large area. I’m involved with Rutgers University and their athletic [program]. I’ve been a huge supporter of my hobby, the sport lacrosse. I have an honorary degree from Rutgers, and they lettered me for years, a varsity letter. My experience is the more you put into something, the more you get out of it. It’s not going to be dollars; you’ve got to turn away from that. People have to understand that’s not what’s motivating you; what’s motivating you is number one do a good job, and number two, pick something where society will be better for your work and perseverance. It isn’t an easy path but it’s well worth it. You asked me what the hardest thing was, the hardest thing is backsliding when you’ve gotten something going and in the right direction, and then you step aside, and you always should. Part of your job as a leader is to get the organization or project to a point where it is self-sustaining, and pick good leaders to keep it going and get the heck out of the way to let them do their thing. Backsliding in some of those areas is a great disappointment. In most of them, better talented people and myself, move forward and [get] the project moving forward and better and better. I’m an igniter, but the flame is hopefully fed by smarter and more capable people than myself, once you get the spark going. So, I guess community service in its whole spectrum is what my life has been about. As a veterinarian, it was all about quality, practicing quality medicine. I always said if you practice good medicine, the money will take care of itself. You shouldn’t be looking at a patient and say, oh I’ll get money for this, no, save its life, keep it going. The farmer will call you for more of his cattle, he’ll recommend you to other people, and the practice grows. I’ve been very much involved with Rutgers lacrosse for 43 years and what keeps me going there is the young men who come through. They go on to be very productive citizens, and they always come home. Rutgers has, in the fall, a lacrosse tournament, and the alumni all come back for the tournament, and they’ve named the tournament for me. We have masters and grandmasters teams of older players. They just go and play in a club environment in tournaments all across the country. There may be [some] 1500 lacrosse players. This summer up in Lake Placid, from many different teams, from different colleges, and we all get there and we all go out to dinner, all have a beer or two. Every night we go out to dinner, and there’s usually a group of about 25-40 of us who would go out as a group, all of the former Rutgers players who are still playing lacrosse, as my son is, and whenever we go to a restaurant, somebody goes to get the maître d’, and would tell the maître d’ that it’s my birthday, and so they all come out, and they all start singing Happy Birthday to me, and they bring us free desserts, and that’s the good part of life. You have all these young people, many of them are in their mid-50s, and we all get together, and we remember the good times.

AH:
Great, Great, well thank you so much for your time and sharing your story with me.

EP:
Well, unfortunately I moved around so much that you probably missed a lot and I’m sorry.

AH:
Oh, no! That’s completely fine, you’ve given me a great story, and I got to know you a lot better, and I am really happy that I did.

EP:
You have a nice smile,

AH:
Aw, thank you! [giggles]

EP:
That is going to serve you very well, serve you very well. So don’t give up on your youth and enthusiasm. There’s a saying that youth and enthusiasm are no match for age and treachery.

AH:
I like that saying.

EP:
So look out, keep your eye on the politicians.

[laughter]

Duration

30:00 - Part 1
30:00 - Part 2
25:41 - Part 3

Bit Rate/Frequency

128 kbps

Files

Citation

Araya Henry, “Earle Peterson, November 20, 2013,” CGP Community Stories, accessed December 16, 2018, http://www.cgpcommunitystories.org/items/show/158.