A Friend Describes Woody
You will probably hear many people talk about Woody's strong concern for social justice and environmental protection. Though I was aware he had such feelings, these were not the things we tended to talk about together. My impression of Woody was that, even though these subjects were of vital concern to him, he was not a preachy type. He set an example, but he did so very cheerfully and non-judgmentally. Most of the time, we talked about what was going on in our personal lives, specifically our efforts to overcome hinderances to daily peace of mind. We talked about how we managed stress, how we felt about being in nature, about meditation, about how we sought to clear our minds from clutter and live in the moment.
Woody was a very thoughtful listener. He always encouraged me to get right the essential core my feelings, and I always felt that he did the same in return. He shared with friendly candor, what was really going on for him. He was honest and forthright, but I didn't experience him as opinionated. When he did give advice, it always seemed to be geared towards encouraging me to free myself from preconceptions about my own abilities or my situation, and to seek the most actualized path for myself. However, Woody was really funny. He never said any of this with sanctimonious weight. He tossed ideas about playfully and made surprising and poetic metaphors to express his thoughts. He had a bright and clever sense of humor.
He'd be there on whatever level you were on. If you wanted to joke around or chat about friends, he'd do that (though, thinking back on it, I can't think when I ever heard him say a judgmental comment about anyone), and if you were having a hard time, he'd be there to help. When I had my daughter, he came to my house several days in a row and gave me foot massages and helped me sort through the feelings of new motherhood that are so overwhelming in the first days.
Woody was adventurous. Camping with him was a gas because he was so comfortable in the outdoors and so funny about combining whatever foods might be in the cooler to make campfire food. He loved to dance. His physical presence was electric and earthy. He didn't care about clothes, he wore the most basic stuff. He just bounced up to you and gave you these grounding and energetic and totally authentic hugs. HIs laugh was full of joy and mirth.
Politically, Woody and I didn't talk specifically very frequently. The social group that we both traveled in tends to be liberal and pro-environment, and for levying strict limitations on the actions of corporations, so I think we both knew and referred to without needing explanation, this point of view. Woody's politics weren't separate from his daily life. He had a visceral dislike of "the noise of civilization". He once told me that he couldn't stand the sound of engines. He wanted serenity in his surroundings. He moved north to NH and then VT, partly because the Valley was more populated than he was comfortable with. He believed that education should be informal and centered on the dignity and interests of the individual kids. He believed that the ethos of conformity was one of the main problems in our culture.
His highest ideals, he once told me in an interview for a book I was writing were: "People being nice to each other. And being nice to their surroundings. Empathy." To watch Woody hang out with children was to witness a man in his element. He treated children with enormous respect and was very interested in their individual thoughts. He loved to encourage kids to gain confidence. I watched him try to encourage my baby daughter to stand on her own two feet, literally, and he was very matter of fact about it, almost as if he was talking to an adult. Very cheerful and totally assuming that she could do it.
Though Woody clearly had fears and I've heard another friend quoted as saying that he could be moody, I didn't really see this side of him. I saw him get bummed out sometimes, like anyone else, about his various struggles with money or transportation, that kind of thing. But I never did see him behave in anything but a totally rational way. He was unconventional, he was sensitive, he was idealistic, but he was also very hearty, flexible, and seemed to weather his difficulties with genuine humor. He really thought about what he was doing, in everything from a small purchase at the food co-op, to the decision to switch jobs. He had a normal, and highly intelligent way of evaluating various aspects of a decision. He also tended to be light-hearted about life's vicissitudes. He did not use drugs, and in the last years of his life he drank no alcohol, as he was pursuing Buddhist meditation. And though you may hear that Woody was unconventional, it would not be accurate to say he was eccentric or itinerant. He lived his daily life in a normal manner, he was clean and well groomed, he took good care of himself. He moved perhaps somewhat more than average, but the places that I saw that were his homes were clean and pretty. He was highly committed to the people around him. He loved merrymaking but he was not wild or uncontrolled.