River Icon Peter Hayes Dies

Carmichael, CA (MPG)  |  Story and photo by Susan Maxwell Skinner
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Author Peter Hayes on the American River at William B. Pond Park.

CARMICHAEL, CA (MPG) - Career journalist and sage of the American River, Peter Hayes died of natural causes last week. He was 93.

After childhood years in Vancouver, Canada, he and his family emigrated to Seattle. Hayes graduated in journalism from the University of Washington and took a job with United Press. Working at its Anchorage bureau, he met and married an Anchorage Daily News reporter Carol Lou Tippit. The couple raised three daughters and ended up in Sacramento, where Hayes served as the Sacramento Union editor for four years. He also took up fishing on the American River. “Too often I was disappointed,” he recalls of angling attempts. “I began paying more attention to the birds and the trees and the swift-flowing river. I eventually became a certified nature lover.”

Nature essays for the Union were a natural progression.  His observations were recycled in the American River Natural History Association’s “Acorn” newsletter and eventually collated, with photographs, in a tome he called “An American River Almanac.” It became a nature study resource and evergreen fundraiser for ARNHA. Re-published in hard cover in 2014, the opus was reinvented as a classic edition. Hayes’ theme never changed. Watching the seasonal moods of the river parkway was his passion.

His essays were love songs. Despite years of hard news reporting, Hayes was able to eulogize nature as an innocent. “Pale pink blossoms presage the juicy sweetness of wild blackberries,” he observed, are “a reminder of what the Maidus and pioneers knew, that the best of life is free.” He described July as “the cool caress of an ocean breeze that has made its way up the river.” A wild flower path is a place “to let the mind slip into neutral, forgetting about the price of gasoline and other day-to-day irritants.”

His beloved Carol Lou died in 1998 and as Hayes’ mobility declined, visiting favorite riverside haunts became tougher. The American River Parkway nevertheless remained his delight. “It’s like going to a surprise party,” considered the aging pilgrim. “I never know what kind of wild world I’m entering.”

Three years ago, Hayes moved into Eskaton Village, Carmichael. “One of the unknowns was how dad could continue as a writer,” recalls his daughter Debbie Kenngott.  “My daughter suggested he should do a regular blog about this new chapter of his life. After she explained what a blog was, he took the idea and ran with it.” Hayes authored “Notes From Pete” till his death; the 100th e-epistle reached his friends a few weeks ago. “That blog fulfilled him,” confirms his daughter. “It made him feel like a writer again. Dad’s friends adored his powers of observation; his humor and his appreciation for everyone and everything he saw.”

A man of faith, Hayes was a long-time member of Arcade’s Grace Presbyterian church. But his greater cathedral was outdoors. “His thoughts were never far from the river he loved,” says his daughter. “Nature inspired my father; it brought him peace. Wherever his soul is now, people who love him want to feel he’s somewhere on his beautiful river.”