Last April, when I was knocked out of my orbit by the death of my son, Zafer, I decided to give up on speaking gigs.
Up until that time I had averaged a talk a week for ten years. I loved the clearing on my calendar. I loved staying home. And though it was against my nature, I started saying “No” to various groups that wanted to hear from me.
Part of my grieving process has been to learn how to listen to my inner voice. Brooksie would call it my “Spirit Voice.” I would call it my “gut.” Others would call it “intuition.” Whatever the name, my previous tendency had been to overrule.
I was explaining all of this to Tami one day, as we were driving into Buffalo, New York for a night at the Hotel LaFayette on our way to visit family in Canada. She was a little surprised to hear that my speaking days were behind me. In the middle of our conversation I received a text from Michelle in Athens, Ohio. They were looking for a speaker for their annual Paw Paw Festival.
I held the phone up to Tami, who was driving and said, “See—this is what I am starting to say “no” to.”
But I didn’t say no to this one. Michelle and Brandon operate Shagbark Seed Mill in Athens, and along with exquisitely fresh popcorn and beans and grits and the like, they make the finest corn chip on earth. I love them. And their chips. And my previous trips to Athens had always been a blast.
Today I am traveling to Santa Cruz to check out my son Arlo’s new scene. He has just moved there to settle into UC Santa Cruz, presumably to become a Banana Slug. And remarkably, I am enlivened by my trip to Athens.
The Paw Paw Festival was much more like Shakori Hills than Pepperfest. With 6-10 thousand people it had an amazing assortment of cool things happening. I was impressed by OhioHills Biochar, and by a nearby sorghum crusher, and found myself immersed in fabulous conversations about parasite loadings in goat and sheep herds.
Athens enjoys an incredibly vibrant local food shed, and an intense renewable energy scene. After the festival I spent a morning with Nancy Manring’s class on the politics of climate change, had a rousing lunch with an economist and a biologist, and my handlers for the day, at a local brew pub. The afternoon was split between an engineering class and a fantastic racquetball match, and the evening was rounded out by a talk I gave on the intersection of policy, renewable energy, and entrepreneurship. Dinner followed with a multi-disciplinarian crowd discussing everything from venture funding to biogas production.
I was back in my old world, completely at ease, and loving it hard. It reminded me of my many stints as a speaker at Mother Earth News Fairs, and of my frequent travels with Carol Hewitt during our “Running on Local” book tours.
On the way to the airport I got the scoop of Upgrade Athens, from Matt, the volunteer driver. They are working on calculating the region’s energy load as they compete for a prize from Georgetown University, among other things.
Part of me can’t wait to get home to implement some of the ideas I encountered. Poor Andy at Piedmont Urban Lumber (the new sawmill) is going to be moving into biochar much faster than we thought. Part of me hopes that in Athens I left behind happy customers, and curious students who might find themselves thinking differently because of our encounters.
Part of me welcomes the “speaking circuit” back into my life, and part of me is hungry for my own bed.
Next stop Phoenix, then Santa Cruz, where a fragile Tami and Lyle will connect with Kaitlin and Izak to install Arlo into his new California life…