I have just returned from Seven Springs in Pennsylvania, where I was invited by Mother Earth News to do workshops at their giant organic farming fair. I had great trepidations about the journey – I live very happily alone in a quiet clearing and it is all I can normally do to handle the calls and visitors that flood through in a week. But I knew I was looking at a chance to see exhibits of every sort, to hear speakers of renown, meet other New Society writers, and oh, I must say it out loud … I wanted a hotel room. I wanted a space that did not leak, was not salted with mouse shit, where chickens did not squabble and tomatoes did not rot. Where someone would make my bed, rinse the coffee maker and put my shoes back in the hall. Where dinner is always ready and there are no dishes to wash. How about four days of heaven?
It obviously was not real heaven, but it was extremely close. Almost 10,000 people flooded through the maze of halls and outdoor tents during the weekend, and it was all I could do to remain composed and centred amongst the heaving and shoving, loudspeakers, crying babies and flood of sensory messages. And it is true that I would run down the halls early afternoons to the far end of the hotel, the very quiet part, and lock myself in my spacious suite (which did not have buckets of rainwater to step around), throw myself onto the king size bed (recently remade, that no cat had puked on) amidst the masses of pillows completely unstained by well water, to realign my molecules in quiet, untomato scented peace. It occurred to me that I had a hedonist hiding in me, very close to skin level. Very close.
But the hobnobbing. The shoulder rubbing. The sheer delight in drinking and dining with fellow writers, studiers of ethanol and wind turbines, of communal living and straw bale building. Of electric cars and organic cotton. Living historians for the Whole Earth Catalog and creators of The Farm. I skirted around their outer fringe for a day before being sucked into the vortex.
By day, between my own workshops, I visited booths that promoted farm stays and herbal medicines, and I met and traded information with seed collectives. I watched dogs push sheep through metal gates with only the flick of a hand for direction, and scratched the necks of patient alpacas. Real food was almost impossible to find. Lineups were horrendous and I resorted to a habit of grabbing a cookie at the almost empty bakery and waiting for late afternoon for the beer and hobnobbing to begin, to end in late evening with a shared and noisy restaurant meal. I slurped down more beer in four days than I normally drink in several months, and loved every drop and had no hangovers.
On my last bleary eyed morning, I could barely force another info-crammed CD or booklet into my bag. I realized I may be patted down at the airport for holding farm material up my sleeves, seed brochures in my underwear, chicken books down my pantlegs.
And flew home overstuffed, temporarily sated, exhausted and happy and amazed at the humans in the world and in our common battle.
And entered my silent home, emptied the rainwater basins, shook the mouse shit out of my facecloth, and observed my heaving travel bag.
I have a lot of unpacking to do, in so many senses.
(sending thanks to Erin, Heather, EJ, Ryan and Sarah for helping to make this possible!)