Cheers to the Pawpaw Perspective

Another month is over and I am listening to Sunday bluegrass again. I finally get a chance to prop up my worn, tired feet after enjoying a little Halloween fun. I feel like I am back in college again, surviving on very little sleep.

This is so Athens, I think. My Halloween costume is lying in a heap on the floor and a muddy pair of hiking boots is lying next to it.

I am hyped up on high-powered coffee and a belly full of Halloween treats. Today was trick or treat day at the annual Shade Community Center celebration and we decorated the gym for hundreds of kids and their families. Community donors are so good to the people of Appalachia. Many who don’t have a lot to give, give anyway, so other kids and families can enjoy a traditional day of fun.

I tend to stand back at these events, wondering why I am on the cusp of crying sometimes. It reminds me of the events I worked while serving as a VISTA in Mullens, West Virginia. People are gentle, not afraid to talk fondly about their Mamaws and Papaws, or their good friends, sissy or buddy. I need to be more gentle like that, but I admit it’s not always in me. Times like these remind me of the work I have left to do.

As I leave the community center, the rainy fall in the hills is ushering in layers and layers of cold coat weather. Thank goodness the sun keeps trying to peek its head below the clouds. I am happy for the reprieve from what seems like days of rain. The gold lime glimmer off the trees is only temporary, I know, and I drink up the beautiful colors of fall. Every black walnut hull that stains my mid-afternoon walks makes me nostalgic and heart-weary for a myriad of people, places and things.

Right now, I am thinking about the heat of the fall I miss so much. When I lived in Clearwater, Florida, I loved those sunny fall days on the beach. The sun was so bright and the blue water so crystal clear. I see a different kind of hue in the Midwest, and I suppose I am feeling sad for the days I lived on Sand Key. I worked in media, and then, for a Fortune 500 company. Appalachia was never on my radar.

The beach seems way too distant, way too familiar. I am happier here in the hills, but the gloomy fall weather makes me feel lonely.

It seems like a week ago, I was basking in 80-degree temps at the 20th annual Pawpaw Festival. The fest is always held in the middle of September, and this year I wanted to help the folks that had helped get me to Athens in the first place. This time around, my work on the committee was coming to an end and watching the Coal Cave Hollow Boys was making me especially melancholy.

The fest kept us busy. As soon as it was over, I rested for three days then took off for the Catskills and later, the Appalachian Trail. I slept in the state forests of Vermont and Pennsylvania. I guess I had some thinking to do, so I spent three weeks looking at the fall.

Back home, I was making a conscious effort to spend more time in tiny communities outside the Athens bubble. I was going to bluegrass shows and camping along the Ohio River. Who knows how long I will be here?

Six months before, my Easter update had me standing on solid ground, working on grants and living on a 17-acre farm. I’ve been here since the beginning of the year and love my home office in the hills. Two horses greet me every day and keep me far away from city life.

New adventures started to unfold, and new challenges, too. Right after I posted my last blog entry, I lost my Godmother and a good friend on the same day. Those reading my stories may remember the 86-year old woman who let me live on her 100-acre farm, just before I moved to the tiny house for the previous spring and summer. On April 29th, she died tragically in a car accident an hour after I got the news that my Godmother died. Both were named Helen, so I lost two important Helens in one day.

Life can be cruel sometimes, upsetting the good-life balance we work so hard to achieve. I have so many great memories of Helen and Helen. The New Marshfield Helen would read me poetry over breakfast or teach me about birds from the back porch. My Italian Aunt Helen was the first one to call me a zingara. She knew who I was early on and realized I would never stand still.

As I write this blog six months after her death, I realize that today is my father’s birthday. How interesting that he shared it with my Aunt Helen. I always remember a lit jack o’ lantern in black and white photos on his birthday. I hope they are in heaven sharing their favorite pasta on Sunday, just like in the old days.

And so it goes. After my April losses, May had me tooling around in a new kayak and sharing some exciting news on the work front. While working with Upgrade Ohio, I was part of a three-man team that helped pass the first-ever “carbon fee” in the country. This had never been done before in any community, and residents of Athens City were progressive enough to see the importance of community solar and its potential for economic development. Seventy-five percent of voters said yes to this initiative, and our nonprofit made headlines across the country. I wrote a piece about the experience for Home Energy magazine and the article appeared in the Fall 2018 issue.

After the vote, a couple of our contracts came to an end and we made a collective decision to work fewer hours over the summer. I welcomed this idea and decided to travel through the Midwest for a couple of weeks. It was a great summer full of festivals, kayaking, a reunion with the “Crazy Eights” and time spent with new friends.

On September 1st, my contract with UpGrade Ohio officially ended when it began its transition from a small community nonprofit to a large regional organization. Sarah, Mat and I felt like “the mighty three,” and we made some solid inroads as advocates for renewable energy. This is what sustainability is all about and UpGrade has found a good home.

Just when I thought the Pawpaw festival was it for me, a couple of people asked if I might be interested in some short-term projects. Wow, I thought – another example of Athens taking care of its people! Once again, I am saved from having to leave Appalachia. Between this and my grant writing work, I think I will be just fine.

When life is sweet, the cruelty seems to fade away. And you know what? I believe that is the best part about living.