Monday, September 27, 2010

Mother Earth News Sustainable Living Fair


We attended the much anticipated Mother Earth News Sustainability Fair over the weekend. And my, what a long strange trip it was



The good folks at Mother Earth News apparently had no earthly idea what a hot product they had in their hands.

We had the good fortune of my procrastination. Since I dawdled about setting up reserved rooms at the Seven Springs Ski and Conference Resort, we had to call around and find a room elsewhere. We lucked into the Rockwood Trailhouse BnB, about 20 mins away in nearby Rockwood, Pa.
We passed this way before, on our little jaunt down the Great Allegheny Passage last fall. What a great spot. One of the best places we've ever had the pleasure of staying.

But that's beside the point.

So, we rolled in late friday eve, having dined at the local diner, and found our rooms and fell off to a good restful sleep after driving back roads all day. We slept to the gentle sounds of freight and coal trains blaring their signals all night long. Personally, road traffic bothers me a lot, and train noises, not at all.

Anyway, so up to a fine breakfast, served proper boarding house style, all 10 guests around the table piled high with tasty breakfasty goodies, and then off to Seven Springs for the first day.

It's only talk
Cheap talk

--Elephant Talk, King Crimson

We arrived at the resort, commenting on the huge turnout, as we were early, and the parking lots were looking pretty full. We had no trouble finding a spot some distance from the entrance. Then we toddled on down to the entrance booth, as we already had our tickets, we didn't have to deal with the horrors of will call or purchase. The Mothereartinista at the gate hurriedly took our proferred tickets while another Mothereartinista attached our wrist bands. Apparently we were not to be trusted to do it ourselves, Minor irritation #1. Nice and friendly though. Next up, the event programs.

We tried to eddy out of the mass of moving people to review the program, and to learn the map. We inadvertently backed into a Motherearthinista stronghold and were shown out nicely and immediately. Minor irritation #2.

Up and down the stairs, out to the exterior exhibits (shown above) we tried to match the maps to the facility and just couldn't do it. I've been interested in cartography my whole life, and well, this wasn't how you run a railroad. Minor irritation #3.

Anyway, we finally figured out where the session rooms were, and with 20 minutes or so before the sessions actually began, we managed to head off to our respective sessions of choice.
My pick? A session on solar energy, For-Get-It!
I couldn't even get near the doors, it was so packed. 20 mins before it was supposed to start, there were folks stuffed into the doors, the floor space already completely taken, and of course, all the seats. So, I bailed quickly, and found something else. Which was fun. Minor irritation #4, becoming sorta major.

My consolation prize session of "Peak Oil Prep and Making the Shift to Sustainability" was pretty good. It was rushed at 45 minutes, though the presenter Matthew Stein was hawking his book, and therefor at a book signing, I was able to engage in some information chit chat and discussion. Yes, I bought his book. The conference book store was just crazy busy. It was nuts. Minor irritation #5. (Caveat, the good Mr Stein insisted that he wasn't there to sell his book, but that was cool if you wanted to buy one).

By lunch we both decided that the good folks at Mother Earth News might not have anticipated the demand for their offered knowledge products correctly.

We both simply gave up on the sessions, attending a few keynotes and some hands-on stuff, but mostly spent the rest of the day interacting with some of the vendors.

Just like the pages of the magazine that we have all perused all these many decades, the vendors were the right mix of solid competent purveyors of proven ingeniously designed problem-solving devices, whacky mad-scientist inventors, and out and out hucksters selling a free lunch for a stiff price. The earnest, the cults, the practical, and the fun were all very well represented.

We encountered numerous fellow PASA members, as one might have expected. We were joined by another couple of very good friends of very many years, who were just experiencing this sort of craziness for the first time,
and were quite disappointed that most of the workshops and sessions were just simply unavailable due to the massive over-selling of the event.

We spent the rest of the day visiting with various friends we encountered and talking to vendors and among ourselves. We unfortunately missed the beginning of the keynote by Perry Jones, director of Heifer Project International "Food System Revolution: Efforts to Promote a More Locally Controlled and Sustainable Food System" which was brilliant. I cannot say enough about Heifer Project International, they are wonderful folks doing superb work, so I won't try.

First day closing keynote was by Amanda Little on "The Story of America’s Love
Affair With Energy" captioned as "Little will describe how American ingenuity got us into this mess, and how American ingenuity will get us out of it." Setting aside my personal take on the matter, I though it was an intriquing thesis, and it was the closing keynote, so I thought it was worth a go. I'm sorry to say that Ms Little's speaking presentation was, err, well I genuinely dislike saying things like this, but it just wasn't any good. On the upside, I figured that maybe her writing is much better, so I did buy her book, "Power Trip" and haven't finished it yet, but I can report it's been pretty fun so far. She has done her homework. So ended the first day. Keynotes were hit and miss, honestly. But, well, it's Mother Earth News, right? So, it's par.
We dined with our friends who were staying at the resort as guests, wished another friend of ours who hadn't been able to nail down any rooming options and was sleeping in her car, (after going to Cumberland to see Donna and the Buffalo) good night, and then after all, headed back to Rockwood for another night slumbering to the dulcet tones of slamming freight cars and train whistles.
Up the next morning, packed and loaded the car, another wonderful proper breakfast with 4 other couples of sausage, pancakes, scrambled eggs, OJ, coffee, tea, peaches, and so on until you'd pop if you weren't careful, a quick chat with our innkeepers and we were off to Seven Springs for Day Two.

Driving in, expecting more of the same, my were we disappointed, much much more of the same. We arrived at the same time as yesterday, but the parking lot was already filled to spilling over, and we were diverted to some of the satellite parking, which was filling fast. We kinda rushed into the morning keynote given by Richard Schrader on "How We Can Win after Climate Change Defeat" which was mildly interesting to us, and we did learn a few things, but the sessions were again completely out of control. She went off to have further conversations with the good folks at Green Heron Tools. I sought out our visiting friends and we sat about and chatted for a while. Turns out they had enjoyed a nice sit down in one of the many nooks and crannies and had a chat with one of the conference directors. Yes, it was as we expected, they really were blindsided with the attendance. They (Mother Earth News) had never done anything like this at this scale before and were quite literally overwhelmed. Well, lesson learned.

The morning passed quickly, and it was to our dismay that we just couldn't wait on the closing keynote which we all wanted to attend, just too many miles to cover, so we kinda wrapped up and made our goodbyes after a siege like assault on the tee-shirt/bumper-sticker booth, which was pretty exhausting.

In summary, we did in fact have a great time, and are in fact grateful to Mother Earth News for pulling this together. Yeah, it was messed up in a lot of ways, and it was frantic and crazy. But hey, it's Mother Earth News, really, what exactly did you expect? I certainly got my money's worth even without being able to attend the sessions for which I had hoped (and planned). But that's okay, we were kinda, and I admit sheepishly, among our own kind for a couple of days, and man, was that worth the price of admission right there. So, thanks, and better luck on the next one.

1 comment:

federesco said...

Hello HPM Junior The Third. I'm a little disappointed that you've never responded to the comment I left on the first post (The Dog House). It's ok I suppose, as I understand you must have moved forward to a point on the horizon where someone like me from your past is invisible (under the bend).

I only have a couple questions for you:
1. Is there really a "Jack Be Nimble"? I still shudder when I remember the story you told that night as we sat in the 1974 Olds Cutlass Supreme (with a half eaten hot dog on the floor on the passengers side). You took a big drink from the bottle and went on with your story of witchcraft and devil worship - quite frightening.

2. Did we really see the footprints of a cloven hoofed animal on the roof of that building (school?) in Colorado? I swear to god it was real, but unfortunately I sometimes remember things that never really happened. It's one of the many curses of being me.

3. Did you really give Laurie Anderson a ride to the airport lo those many years ago (1979/1980)? "It's a sky blue sky - the satellites are out tonight.".

Ok. I hope you'll reply. I am NOT a stalker....