Every day is a learning experience

Ohio is a fun place. I don’t think I truly appreciated that until recently. When you grow up in a place, even if you go away for a decade or two, you don’t truly see it. Except, that is, unless you make a deliberate effort to open your eyes. Which is what my husband and I are finally starting to do.

We just finished one of our new adventures last weekend. It started several weeks ago when our daughter, an Ohio University graduate who works for Americorps’ Raccoon Creek Restoration program, told me that she was working a booth for the program at the 21st Annual Pawpaw Festival in Albany, Ohio, 11 miles from Athens.

My reaction, when she told me, was probably similar to your reaction in reading the previous sentence.

What, in the name of all that’s holy, is a pawpaw and why does it have a festival of its own?

It turns out, a pawpaw is Ohio’s only native tree-growing fruit. I looked it up. The description on SeriousEats.com is perhaps the best:

“Pawpaw trees, the largest edible fruit trees native to North America, produce greenish-blackish fruit, usually three to six inches long. The flesh is pale to bright yellow and contains a network of glossy, dark brown seeds. A pawpaw's flavor is sunny, electric, and downright tropical: a riot of mango-banana-citrus that's incongruous with its temperate, deciduous forest origins. They also have a subtle kick of a yeasty, floral aftertaste a bit like unfiltered wheat beer.”

We decided a trip to the Pawpaw Festival was a perfect way to spend a Saturday in September. And we knew we wanted to spend the next day, Sunday, at the Country Living Fair in Columbus, a fall tradition for us for about five years. Perfect!

We got up at the crack ‘o dawn (really pre-dawn) Saturday to get to Athens before 9 a.m. to have breakfast with Kelly before she reported to her booth at 10 a.m.

The festival celebrating this distinctive fruit was in a park on Lake Snowden, a site with rolling hills that on this day was dotted with tents and campers surrounding the small lake with meandering shores. Dozens of white tents filled the main field, filled with crafts, plants (native, of course) and conservation-themed groups, including my daughter’s Raccoon Creek organization.

Did I mention the overwhelming presence of tie-dye clothes? Dresses, T-shirts, pants, leggings, hats, blankets, scarves, skirts and shirts in swirling profusions of blues, greens and pinks.

One prominent sign, next to the food trucks, read: “We reject racism. We reject homophobia. We celebrate awesomeness.”

It was fun, heartening and ... a little disconcerting. It felt like we had been air-dropped into 1969 and Woodstock. But the reality of current times was still evident. No purses were allowed into the venue unless they were “the size of a hand” or made with clear plastic. The reason for such caution was unstated but clear.

After several hours, my husband and I left, carrying out, of course, a new T-shirt featuring Bigfoot eating a pawpaw. We did not taste pawpaw ice cream. I just couldn’t.

The weekend adventures weren’t over. We backtracked north to Columbus and checked into our hotel, just like we were on a real vacation! Kelly drove up to meet us and we enjoyed a night of sightseeing in Easton (LOVE IT!) and dipping into the world’s smallest swimming pool at our hotel.

The next day, the three of us went in two cars to the Ohio Village grounds off Interstate 71 for the enormous and diverse Country Living Fair. Yes, we ran into a Clevelander. Robin Sweeney, who lives in Lakewood, gave up her brick-and-mortar store on Detroit Avenue to sell her eclectic wares on the road at fairs and flea markets.

Hours of walking later, we left happy and exhausted. Kelly headed south; we went north.

Ohio is an awesome state, as they would say at the Pawpaw Festival. Time to make our vacation destination our home state.

Contact this reporter at editor@westlifenews.com or 440-871-5797.

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