This past Thursday I met Yvon Chouinard. He spoke at a free event in Buenos Aires organized by the Patagonia team based here in Argentina.
I saw the event publicized on instagram the Tuesday before and told my boyfriend, Bruno, “we have to go see this man speak, he is one of my heroes — the company he founded gave 100% of Black Friday profits away to public lands and they are now suing the US government over the Bears Ears land grab.”
I have read Let My People Go Surfing, countless articles, and watched interviews and documentaries — I am a huge fan of Yvon Chouinard and Patagonia Inc. It was their commitment to sustainably sourced materials that led me to work a season on an Argentine sheep ranch. I have a pair of 10 year old (and counting) Patagonia baggies that have traveled to Alaska, the Great Lakes, through the Blue Ridge and made it as far as the Himalayas and all the way back down to match their logo to the Fitz Roy Horizon. The quality of product along with the soul behind the company name will have me buying Patagonia for the rest of my life.
During the talk that we attended in Buenos Aires, Yvon spoke about things that I was already familiar with — Patagonia Provisions, B corps, Patagonia as a privately owned company, and the more recent “The President Stole Your Land” story. I delighted in participating in a bilingual event. The moderator switched from English to Spanish to cater to the crowd and people wore headsets if they wished for a translator for Yvon’s English or for a moderator’s Spanish.
Speaking to an Argentine crowd filled with entrepreneurs, Yvon spoke into his well-known way: “I didn’t like being told what to do, and I saw things I knew I could make better.” It all started with a rugby shirt that more than 40 years later evolved into a Nano Puff. Chouinard’s “break the rules” 60s-inspired way is wildly igniting for young people to hear. I could feel the fire in the crowd as folks began to get antsy for the Q&A portion of the event.
It wasn’t until the moderator stood up and asked us (in Spanish) “Where is all this making noise?” He circled his hand in front of his head and asked, “are you responding mostly here, in your brain, with your thoughts? Or are you feeling it more here?” Moving his hand down around his chest.
I was surprised. I looked at Bruno and said: “I have never been asked that at an event like this.” The question stopped me. Made me pause. Before I told Bruno, “It’s weird. I usually feel everything first — but this talk hasn’t come anywhere close to my heart.”
I was hung up on how different Yvon’s Patagonia story sounded when I listened in an Argentine crowd. I sat next to Bruno, whose story I have come to know, and imagined where the "noise" lands when he hears comments such as “Everything that happens happens because of one or two people.” Knowing the lived experience of so many others — especially so many that are not “American stories” I thought immediately of examples of actions and efforts that were started by dynamic friendships, families, and teams. “No ha escuchado de las miles de mamas que marcharon con cabezas tapadas en pañuelos?” I whispered to Bruno about the thousands of Argentine women who marched in Buenos Aires to protest the hundreds of Argentines who disappeared during the dictatorship during the 70-80s. Instead of hearing the Chouinard I have so admired of beating the system at its own game, I heard the typically masculine, genre: American Dream, story that censors the many times one’s success has been bolstered and buoyed by help.
The moderator’s prompt for reflection allowed me to sense this important conflict and encouraged me not to banish it. After a few allotted moments of self-reflection, the moderator set up a Paideia seminar-like space on stage and invited the audience to come fill an empty seat to continue the conversation with: “what we are taking away from the discussion today.”
My heartbeat quickened, I shifted in my seat, and stretched my back. My body began its restlessness as my being was full of things to share. Like so many college classes freshman year, I made to ignore my body’s biddings. “Don’t go where all the attention is, Sarah. No one likes someone who likes attention.”
My body’s nudging only strengthened as I watched as man after man went to fill an empty chair in the circle. 10 minutes passed and still no woman stood up to share her thoughts. Not only that, but the boys weren’t following directions! Despite the repeated instructions of the moderators that the Q and A was over, they continued to get the mic and ask Yvon another question.
I turned to Bruno and said what made my heart skip into performance mode: “I’m going up there, a woman needs to be up there!” Still reticent with self-doubt, two more men beat me to a seat until a space opened up. I sat down next to yet another boy who tried to wrestle his questions past the moderators, “Well, can this be the last question, then?”
When I got my turn this is what I shared: I am from the US—a place called North Carolina. I grew up in a family of outdoor enthusiasts and I have been to quite a few inspirational talks like this one today. But I have never been asked about where I am responding. Thank you moderators for asking us to feel — to pay attention to how we react and respond. It is clear, that as a community, we struggle with this step. Even today, when we are asked to pause and self-assess, we would rather continue to ask the questions of someone else instead of pay uncomfortably close attention to our own responses — spiritually, mentally, and corporeally. So what I am taking away from this conversation is a renewed commitment to ask myself “where is the noise?” When I hear of injustice, or listen to bullshit, I want to first ask myself “how does that make you feel? where do you feel it?” Even before I ask those around me the same question and most specifically before I act.
Home is in North Carolina. But, I take seriously Wendell Berry's imperative, "Be like the fox who makes more tracks than necessary, some in the wrong direction."