Editor's note: This is the first in an ongoing series of MNN profiles, a way to introduce you to interesting people from all walks of life in the green realm. We hope you enjoy them.
Leon Godwin loves a good adventure. The 32-year-old North Carolina native has been on a few good ones in his day including a full through-hike of the Appalachian Trail in 2001. Add in a cross-country bike ride in 2003, a full run of the John Muir Trail in 2010, a climb of the two highest peaks in Africa in 2009, and innumerable shorter trips to the woods in search of good trail and/or rock and you get a well-rounded natural outdoorsman. The cool thing about Godwin is that he combines that outdoor knowledge with one of the sharpest technical and creative minds around. Godwin is a consummate documenter of life and is an accomplished photographer and video producer, shooter and editor who runs his own production company, Cirque Video, out of his home. On his Appalachian Trail hike and cross-country bike ride, he brought along cameras and shot and produced (with his friend and producing/business partner Brian Burnham) feature-length documentaries ("TREK" and "SHARE THE ROAD," respectively) about the journeys.
These days you're likely to find Godwin either working in his well-equipped home office/studio, out shooting photos or video in the field, or in his backyard working on his garden. The self-described back-to-lander tends a neat garden with his wife, Brianne, on their plot of land in Mebane, N.C.
Godwin is also a talented musician and a well-known fixture in the local Chapel Hill music scene. He was a founding member of the band Bus (aka Big Pretty and the Red Rockets), where he played with his good friend and current cello player of the Avett Brothers, Joe Kwon. I've included one of Leon's music videos at the the bottom of the page.
I first got to know Godwin back in 1999 while starting up a dotcom in Chapel Hill, N.C. He was our first intern and still a student at UNC, but it wasn't long before he was producing his own outdoor sports show that ran online and on Fox Sports Net. He's one of those people who picks things up extremely quickly. When I taught him to snowboard years ago, he was blasting out clean-looking turns by the end of the first run.
I had several questions for the multi-talented Godwin. Enjoy!
MNN: What is your single favorite spot on Earth?
Leon Godwin: My favorite place on Earth would be a little chunk of land that sits against the Chowan River, somewhere south of the one-stoplight town of Colerain, N.C. The River, as the family calls it, is really wide at this spot, maybe a mile and a half, so it’s more like a lake or the beach even, but no crowds, no salt in your shorts, and not a care in the world. What more could a kid ask for; endless woods to romp in, a pier to jump off of, a pond to learn to fish in, and a giant river to test those fishing skills in. (I never developed a talent for it.) Nowadays, it’s hard for me to go there and get anything of any significance done, because I end up spending all my time outside doing all that stuff I did as a kid. (Except the fishing; I leave that to my uncles Steve and Charlton.) There’s something about being near water, it has an effect on people, calms them somehow, just look at the laid-back attitude that most beach people have. The River has this effect in spades. I’ve been to some exotic, amazing places, but I call the River home, and I’ll always come back to it.
What's harder, the first two weeks of a big hike or the first two weeks after you get off trail?
Good question. I’d say they are equally hard, but in very different ways. The first two weeks of a long hike like the A.T. [Appalachian Trail] are physically demanding in a way that you cannot prepare for. Even if you train beforehand, there’s just no way to train for hiking all day, everyday, with a full pack, other than to do just that. That’s why those first two (really more like first six) weeks ARE the training for the big hike.
The first two weeks after being on trail for five months are initially awesome, for me anyway. You are pretty much tired of hiking and being generally stinky all the time, so coming back home to friends, family, showers and couches is great. But then you find yourself depressed for no reason, and eventually you realize you are going through withdrawal from the lifestyle you had been living, a lifestyle that was free from the stress of modern life (though not stress-free per se), a very simple and straight-forward lifestyle of walking in the wilderness all day. And of course, you miss the friends you made out there, and while coming back to your friends at home is wonderful, trying to talk to them about your experiences out there can be difficult, especially if they haven’t had similar experiences, which is case with most people.
Leon and his wife Brianne tend their garden.
What's the next thing you want to learn?
I always want to learn how to do just about everything, and so most of the time, I learn very little. Music, for example. I’m currently trying to reteach myself piano and violin, since I stopped taking lessons for those, oh, 20 years ago. Add accordion and ukelele to that list. Also, welding. And I have a parked antique motorcycle in my garage that I want to learn the art of maintenance on.
What I really want to learn though, is how to live self-sufficiently, to grow, raise, and preserve my own food. My wife and I have a big hobby garden now, and we know how to pressure-can pickles and tomatoes, but we are hardly feeding ourselves year-round from it. To be able to do that would be a most important accomplishment. In fact, it’s much more important I think that any of the other things I mentioned, not only for the vitality of my body and the earth, but for the vitality of my mental environment. Working in the dirt has that same effect as the River … it quiets and calms. And as a person who spends way too many hours a day working on a computer, I’m beginning to see a desperate need for it.
Does the world need saving?
The canned answer, which I originally encountered in the book "Jurassic Park," is no, the world will be fine, it’s humans that need saving. This is partially true; life has done well enough recovering after major extinction events long long long before we showed up. But right now, we are the cause of the major extinctions that are already taking place, and we will be the ultimate cause of our own extinction if we don’t do something about it immediately. I don’t have an answer to what needs to be done, but the older I get, the more I think that the changes will have to come from the ground up, that no government policy, or Hollywood star with good intentions, or any miracle technology, will be able to save us. It’s the Average American that consumes more energy than the rest of the world, that doesn’t know or care where their food comes from, that doesn’t see the havoc being wreaked on the world in the name of progress. We have to change our lifestyles, especially where it pertains to our disproportionate consumption of the world’s resources. But we are also victims of the infrastructure around us. We’re waiting for that infrastructure to give us all electric cars and charging stations on every corner, when what we should be doing presently is opting out of the lifestyles that require us to drive a car everyday in the first place.
What's the difference between green and greener?
I can’t say that I know. It’s getting to be such a useless word, as corporations begin to use it as a marketing and branding point. Don’t get me wrong, many companies are really trying to be green and are making great strides, but many more are using ‘Green’ for surface value only, to get the green-minded consumer at the point of purchase, and are not doing anything that could be considered sustainable. So I guess my take on it is that ‘green’ may only be a surface quality, a marketing term. ‘Greener’ are those companies that know sustainability is more economically viable in the long-term and are willing to forgo immediate monetary profits for increased profits in the health and well-being of the planet.
As an avid composter, I would also point out that the ‘greenest’ things on this planet are often actually brown.
Leon shot this photo of the Milky Way while hiking the John Muir Trail.
Who is one person doing good in the world (besides yourself) who we should know about and why?
I’m not doing any good really, I just try to do less bad. Someone who is doing good would be my friend Anthony Iarrapino, who is an attorney with the Conservation Law Foundation in Montpelier, Vt. Anthony fights for the protection of Lake Champlain’s waters, the Green Mountain National Forest, and other vulnerable areas in Vermont and New England. You’d never hear him admit it, but he has done some real groundbreaking work and won quite a few precedent-setting cases. He’s the real deal, very passionate about water quality and personal responsibility in regards to conservation and saving the world. And he walks to work. You can read his own words on the matter here.
Note: Shea invited Godwin to create and answer his own question here.
Q: Ohh, this one should be easy, but it’s hard. I mean, do I go informational and instructive, like “What’s you favorite recipe or gardening technique,” or should I go for funny and contextual, like “what is your favorite color,” followed by “What is the capital of Assyria?” and “what is the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow?” Or maybe I just go with the simple and classic, like, “What is your favorite "Stars Wars" movie?” I think I’ll go with that one.
"The Two Towers." That’s the one with the robot right?
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Check out this great music video. Godwin is the classy dude in the red shirt playing guitar (as well as the guy working out with the sweet red headband).