My 2019: Achievements and Failures - Expeditions, Cherry Blossoms, Moving, Foraging, and The Polar Bear Market of 2019!
It is good to reflect on the days gone by and weigh the relative achievements and failures so that we might make the much-needed course corrections for the days to come. I began reviewing my 2019 in anticipation of an epic end of year review, and I thought I was so far ahead of the curve, but then I noticed @anomadsoul had rolled out this fantastic contest in collaboration with @blocktrades, and now I am racing to recollect the wild and wooly year I have experienced in time for the deadline... In truth, it's most likely best I have a deadline or I may never finish!
My mind is so non-linear I am going to force myself into a month by month account... this was quite the year and it's hard to keep it all straight. The successes will be upfront, peppered with some failures here and there, and I will endeavor to bring this all to an honest retracement of any major missteps toward the end.
Sweet Tea the cat watched over our January from her rooster chicken chair
2019 began quietly enough, with nary a hint of the year that was to come. @wolfcat and I spent our mornings sipping tea and reading "Braiding Sweetgrass", by Robin Wall Kimmerer. A delightful book that has so much to say about our place in the world. We often read aloud to one another and have finished several books in this manner. Sometime in January, we finished "Braiding Sweetgrass", and any time I finish a book, that's a success!
January was also time to celebrate some important birthdays, one of a beloved friend in California which prompted a visit at long last to my once upon a time home away from home in Northern California to celebrate my friend's 40th birthday in the most beautiful way by the ocean.
Another birthday closer to home in Minnesota, was celebrated with a secret excursion to an underground world and a game of chess.
In early February I finally became emboldened enough to attempt to resolve a mysterious and longstanding family tragedy, the disappearance of my Uncle James Peter Kuhn in a flight that was supposed to have crossed the Andes from Santiago, Chile, to Buenos Aires. With the help of the uniquely talented @gra, a general theory of the tragic missing aircraft's whereabouts was formed, and I launched a GoFundMe to help raise funds for an expedition to find the location of the missing Navy C-47, BUNO 17254. Planning for the expedition continued apace with the fundraising, which succeeded in raising the money necessary to get us there and back safely.
I have not yet fully related the tale of that journey into the mountains, but for those who are curious, you can find all the research and a great account by @gra here. To summarize, we hiked four days across some of the most difficult terrain I have ever encountered, crossing rock glaciers and rivers, following the faintest of cow trails to Mt. Palomo which loomed above this remote and extreme landscape at 15,944 feet. The fact that we even reached this distant and alien landscape, and then proceeded to climb up to approximately 12,500 feet, and managed to return safely despite haplessly wandering atop gigantic ice caves which loomed beneath our feet, I consider a success. Sadly though, and this is my first really big failure of 2019, although we came within 2000 vertical feet of our suspected site, as the sun began to set we were still hours away, and had to return to basecamp. Because the valley we had entered was near an international border and controlled by a private hydroelectric company, we had to be out within a week, and so we turned back just shy of our goal.
The rest of March helped to soften the blow of our failed expedition however; @wolfcat and I attended our first Irish céilí together on St. Patricks day, and I began, and finished, construction on a maple sap boiler for making maple syrup.
In April we fulfilled a mutual dream of ours. We headed out from Minnesota to Seattle where we visited dear friends on Bainbridge Island, then flew to Osaka, Japan, to view the cherry trees in bloom and soak away our cares in the hot springs of Kinosaki Onsen. This was an absolute antidote to the brutal mountain excursion in Chile, and a major life success. I fell in love with Japan.
After we returned to the States, our final jaunt in April was to see about a “free” sailboat in Maine. I have long dreamed of a return to the sea aboard a vessel I could call my own, but this was not to be. The sailboat in question required too much work for us to contend with, not to mention it was fairly immobile in it’s current state, and so had to be worked on in Maine.
At this point, my crypto coffers which had sustained me through a fairly major period of time were in serious decline, and the idea of taking on such a project seemed unsurmountable.
May brought with it the renewal of Spring in Minnesota, and one of the first bright omens of this great month was the sighting of a Great Horned Owl and it’s baby in the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden. During our walk out of the garden we also sighted an American Kestrel swooping overhead with a vole or some such creature in it’s talons.
The Maple sap boiling process which had begun in March, finally reached it’s conclusion with several precious jars of the ambrosial maple syrup.
Every year in Minneapolis there is an AMAZING celebration called the Mayday Parade and Festival, which is organized by In The Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theater. This year @wolfcat and I participated in the Southside Battle Train, which pictures fail to adequately express, but it is a human powered, as in, pulled by a team of people in harnesses “train” of phenomenal metal art cars with various themes, and fire, lots of fire. It’s sort of Mad Max meets South Minneapolis with some of the most talented makers and builders you will ever meet, and a super fun crew to boot.
The glory of May was capped off with the locating of a phenomenal cache of Morel mushrooms! Mmmmmmm!
B1 June in Washington DC was the start of my June, where ‘Voice’ was announced but not unveiled. I was also fortunate to be able to visit my cousin in Maryland, where I was treated to such wonderful hospitality.
Back in Minnesota, I managed to finally, after many years of missing the short window to collect them, harvest Linden leaf and flower from the Linden tree, again with my wild foraging companion, @wolfcat. Big success. Linden leaf and flower makes an amazing tisane, or tincture, and flowers only during a very brief period. It is prized for many reasons, but I just love it.
In July we moved out of our apartment in South Minneapolis and into an old dairy barn in Southern Minnesota. We spent the better part of two weeks cleaning out the years of funk and making it habitable, and then we moved in for real.
A week after move-in we had assembled a makeshift kitchen on the first floor and made our first family-style meal in the barn. Huge success.
Towards the end of July I finally got to see the famous Aquatennial fireworks display from Nicollet Island in Minneapolis… which completely redefined what I thought a fireworks display could be!
To cap the month off, we finally made milkweed pickles, from young fresh milkweed pods!
August began with explorations in Monarch incubation… I.e. collecting the tiny tiny monarch caterpillars and giving them a place safe from predators to grow and develop their chrysalis.
Some of you may know I’m a bit of a fan of the incomparable surfer, soldier, patriot, mixed martial artist, US Congresswoman and Presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard, and in the early part of August I went to Clear Lake Iowa and was fortunate to meet her, hear her speak, and get a great hug!
In mid-August @wolfcat and I, along with @roadscape and his partner, went to the Indigenous Wisdom & Permaculture Skills Convergence on Pine Ridge Reservation where we participated in another great year of work, and discussion, in service of the Lakota led initiative at OLCERI.
The year prior we had planted Burr Oak acorns on OLCERI land which we brought from our home in Minnesota, and we were delighted to find that they had begun growing! At the tail end of the gathering we even survived a tornado, although our tent was over 100 yards away, fortunately we were not in it at the time. Success!
August concluded with a flurry of Monarch releases! Another life-affirming success.
In September, with expert guide @wolfcat, we kayaked to the Apostle Islands on Lake Superior and spent a few days exploring the area. I had never been to Bayfield Wisconsin, let alone the Apostles, so it was another first, and a place I would really like to get to know better!
On the Autumnal equinox was @wolfcat’s birthday, which was epic in so many ways, but included willow wreaths, floating lanterns, canoeing through underground tunnels from the Mississippi River… I was happy to contribute, but it took a village and again, great success!
October was pretty low key, and mostly about preparing for the winter and coming to terms with the fact that we weren’t actually going to be able to winterize the barn. We survived some hella cold nights in a cold barn with two cats.
November was notable for a number of reasons but probably not in a way that relates to success. At this point my coffers were completely depleted and I was teetering on the brink of survival mode. November was a lot of darkness and soul searching for a good path forward.
Which brings us to December and the Journey to Taos, NM… where @wolfcat and I are holed up for the winter in the Taos Ski Valley… it’s part economic relief program, part nomadic adventure, and part winter writing retreat.
Reflections on Success and Failure in 2019
Overall the year has been chock full of adventure and misadventure… but to be real, this is the year I went bust. I have gone bust before, but this was a slow, grinding halt to the euphoric days of the crypto bonanza which many of us were fortunate to ride. I, however, was ill prepared to weather the Polar Bear Market, and alas… I’ve been just scraping by. But in the great forge of necessity and struggle come some of the best creations, and I am learning to distill the wisdom of my 43 years of life into that which is uniquely mine, and I hope to continue expanding and sharing what I have to offer the world.
My greatest failure this year was not realizing my run was over soon enough to make a graceful course correction, and the extent to which this has impacted the lives of others. We all want to be of service to others in some way… we all want to be of use and to provide, in some way, I hope… I think it is one of the greatest sources of joy, and so to slip into a dearth of resources is a great sadness. I believe we are rich in proportion to what we can give, and so it has been fairly challenging to be in this position.
However, life does not stand still, and even now new horizons are calling, new seeds are quietly germinating, and the mystery continues. I shall endeavor to turn the failures of 2019 into the successes of 2020. But I am enough of a Taoist that I must leave us with this.
Tao Te Ching - Lao Tzu - chapter 13
Accept disgrace willingly.
Accept misfortune as the human condition.
What do you mean by "Accept disgrace willingly"?
Accept being unimportant.
Do not be concerned with loss and gain.
This is called "accepting disgrace willingly."
What do you mean by "Accept misfortune as the human condition"?
Misfortune comes from having a body.
Without a body, how could there be misfortune?
Surrender yourself humbly; then you can be trusted to care for all things.
Love the world as your own self; then you can truly care for all things.
Translation by Gia-fu Feng and Jane English
* edit: this translation replaces the earlier Stephen Mitchell version, which is a poetic rendering of the text that I grew up with, and still very much appreciate, but more recent translations are perhaps a bit more faithful to the original language.
I hope you all have a blessed 2020!