Changed my life

I purchased this sheepskin hat directly from the hands of the old man himself: Howard Joynes, founder of Joynes Ben Franklin up in Grand Marais, MN. It cost me $76—a pretty penny back in 1996…

It’s the warmest hat I’ve ever worn, or seen on anyone, and that includes those atop the heads of explorers on Mount Everest. I claimed the title of coldest ascent of Eagle Mountain while wearing this hat (self-designated, but unassailable given the -36 degree high that sunny day in February of ’96). Darn thing has been worth every penny, and the life of the sheep that ultimately provided it.

Sea smoke is a terrible thing to waste. It’s best on these frigid mornings, umpteen degrees below zero, so I was thankful Mr. Joynes decided to stock these expensive chapeaus once upon a time when I lived just off the Gunflint Trail on the extreme northern edge of Minnesota.

I was 19 years old at the time, sorting out life’s purpose and such with a break from school while living in a simple lakeside cabin. Who knew I’d still be pondering these perplexities at the ripe old age of 4 X 11? I found myself writing lengthy letters and journal entries in that cabin, sensing a desire to become a writer “one day.”

I published that book going on six years ago, but I’ve only recently felt this desire come to fruition. Little known fact, but writers write. Other than the isolated, feverish frenzy of producing my first book, I have never been successful in developing a daily habit. I now write every morning, erupting out of bed with great eagerness, without the need for an alarm. That picture above was taken today at sunrise, two full hours into my writing session. I pulled my son out of bed, a major interruption in my limited writing time, because sea smoke is a terrible thing to waste. We aren’t blessed with 20-below-zero temperatures on a daily basis.

Incidentally, that black dot behind me in the distance was a photographer all set up for the big shot. Waiting and waiting. Today’s sunrise was a bit of a disappointment by the water. With such dense sea smoke, perhaps a vantage point on the hill would have been better. You never know, I suppose. Those intrepid photographers put in a lot of time freezing their fingers and toes just hoping for the perfect shot. It’s always a beautiful thing to observe people doing things that make them come alive.

And writing makes me come alive. I can’t overstate enough just how revolutionary this has been for my entire existence, having only arrived at this place of a daily practice over these past two months. Though it might seem unrelated, I’m finally doubling down on Tiny Farm Duluth. This spring we’re building a large addition onto our home, which will serve as the permanent home for my microgreens operation (basically a giant sunroom). I nearly went forward with this two years ago, but two full years of profits going into the space didn’t make sense. While demand has steadily increased for my product since then, so have the costs of construction, and this one’s a doozy with a new roof and HVAC being tossed in to boot.

So, what changed to cause me to fully commit to the farm? Writing. I’m finally a writer. Perhaps a mediocre one, but a writer nonetheless. I’m currently 75,000 words into my next book, which is roughly the same length as my last one. I had hoped to keep it short, but it turns out this 6 year odyssey from FIRED to Farmer/writer is complicated. I’ve likened this compulsive need to write to mental illness, particularly when observing that the incredible painting my wife is currently working on might earn her more in that one sale than this humble book will for me in a lifetime. I’m liberated from this thinking now. Well, mostly. I do get stuck on the terrible thought of polishing the turd through endless editing for a year, but I’ll deal with that thorny issue when I get there.

And what has changed on the writing front? Well, there’s that consistent daily practice I wrote about last time, the weird electronic music, etc, but perhaps even more important is the fact that my urban farm is better established. Tiny Farm Duluth has proven itself as a viable business. I can pay our basic expenses from the farm’s sales, thus granting me the freedom to write for peanuts in the early morning hours before my son needs the computer for school. The arrangement feels nearly perfect. I haven’t fully felt this freedom until 2021. Thus, I’m not just shelling out a major expense that needs to pencil out for the farm’s income. I’m investing in a lifestyle that suits me, and us. This is worth doubling down on and securing: a life we might not need to retire from. I’ll write each morning, enjoy coffee talk with my wife when she wakes up, and then head out to the spacious sunroom for planting duties and whatnot. It’s a splendid connection of brain and body. This has always been a deep need, and I’m grateful to have stumbled upon it.

I’ve got a giant crop ready for tomorrow’s harvest, and I’ll also bring more next Monday. Apologies that I’ve been selling out a bit early these days. We’re working to correct this as I’m now maxing out current space. I’m pretty sure we’ll be looking much better after tomorrow. I had restaurants come back on line, etc.

I hope you’re getting out to enjoy the incredible sea smoke on these fine mornings. Even five minutes along the shoreline is an invigorating experience.

I enjoyed watching these ducks this morning. They seemed impervious to the frigid conditions:

I can’t resist sharing one more thing that is changing my life, and I offer it up to you free of charge. Ladies and gentleman, without further ado, I offer you free access to my dish duty playlist on Spotify:

This could totally change your life as it has mine! It’s still in its infancy, so I welcome suggestions. I’ve got high energy music in there, the sort I have rarely listened to since high school. It started out when I joked around with a friend that all of AC/DC’s music sounds the same. Later on I thought to myself, “You know, Thunderstruck might make for a dang good song for washing dishes.” I put those headphones on and moved my body like never before, making the dreary task a whole lot of fun. Now I look forward to it, each and every day, similar to my writing practice. I love it! It’s all loud, high energy: Pearl Jam, Smashing Pumpkins, The Black Crowes, Talking Heads, and, amazingly, even a bit of Metallica. I know, this is crazy coming from a folk-singer enthusiast. Try it for yourself, and let me know if it helps you. If you’d prefer not to click the link, search Spotify for “Dish Duty.” Mine is the one by eddygilmorehasleftthebuilding. It would make my day to have somebody follow along, and offer suggestions. The goal is to really move the body, in a way you might not feel comfortable doing in public. This all makes me want to invest in a colorful pair of maracas, castanets, or one of those egg shaker things. Dance, I say. Dance!


6 thoughts on “Changed my life

  1. Hey, Howard’s son Jim was best man at Russ’s and my wedding. I bought a purple plaid fake-furlined bomber hat at the Ben Franklin when I was there last. Just what I was looking for! Glad to hear your life is coming together. Write on!

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