Pack The Cheese [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

Let me state from the get-go that Bota Box wine should sponsor Joey Coconato. More than once in his back country hiking videos, to the delight of his hiking companions, he pulls a box from his back pack. There is general merriment all around, not to mention amazement: every ounce counts when you are carrying it on your back and a Bota Box is more than a few ounces. For a dedicated wine drinker like me, it is heroic. “I want to hike with Joey!” I exclaim, knowing that I don’t have the metal to hoof in a box of wine on top of everything else I’d be hauling.

In one of my favorite Joey moments, the Norwegian Xplorer and Joey are comparing the food that they’ve packed into the back country. The Norwegian Xplorer has space-like silver pouches of freeze-dried meals neatly displayed and organized for the camera. They look easy to carry. Easy to pack. Joey, on the other hand, shows us a dozen raw eggs in a collapsing carton, avocados, a bottle of sriracha sauce, a pack of brats, flour tortillas and the item that made me howl with appreciation: a full can of Parmesan cheese. “I was cleaning out my cooler,” Joey narrates as the camera pans his supplies. Huy Fong Sriracha and Kraft should consider sponsoring Joey, too. It takes some serious dedication to hump those luxuries into the land of grizzly bears and moose.

I think it is why we’ve become dedicated Joey followers. On every level – even to his food – he’s not doing life as he “should” do it. He’s doing life as he wants to do it. Comfort is not high on his list of organizing principles. Being fully alive is. How many people do you know who can claim that?

The rules on the margins are different than they are in the main. It is the hallmark of someone truly free.

His pants are ripped, his equipment is collapsing, his tent is on loan, he regularly breaks his cameras or loses lens caps, and yet he finds a way. What most of us would see as an obstacle, he simply rolls with. I mean, why shouldn’t you pack your backpack with a carton of raw eggs, a can of Parmesan cheese, and a Bota Box of wine? Joey tells those of us watching from comfort-land that, after the wine is gone, the box makes a good fire starter.

There are two things to note: he is generally surrounded by friends and supporters. When his equipment breaks, someone sends him a replacement for which he is always grateful. Not a little grateful, Not pretend grateful. Grateful. Second, no matter the condition of his clothes or equipment, no matter the weight in his pack, he never ceases to notice how gorgeous is the world, how breathtaking is this earth. Appreciation. He knows it is his privilege, for a time, to walk on it.

Gratitude. Appreciation.

And, at days end, sprinkle some cheese on it and wash it down with wine. No one living in a penthouse has the view that Joey has. The ridge is brilliant in the last rays of the day. No one lounging in a tower or afloat in their yacht is as carefree or as willing to walk away.

Open your pack and I’ll wager that there are more than a few “should-do’s” or “should-be’s.” Open Joey’s and you’ll find only what he needs to fully live another day. Maybe. But, if it’s not there, no problem. Something nourishing will certainly be found along the way.

read Kerri’s blog post about PARMESAN CHEESE

Look With Honest Eyes [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

We were sharing pandemic survival stories, the worlds that we explored in our isolation that we otherwise might never have entered. We told Keith of Joey Coconato and how his back country backpacking trips were a nightly fascination. I’m particularly drawn to his hikes through the canyon lands. Keith became animated, saying, “You have to check out the Millennial Farmer!”

I know nothing about farming. Once, sitting on the back porch of a farmhouse Air-B-N-B in Iowa with my dad, I listened intently to his stories from childhood working on the various farms in the community. Had he been able to script his life differently, I think he might have written a farmer’s story. He loved the outdoors. He loved growing things. He always kept a garden and tended flowers. He knew what he was doing! Somehow, I gleaned nothing from his green-thumb-knowledge. I am a plant killer.

In the first short installment of The Millennial Farmer, Zach Johnson tells his audience that he’s making his videos because people know so little about farming and what farmers actually do. He’s a fifth generation farmer in Minnesota. I was, as he predicted, completely gobsmacked watching The First Day Of Planting 2016. I pushed play expecting dirt clods and the rumpled pages of the Farmer’s Almanac and, instead, entered the space age. His tractor was akin to the deck of the Starship Enterprise. His nuanced explanation of the monitors in his cab was enlightening. He’s driving a computer (actually, it mostly drives itself).

My stereotype was completely shattered. I had no idea. And, isn’t that the point of taking a peek into the lives of others? Recognizing that we have no idea about the realities of others lives? Isn’t that the opportunity?

This morning I pondered aloud about how we’ve changed in the months since COVID began. “I don’t know anyone who hasn’t changed.” One of the most profoundly sad awakenings for me during this time of division and dedicated ignorance is how resistant we are – and I believe always have been – of taking a peek into the lives of others in our nation. We simply don’t want to know, so great is the fear of what we will find there.

John Lewis famously said, “We are one people, we are one family, we are one house. And we must keep this house together.” By “keep” he meant to tend. We might become one family when we are willing and able to look with honest eyes into the lives of those who share this house. Our stereotypes, our almanac ideas, keep us fragmented.

Joey and Zach. Both live lives immersed in nature but from diametrically opposed intentions. Both have popped open my eyes to new experiences and bodies of wisdom that I might otherwise never have encountered. Both are following their personal star and sharing what they find on their paths.

As part of our summer planting and backyard oasis, we bought two tomato plants and some basil. Our Boomer farm is not extensive but it is well loved. “Do you think, if we tagged The Millennial Farmer, our tomatoes would stand a better chance?” I asked.

Kerri considered it for a moment, her hands busily potting the basil plants. “It couldn’t hurt.”

read Kerri’s blog post about BOOMER FARMERS

Walk With Joey [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

We owe Joey Coconato a debt of gratitude. He has unwittingly made our journey through the pandemic-year-of-isolation, not only bearable, but expansive. We’ve hiked with him through the canyons of Utah, the back country of Yellowstone, off trail in Glacier National Park. We’ve crossed glaciers with him, forded multiple rivers, traversed gorgeous rock benches, dodged thunderstorms, quivered at some serious exposure, shivered and sweated. We’ve cracked a beer with him in celebration of standing on a high pass. We’ve enjoyed some box wine and dubious meals while staring into a crackling fire.

His YouTube channel, My Own Frontier, is the chronicle of a man who is more John Muir than Steve Jobs. He’s pretty much left the mania of this society for the majesty of the outdoors. His early backpacking films betray a man on the cusp of jumping into the life he wants to live; his look more urban than rustic, a man preparing to find his voice. Within a year, he robustly unzips his tent and in a spirit free and playful announces in a voice undivided, “Well good morning! We’ve made it to day #2!” His enthusiasm for the new day makes us smile. The jump is complete, his hair is long, his equipment is in full disarray from overuse.

Joey walks the earth. He is living the kind of life that most people desire but fear. He’s tossed away his safety net. He stands face to face with the great unknown. He makes a plan but adjusts according to the forces of nature. He places himself squarely within those powerful forces with no shield or 401K. Rather, he invests in a deep respect for the lightning and proper relationship with the bears. Finding a beautiful meadow, enjoying the color of the aspen trees or the rock formations in a canyon, is his gold. He establishes his camp so that he might enjoy the views and spend time with the stars.

He’s quick to tell us that he is not a guide. He enjoys making his films and hopes that we enjoy them, too, but we are not to plan our back country trips according to his story or route. It is the very thing that we find compelling about him. He is clear. He is not invested in any way in what others do or think. He is creating his way. Your way is entirely up to you.

But he is wrong about one thing: he is, without trying, a guide. He is a master of simple appreciation. He’s stripped away the Walmart stampede and cuts through the luxury car illusion. With the wind gently blowing through his mic, standing on the shore of a mountain lake, and lets slip his quiet awe: “Sometimes I’m struck that this has been here every single day of my life. It was here before I was born. It will be here long after I’m gone.” He is a guide of perspective, a teacher of value, one of those rare beings that doesn’t get lost in the glitter and the noise.

read Kerri’s blog post about JOEY