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THE WORLD MAY LOOK BACK on the year 2016 as the best one we’ll get for awhile, the deaths of my idols and ruin of our republic notwithstanding. Ours was abundant, at least by the measure of how many photos I shot and shared. Here are a few of the blessings I’m counting in panoramic splendor (click for a big ole view).

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Sarah contemplates the Blue Ridge Mountains after narrowly escaping Hurricane Matthew

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Adventuring on the Superior Hiking Trail with Lucas

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Green Line LRT iPhone experiments on University Ave SE (an homage to Ed Ruscha)

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Downtown and South Minneapolis from atop the Witch’s Tower with Jo’s school in the foreground

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Waterfall at Temperance River State Park, a reward for a cold, wet slog in the woods

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Dangling above Minnesota’s “mountains” with ski buddies

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Drinks with Craig and Matt at Track’s Bar, St. Paul’s least-charming dive

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Next to zero visibility on the Appalachian Trail outside Hot Springs, North Carolina

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Ferrying to Washington’s San Juan Islands for a rare reunion of my dad’s five kids

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The late-night shuffle

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Porch view from our rustic Blue Ridge cabin (roving pit bulls and land yacht are cropped out)

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Exploring Peak DC on spring break with our hosts Marc and Viv

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Prospect Park Business Center in ruins before its 17-story redevelopment in 2017



photoTODAY MARKS 40 YEARS since the Big Bang of my personal universe, that slide into self-ness when sand began spilling through an hourglass of unknown size and dominos began cascading in a pattern so intricate and pleasing (so far), I’ll forever pretend to take credit.

Sarah made me an almond-lemon cake with five roses (for my first four decades plus my next) and six candles (not sure). My mother, sister, wife and daughter each recited 10 things they admired about me—small but important observations no one otherwise bothers to make. It could be the best gift I ever got.

I’ve planned a week-long, mostly musical celebration. Sang karaoke Friday at the Vegas lounge (“Electric Avenue,” “Fever”). Seeing Quintron & Miss Pussycat Tuesday at the Turf with Craig, then New Pornographers the next night with Sarah. Thursday, Kev and I are seeing Jem Cohen’s “Instrument” doc about Fugazi at the Sound Unseen film fest. I know what trips my pleasure triggers.

Going around the sun forty times is a show of endurance if nothing else. I seized the excuse to celebrate, spearheading a damp gathering of old bros in the North Woods. Over Labor Day weekend, 13 of us hiked into a forest to be slowly stewed in rain, smoke and spirits (including Malört, a Chicago liquor so rank it involuntarily contorts the face). It was a long, idle, sometimes beerless slog that might have been judged a failure if not for the beautiful people who showed up… just because I asked.

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Whatever 40 is—a landmark, a tick mark, an end to childish things, a new beginning—I shudder to imagine going it alone. Thanks for coming this far with me, friends. The trip may not always feel worthwhile, but I’m trying.

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I READ THAT CONTRADICTION AND MENTAL DISSONANCE are the price of our ridiculous modern lives. It’s undeniable in my case. The son of an artist and an engineer, I’m liberal but obedient, cheerfully fatalistic, a staunch anti-consumer who makes his living on corporate largesse. There’s not much I do without some psychic friction. I know I’m not alone.

So I cherish the unconflicted moments. I found my respite long ago in the instinctual act of drawing—blindly, with no grand ambition or promise of reward. When I draw, counter-arguments grow silent. For a few minutes or hours, I know I’m doing the right thing.

That’s what drives the MakeSh!t experiment, now in its third year: low-stakes longing for uncontrolled creativity. We finally found a way to bottle it for mass consumption. To my astonishment, people showed up.

Public Acts of Drawing, first projected on a dark mill ruin in the summer of 2012, made its primetime debut this month on TPT’s TV Takeover, and again during a terrifying July storm. Hundreds of intrepid revelers (The Mayor, piano prodigies, drunks, tykes up way past their bedtime) huddled under our Fleet Farm party tarp, braving lightning and sheets of rain to scribble with us for hours. At 3:30am when the power went out, they were still washing up.

The project is also a thicket of contradictions: Solitary yet social, free-wheeling yet constrained (by media and elbow room), ugly until it’s beautiful. One component of the event—broadcasting on a skyscraper in real time with a Hollywood-grade projector—was shut down on account of weather. With 10 inches of visibility, no love was lost.

The best measure of the project isn’t the final artwork, which I love, but Aaron’s time-lapse vids. Watch us fill in everything, almost without thinking. Hard to say why exactly. Maybe because we have hands.

Another utterly pointless job well done. Thanks, fellas.

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MY LOCAL HABITAT TURNED INHOSPITABLE OVERNIGHT with the kick off of a long-delayed kitchen renovation. The place where just last week I made toast is now a primitive, nail-strewn cave stripped of every amenity (water, stove, Nutella), accessed through an E.T.-like zippered facade. The contents of our pantry and cupboards are piled along all available walls. For the next 12 to 16 weeks we will not cook as much as warm things up. Dishes will be washed in the bathtub.

I don’t deserve pity. Remodeling pain is the bougiest gripe of all time (up there with Finding Good Help). But we are accepting dinner invitations.

Last month I rehabilitated a Polaroid Landcamera, a toy I hadn’t touched in years. While the original company is dead, off-brand peel-apart film is available on Amazon for no more than it cost in 2003.

My first rolls were mostly dark and blurry. I have to relearn how to compose carefully and shoot slow.

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If there’s more mind-warping fun to be had with an iPhone than mis-use of panoramic stitching, show it to me.

14By now it’s old news that my sister had a baby. I’d say she’s doing okay with it.

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We’ve had a lot of family visitors lately on account of ‘Lil Charley, including my half-sister Emily, seen here with my step-nephew-if-my-sister-were-married, Frank. Step-aunts, step-grandmas and multiple half-brothers also showed up. Johanna and her quasi-cousins need to be reminded Who is He (and What Is He to You)?

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I’m in the middle of doing a video for my farm technology client. It involves hiring screen actors, but really only their legs. At the casting we picked five pairs from dozens of auditions, mostly ones whose shoes we liked.

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There wasn’t much for Johanna to do when we said Go Outside and Play, so I and some Work & Company helpers put up a trapeze. It took a ridiculous amount of effort to anchor the rope in our massive oak. Overall it’s an engineering masterpiece, though Jo has to swing carefully to avoid smacking into trees and fences.

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Took a field trip with Witt to the MCAD library, where you can freely paw artists books by legends like Sol Lewitt, Bruce Neumann and Ed Ruscha (though you gotta wear the Mickey gloves).

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I topped off my Summer of Cycling with a balmy (100°+) camping ride to Afton State Park with Lucas. So wrung out were we by the heat and exertion that we barely drained our bourbon flasks. But having brought little food on account of weight, we needed the calories.

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In exchange for helping make a website for his bobblehead empire (Phase 2), I’ve been immortalized by sculptor Bryan Guise. It’s like he’s revealed my essential self: part Eminem, part John Cusack, part graying guy with an over-familiar stare.

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I’ve been binging on Lou Reed and V.U. (and tributes and photos) this week. Waiting for the right moment of cathartic dissolution to throw on Side B of White Light White Heat. Lou hits a deep vein.

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This is an excerpt of a MakeSh!t proposal submitted for artist-designed Mini Golf at the Walker to take place in summer 2013. Fingers crossed! UPDATE 1/9/13: WE’RE IN.

CONCEPT: Once (maybe twice) in lifetime, something happens that transforms a favorite pastime forever. For the sport of Mini Golf, that time is next summer at the Walker Sculpture Garden. Roaming Hole Gardens (RHG) employs the game’s familiar assets and rules but with one crucial twist: the target hole roams. In lieu of taking her usual shot, a player may instead relocate one of 6 topiary plugs into the open hole, thereby opening a different hole—a new target!—for the round. The new hole becomes everyone’s object—that is until another player chooses to move the hole instead of swinging for it. With this deceptively simple change, the sport attains a mind-blowing new level of challenge, strategy and competition while remaining easy enough for anyone to play.

MATERIALS: 6 life-like mobile topiaries are made of outdoor-grade plastic for durability and ease of management. Each is anchored in a welded metal pot that allows it to be moved easily from one hole to another. The arrangement of these artificial trees, shrubs, grasses and bouquets evokes a manicured English garden, reinforced by the symmetrical course design. Other materials are tried and true mini golf: astroturf, plus simple walls and interior obstacles made of bent metal.

PLAYABILITY: Players are greeted at the hole’s start with one rule: “On your turn hit your ball OR move the hole.” The party’s first player may take a shot at whichever hole is then open (subject to the whims of the previous group) or use his turn to move the hole. RHG’s simple design means you are never more than a shot or two away from the target hole. But depending on how merciless your opponents are, it could take several more swings to finish (we recommend a 6-shot limit). Once any player sinks the hole, she collects her ball and stands by as others complete the round.

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>> Silver Jews — K-Hole
>> Patti Smith — Pastime Paradise

 

IN A RAPIDLY WARMING, PETROLEUM-SCARCE WORLD, long-haul road trips may no longer be defensible. But weighing our waste against the lure of a righteous mountain cabin just outside Yellowstone, we said Screw It and got in the van. Having only driven around it before, I worried the Park wouldn’t live up to the hype. Was it just the darling of people who’d never gone elsewhere (my strong suspicion about all Disney Resort-lovers)? Would it pale next to the postcards?

No. Yellowstone proved to be a steaming smorgasbord of vividly bizarre wonders. It’s one of the few times where conventional wisdom knew what was good for me.

Our ride was deluxe, a big honkin’ GM van worthy of my weirdest uncle circa 1980. Six bucket seats. CD/DVD/cassette. Lingering scent of industrial solvent. 1,100 miles flew by, at least up front in the Dad Cab.

We spent a night in western North Dakota, land of fracking fortunes, gargantuan pickups and shockingly overpriced Days Inns. Then a final 600-mile haul through Montana, which looks like this when the maps bleach out.

The park’s surreal chromatics come from heat-seeking bacteria that cluster along thermal springs according to their temperature (above and below). Did that sound convincing? Because I have no idea what I’m talking about. It might as well be made of Jell-O. Click for a better view.

Jo Jo posing elegantly on the Yellowstone River; Her and Isobel in matching Harajuku Mini meshcaps. These two built dams, rode horses, braved whitewater and went all Frontierswomen for a week (we oldsters honed our Picnicking and Wine Guzzling skillz).

So Old Faithful? People go bonkers for that. Intent on capturing all its glory, this dude butted to the front of the crowd with his iPad aloft. It’s like 68°. Where’s your shirt?

Jenney and Sarah hike above the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone (right). Our crew had some unique flair too, no?

Bouldering! Also known as scampering atop rocks.

An invented topographic landscape, from a series of romantic moonlit drawing sessions Lucas and I did after everybody else crashed.

Me on Boulder. This field was littered with gnawed-on bones and other wildlife traces, though animals in the flesh were scarce. They smell you coming.

Sarah’s cross-stitch parting gift to the Lazy M cabin (left). I knew we’d enjoy the stargazing deck and full kitchen, but the hair salon was a nice surprise.

Hiking the miles of empty ranchland around the Lazy M, Lucas and I ducked into an old homestead abandoned for decades (right). After experiencing the century’s-worth of tourist infrastructure around Yellowstone, I’m reassured by places that may stay wild and neglected forever.

Big thanks to Jenney, Lucas, and his big-hearted patron Emily for sharing all this splendor. I’d say we’ll return the favor, but who would ever loan me something that good?

>> Lightning Bolt – Magic Mountain
>> Fiery Furnaces – Evergreen