This summer of 2021, we’ve dedicated 2 days per week to come down off the mountain and make the hour drive to Lewiston. There, we’ve been cleaning, clearing, and organizing John’s general contracting shop to prepare for its sale this September. While there last week making my way through a corner of my old office, I came across a jigsaw puzzle in a dusty, tattered cardboard box. It was one of those 1970’s jobs with the picture of a rustic waterwheel in motion, next to its quaint pump house, meant to carry the puzzler away to a simpler place and time.
It occurred to me that this image of the waterwheel is the perfect metaphor for our development of The Coal Burned Spoon Sanctuary. When our site search ended joyously in October 2019 with the purchase of nearly 500 acres adjacent to Mt. Abram here in Greenwood, the water – symbolic of the conditions necessary to generate momentum – flowed, and the waterwheel – symbolic of actual, tangible progress – churned vigorously for about a year.
But with the arrival of COVID-19 in 2020 the water flow slowed dramatically. Potential investors became squirrely, and funding prospects started drying up. Meetings with architects, designers and other project partners became more difficult, and progress slowed.
When we learned in January 2021 of John’s misdiagnosis of a “tendon pull” in his calf/ankle that was actually a completely severed achilles tendon, the water flow stopped. Our whole family, right down to the hound, was suddenly sent spinning on a cross country trip to Minnesota to attend the only clinic where a surgeon with enough practice on neglected achilles ruptures could do the surgery. And for the uninitiated, short of total joint replacements or spinal fusion, achilles tendon ruptures generally entail one of the longest surgical recovery timelines there is. Even after his May 3rd surgery, we knew there would be a long road ahead before progress would resume on our beloved project.
I am so very grateful and pleased to update everyone, that our John is quite the resilient man, and a particularly fast healer. His surgeon made no bones about it: to expect a 6 month timeline before walking normally, and a year before being completely back to his old self, running, hiking etc. However, John was at 3-month-mark progress by the 2-month-mark, and now at just over 3 months post-op has been slowly hiking and bushwhacking around the woods with me as we continue our site search to find just the right locations for the treehouses and cabins! He’s followed doctors orders and gone slow and steady, but he is just healing very quickly. I’m very proud of him for taking on the surgery, as all surgeons consulted did suggest that he could choose to forgo the surgery, but would have to settle for operating at 60-70% of his tendon’s full capacity for the rest of his life – which effectively would limit running and hiking, and would mean a lifelong limp. None of that for John! And just like that, we looked up from these past months of drought, and saw the water begin to flow again.
Then, last week I discovered a type of Small Business Administration loan, called an SBA “7(a)”, designed to assist service disabled veterans in starting businesses. Previously I had been so deafened by years of the constant prevailing rhetoric that “no bank will ever lend large amounts of minimally collateralized working capital to a speculative startup”, coming at me from literally all directions, that I had written off all debt instruments and accepted that the only path forward was one of equity financing with sophisticated investors. While that prevailing sentiment is generally true, turns out, there are exceptions! With this loan, essentially the SBA guarantees up to 75% of conventional business loans up to $5M, provided the entrepreneurial veteran can collateralize the rest. When I was honorably discharged from the Army back in 2001, due to significantly increased scoliosis and the resultant chronic back pain associated with it, I was given a 10% disability rating by the VA, which simply means that the VA considers me to be 10% disabled as a direct result of my service to the country. What this means practically speaking is a modest monthly payment to assist towards treating the lifelong pain, but also, I am just now learning, qualification for this special loan, among other sundry benefits. So for the past few weeks I’ve been working with several local banks to try to put together an SBA 7(a) construction loan for Phase 2 of our business development: the first 5 treehouses and cabins, a welcome center, and 5 of our 6 planned amenities! I am beyond thrilled and if all goes as planned, off site construction of treehouse and cabin panels will begin this fall! This smaller bite-sized piece of our ambitious 32-unit project will enable us to prove our concept, and at that point hopefully attract outside equity investment to fund the rest.
So the gods have seen fit to turn the water back on for us, friends, and our waterwheel spins again. As always I will do my best to work with the conditions we’ve been given, co-create new ones, and bring about creative progress in service of mankind and the planet to the best of my ability. What that means right now is, Onward with The Coal Burned Spoon Sanctuary!