Stepping single file through the early morning mountain air, holding the little ones’ hands, pulling ourselves over rocks, lifting them over roots. Sheer granite, ancient trees, and fifty feet below us the river coursing. Still we found ourselves wondering out loud if this hike had been the best idea, what with the toddlers and the steep cliffs and the sun barely risen. But when we reached the bottom of the canyon, and breakfast rock, it seemed obvious that we were where we were meant to be. Teenagers waited for us with a camp stove and hot eggs and bacon. There were little boxes of cereal, the sweet kinds, and thick slices of melon. Lucas, mouth full, kept signing at Jacob to share – more, more. The kids in their animal hats, Kyle the wolf. The sun laughing with us now instead of just whispering, and below us the river, above us the trees.
I have to stop there because – are the trees all gone? The flames were hundreds of feet tall, they said. Grave danger, they kept saying.
A boy I daydreamed about kissing before I’d ever been kissed is a firefighter in Yosemite now. I found myself thinking of him last week when I heard on the radio that the Rim Fire is – finally – 100% contained. I remember him on his bike in 8th grade, his dark hair over his eyes. Our camp is no longer in grave danger.
It is, instead, burned to the ground.
Fire is important to forests. I believe this to be true even when it hurts. I try to explain it to my kids. But, Jacob asks, if fire is good for the seeds then why did the radio say that there was nothing, nothing left alive?
There is something, I assure him. Even if it is just some tiny something, it is alive. Whatever it is, it will have so much sunshine, and so much rain and snow. It will have the cool mornings, and the sound of the river, and it will have so many people hoping for it, praying for it. It will grow. It will take what feels to us like a very long time. (A hundred years? At least. A thousand? Perhaps.) But to the forest and the mountains and the rivers, it will not feel like a long time. It will feel like just a moment, a single morning in their life, the way breakfast on breakfast rock feels like a single morning in yours.
Will we have breakfast there again?
Oh, yes. I hope so. I think we will.
There was an opinion piece a few months ago, about the trauma of being alive. In it, Mark Epstein writes “Trauma is not just the result of major disasters. It does not happen to only some people. An undercurrent of trauma runs through ordinary life, shot through as it is with the poignancy of impermanence.”
Sometimes, it seems like our daily traumas here are so first-world luxurious that they hardly bear mentioning. But, I think, we do ourselves a disservice if we forget to acknowledge them, or busy ourselves with just getting over them. I’m not one for pity parties, that’s not what I mean: I mean that some things hurt. Kids are good at reminding us of this. They are also good at reminding us of this: when we say to them “I see that you are hurting,” they let some of that hurt go. When we say, “I’ll sit here with you,” then they can breathe again.
To everyone who loves BTC, and to everyone who loves those mountains and rivers, those trees that burned: I see that you are hurting. I’ll sit here with you. One morning soon, I hope to see you on breakfast rock.
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
~ Leonard Cohen, Anthem
My mom always (always, always) baked winter squash in halves, with the seeds scooped out and syrupy pools of melted butter and brown sugar in their cavities. Perhaps because of this, I love winter squash, and now that it is back in the markets I’ve been on a rampage. I eat this roasted squash for breakfast lunch and dinner – the kids too. They call it “dessert squash” and they always clean their bowls. It’s not trickery to call it dessert – this squash is a bit sweet, from being deeply roasted and lightly sugared. But it is also salty, and custardy-smooth, and the simple preparation lets the baseline vegetal squashiness shine through.
These days I find it easiest to roast them in bunches, whole, and then peel and seed them after they have cooled – this is perfect for soup making, bread baking, and any other squashy plans you have. You can bake them off in the evening, when the house is cool, and the oven warmth means you can leave the furnace off for one more night. (Well, around here anyway.)
Roast as many as will fit in your oven * – I do them on a baking sheet, at 400 F for about forty-five minutes, or until a fork easily runs through to the center. (Alternately, roast a couple alongside whatever else you are already roasting – I’ve had them in an oven anywhere between 350 and 425 F, all with good results.) Breads, soups, waffles and curries all welcome roasted squash puree – and you can always freeze some if you must. Just make sure that you reserve a couple of your roasted squash for the week’s breakfast. A scoop on top of oatmeal, drizzled with maple syrup, is never a bad idea – but lately I do most of mine like this: take one half of a roasted squash, no need to peel. Warm it in the toaster (or microwave) while your tea steeps. Once it is warm, put it in a bowl. Add a good sprinkle of kosher salt, a generous teaspoon of dark brown sugar, and a knob of cold sweet butter. Let the butter just start to melt into the squash, so the sugar just barely starts syruping – and then, commence eating.
* UPDATE: thank you Elizabeth for pointing out that I didn’t mention a specific type of squash here. Kabocha and butternut are my favorites, but red kuri and sugar pie pumpkins have also had this treatment, along with any other relatively sweet-fleshed and hard-skinned squash we get in our CSA box. The ‘recipe’ is pretty forgiving, and flatters most ;)
(Molly at remedial eating has been thinking similar squash thoughts this month – she also has some delicious-sounding alternatives with things like toasty nuts or sizzled garlic or lime-and-ginger or coconut. All distinctly promising as breakfast possibilities, I’d say.)