Benjamin Rutherford: Pesto (Needs Pesto) for the Soul

ben1Thai coconut curry for dinner, turkey avocado wraps for lunch, Triscuit cream cheese apple sandwiches for snacks, and, of course, the staple: oats, Nutella and peanut butter for breakfast. The pleasures of eating don’t have to be sacrificed in the backcountry. In fact, they can only be intensified (hunger is the best spice after all). Yet, the joys of eating aren’t limited to simply taste. Each meal is an opportunity to grow, both individually and as a community.

It all starts with breakfast. The leader of the day (LOD) creeps out of their nest a half hour or so before the rest of the group, lights the Wisperlite (the good one), puts on water and prepares to bring life back to the campsite. While waiting for the water to boil, the LOD finds little to do but enjoy the serene morning calm. Upon boilage, they pleasantly wake their slumbering comrades in whichever way they see fit: a wakeup call, singing a classic camp song about birdies, or by playing a ditty on the ukulele. The campers follow suit, rubbing the crusties from their eyes (and bowls), wiping the drool from their cheek, dishing up and grubbing out. What makes breakfast unique is the universal acceptance of peace from all parties. Hardly a word is spoken as each member individually greets the morning sun. Nothing is shared but the moment.

A breakfast of particular significance was had the morning after our resupply, above Horseshoe Canyon. We awoke instantly to a rising sun- no need to wait for it to creep into the subsurface of the canyon- a rarity. Once bowls were filled, each member moved toward the edge of the terrace to watch the sunshine descend upon the 180 degree panorama of dim, ancient sandstone, warming our bones in the process. To our left, the east, the La Sal mountain range protruded above the arid mesa, filtering the sunrise’s orange rays. To our right, the snowcapped peaks of the Henry Mountains received it’s warm glow, emitting an aura of golds, auburns and pinks. We watched as the same solar radiation vividly painted the vista with color, awakening the depths below. Though little was said verbally, we mutually cultivated a sense of togetherness through the power of our shared experience. Breakfast: a time for the individual.

As the day progresses, and the oats digest, conversation turns toward food. This is a phenomenon that we ofter refer to as “food porn,” or the hunger-driven discussions pertaining to the quality and quantity of food that we have been so deprived of. Talk past feasts, exciting condiments- mustards and hot sauces usually- odd combinations of food, regional food differences- the most passionately debated of food porn topics- delicious meals to come in the next little Utah town, and food potentially scavenged from the area join our echoing footsteps as we trod down the canyons. Life is boiled down to the essentials; if were not cooking food or eating food, we’re talking about food.

Soon enough (promptly at 10am) it is time for our morning snack. Packs are dropped, pushups are banged out (a celebration of shedding the heavy backpacks), and we nibble enough to stave off the food porn ’til lunch. Snack time offers our first reprieve from the wind and/or sun. We seek shelter and shade, oftentimes hunkering under an alcove or cottonwood tree. When enough trail mix, apples and carrots are consumed, we embrace the bliss that follows any quality eating event: the delightful food coma. By now, we may grow too cool in the morning shade, so the sunny, warm sand provides a perfect canvas for the group to splay out upon. Eventually, someone wises up and peels the group off of the canyon floor; we do have a busy agenda after all. All the while, ideas are exchanged, stories are shared and jokes are told, bringing the hikers even closer together. When we sit for snacks, we are delving deeper into one anothers’ lives, one handful of GORP (good ol’ raisins and peanuts) at a time.

Similarly, lunchtime provides opportunity for communal growth, but to a deeper extent. In much the same way as snacks, lunch evokes valuable conversation. However, what differentiates it is the how extensive it can get. Fruits, veggies, spreads and wraps- perhaps dessert too- are featured, each meticulously crafted by their respected artisan; this ain’t your Papi’s pb & j. The entrees created complement the precise nature of lunch time activities. Bags are opened, books and journals come out, and time is taken to collectively explore our curiosities. Discussions to match the meal’s intricacy are carried regarding said interests. The simple act of eating is but the start of any number of engaging activities, even class! But the climax of our culinary adventure is still to come.

Dinner. It’s the event that we all look forward to as we plod through dense tamarisk, prickly thistle, silty muck and deep sand. As a group, we are lucky to have group dinners skillfully provided by WRFI, despite the conspicuously labeled meal bags (see title). Usually when packs are dropped for the last time- and of course pushups are had- water can’t boil fast enough. As a cook, there is no more rewarding feeling than turning off the stove and presenting a hefty, steaming, albeit deformed, pot of goodness to hungry eyes. The agonizing aroma of sautéing onions and garlic has prepared all for supper. A dinner question, devised by the two cooks, is asked. This tradition is fundamental to WRFI dinners. Among the top dinner questions are, “What is your spirit utensil (not to be confused with spirit animal)?” “What was your most embarrassing past phase?” “What is the time where you felt most wild?” ” What are your two closest run-ins with the law?” profound memories associated with the seasons, and reflections of the trip at section’s end, usually in some form of Roses, Buds and Thorns. The dinner question provides a point of focused discussion while the group dines. It also allows everybody some form of input; even the quietest individuals are involved. It is important to recognize the power that the dinner question holds, both as an ice breaker and as an open forum. It is standard culture, all parties are included; thus, our community grows closer. When tummies are full (sometimes uncomfortably) the aforementioned food coma ensues.

As mentioned before, food comas follow glorious meals. While the idea of swollen-bellied campers with pants bursting at the seams splayed out over a heap of empty dishes isn’t too far off, food comas are often so much more than that. Full tummies put you in a certain state of euphoria that, when shared with a close group of friends, is unmatched. My favorite time of day is when bowls are licked clean, set down and discussion flows. It is during this time that we share the most, laugh the hardest, and delve the deepest. It’s a phenomenon that transcends boundaries, cultures and borders- perhaps it is embedded in our DNA. Regardless, when we conclude our evening meal, anything can happen. On the same terrace that we reveled in the morning sun, we celebrated the sunset panorama- the Golden Hour- with a dance to Backstreet Boys’ “I Want It That Way.” We poured out our hearts over family issues under the stoic watch of a spring-sapped, sand-embedded alcove. We watched intently as an Evening Primrose attempted to explode into full blossom, only to observe it come up short of its potential of life. We spun rapidly, struck a surfer’s pose and tried to remain upright, uncontrollably laughing at one another as they tumbled into the sand.

Meals unite us. They are the foundation of our community, our family. Through them, we grow to know and love one another on a deeper level, and, in a way, ourselves too. Food is so much more than sustenance, it’s the core of human relationships.

 

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