Lying in bed with my honey Wednesday evening, reading aloud to one another as we sometimes do, a spread in our free weekly newspaper catches my attention. “Love and Dinner: True Stories from Our Lives by Stranger Staff.“ We read a few of the essays. They are funny and sweet, disastrous, awkward and awesome!
Reading about these experiences with oysters and pearl necklaces, crabs on the beach under the moonlight, makes me think about what I would consider my most romantic meal to date.
There was the dinner I had with the boy from Argentina, perched in a treehouse on a tiny island in Thailand. We sipped ice-cold coconuts, looking out towards the neon orange sunset, over the vast ocean and waves crashing below. The breeze was warm and we sat in our swimsuits, bodies still salty from a day of diving. He spoke to me in his accent that sounded like poetry and fed me the most delicious red snapper from his fork. That was dreamy, but not the most romantic meal. There was the time several years ago when Jasson had a gift certificate for a fancy steak house that was worth more than half my rent. We got all dressed up and ventured downtown to orchestrate a fancy, romantic dinner. It had all the elements. Candles, hand holding, whispering and giggling, hours of being waited on, delicious food and wine. But that wasn’t it. There was also the time a boy I had only been dating a short while surprised me at my apartment with all the fixins for a fresh, delicious meal from the farmers market. And whiskey gingers (my favorite drink). He did all the work preparing sesame stir-fry while I sat and sipped. He turned on Foy Vance and danced me around my onion and garlic smelling kitchen in between stirring. That was pretty close, but also not quite it.
What I’ve decided has been my most romantic meal to date is perhaps that last thing one might expect. We were freezing cold in wet dirty clothes, brushing mud off of our food, for which we had no plates, silverware or even napkins, and praying that the smell of our lunch in the tent would not attract bears later.
It was mid-June and Jasson and I were on a 3-day backpacking trip to Cashmere Mountain. The first morning was so beautiful we considered leaving the rain fly to our tent back in the truck to save weight in our packs. Thank goodness past experience with the temperament of the North Cascades talked us into stuffing it down with the rest of our gear. Just in case. We hit the trail just after sunrise since the weather reports indicated it would be in the upper 90’s that day and we wanted to get past the long, exposed, intensely uphill portion of the trail before the heat really got going. Fifteen minutes in, a downpour hit so strong it chased us into the largest tree/bush we could find to shelter us from the huge droplets. It passed, we laughed and continued on. The sun came out in very short bursts, enough to dry us off and give us glimpses of the beautiful mountains and cliffs we were passing. Mountain goats, marmots, hawks and wildlife of all kinds visited us on the trail. We were grateful for the cooler temperature since it made hiking the exposed part of the trail where there had been a forest fire last year, much easier. We didn’t go through as much drinking water, and figured the sun would really get blazing as we reached the alpine lakes, just in time for a swim!
Right at Noon, dirty, exhausted and high on mountain bliss, we reached Little Lake Caroline where we planned to set up camp for the night. The sky was still precariously grey and we decided to find a site and get our tent set up before heading out to explore. Not 10 minutes after venturing off from our little home away from home, the rain began again. No big deal, we thought at first. We’re from Washington, it’s par for the course to get a bit wet if you want to be outdoorsy in this state. Then the thunder and lightning began. This was a little more daunting, so we headed back. On the way, the rain became an even heavier downpour than we’d ducked away from that morning, the thunder was clapping and rumbling in loud rhythms just over our heads, and the lightning made the air feel electric all around us. We ran until we reached our little yellow tent, scrambled to get our soaked bodies inside, then fell into sloppy, heaving heap of laughter. It was all extremely exciting!
Twenty minutes later, when we could barely hear ourselves talk anymore, we realized that the rain had turned to hail the size of ripe blueberries and the thunder and lightning was even closer to the little ridge we were perched on. In addition, we were literally sitting in a huge puddle that had collected under our tent, and everything we brought was absolutely soaked. Then the mudslide began. Our puddle turned into a rushing river of mud sweeping rocks, leaves and twigs along with it. We geared up and crawled out of the tent to build a trench and try to divert the river around our meager flat of land. It actually worked pretty well!
Back in the tent, we stripped down and crawled into our down sleeping bags to try and warm up. Laying silently there next to each other, we listened to the earth crack and shatter and rumble, feeling our tent being blown around so ferociously I thought we might soon get flung right off the cliff. Eventually, the exhaustion from the day caught up and the sounds of the forest lulled us into a nap. An hour or two later we woke to our bellies growling. Though the thunder and lightning were a bit further off in the distance, the rain had not slowed much and we had no choice but to eat in our tent. A big no-no in bear country. And the only option we had for lunch was smoked salmon. A double big no-no in bear country. We pulled out our food bag and set a spot in the middle of the tent trying our very best not to spill or leave crumbs.
As I looked over at this man I have known my entire adult life, my best friend, my companion; a man whose blue eyes smile at me and my entire being melts; a man who I am my most favorite self with, I think, this is romance. This silly, scary, adventurous, uncertain, unexpected afternoon trapped cuddling in a tent is the most romantic I have ever felt. It’s the kind of love we dream about, the kind of love we love to doubt. This salmon and avocado eaten carefully off our mountaineering knives, followed by a crunchy bite of trail mix could be a candlelit dinner under the stars, in any city in the world, with harps playing and the most delicatessen food available, and it wouldn’t match the love and intimacy of this moment.
I have always felt that a meal shared offers nourishment on many levels. The pleasure that our senses experience, from the visual appeal, to the smell and flavor to the texture of our food; the nourishment our bodies receive from the energy and nutrients our meals provide; and the connection we feel with our companions over a shared food experience. It all adds to how our bodies integrate the energy of food.
It also seems to me, how comfortable you can be with one another in the most miserable and uncomfortable moments of your life is equally proportionate to the amount of warmth and love that be can shared. If we can laugh through a meal in a tiny, wet tent with mud under our finger nails in a crazy storm on the top of a mountain, I’m pretty sure we can laugh through just about anything.
My heart capacity grew that day. Over salmon, avocado and trail mix, my heart experienced what true romance can feel like. Real. Beautiful. Messy. Bliss.