It’s a miracle! This summer, the very hip residents of the house apartments next door decided to have a garage sale. They had some pretty cool stuff for sale, and at the end of the day, anything they didn’t think they could sell elsewhere they brought to the Free Bench. One of the things they brought was a large, fanciful papier mache bird, three-plus feet long painted in bright blues and purples. We were delighted thinking we had encountered at last the Free Bench mascot. It took us several days to figure out how we wanted to attach it to the Bench, and during this time of deliberation, the bird lay close enough to the Bench that, before we had a chance to hang it, someone else saw the amazingness of it and took it home.
Several times since, we have commented on our disappointment that we were so careless with the bird. Then two days ago – you guessed it – et voila, the bird was back! A piece of white tape is wrapped around its beak, but otherwise it is intact.
As usual, I am intrigued. What happened? Did the bird not satisfy over time? How did its beak get broken? Did the new owner and the bird get into an altercation that resulted in a bent beak and the bird being booted?
And don’t you love all that alliteration?
We children could be compelled along very long and sometimes steep mountain trails if careful attention was given to our taste buds. The first important taste sensation involved cheese. We were not used to delectable flavors like those found in a Stilton or a limburger. We prefered something soft and sweet, like a pre-sliced American cheese. Since a backpacking trip demands a certain frugality when it comes to weight, however, it proved impractical to bring both the mozzarella and the camembert. Cheese compromises had to be reached.
The compromise reached during the backpacking trips of my childhood was extra sharp Cracker Barrel cheddar. It turned greasy and crumbly after a few hours in a backpack and often fell apart beneath the dull cheese knife as we tried to slice it for a Triscuit or a Stone-Ground wheat cracker. The first bite of cheese was so sharp my salivary glands ached. The crackers themselves were as dry as foot powder so the additional saliva came in handy. Extra sharp Cracker Barrel cheddar was the enticement for early in the day when the bright, brisk morning air no longer sustained our progress.
The second inducement required both flavor and extra protein. Fatigue was beginning to set in and something further was needed. You see that ridge? Just make it to that ridge and we’ll break out the smoked oysters. They were the color of dried tobacco, made shiny from the oil. Each was the size of the end of my thumb and was served on Wasa Crisp Bread this time, which was, if possible, even drier than a Triscuit. Its bumps and mounds trapped small pools of fishy oil. The oysters were chewy and had a strong, pungent flavor.
The critical time for bringing out the big guns was an hour or two before making camp. We were beyond tired and were weary of inclines and tree roots. At this moment, the only thing tempting enough to get us to that next ridge was Cadbury milk chocolate with almonds and currants. Our bodies craved the creamy coconut oil and earthy milk chocolate. Each currant provided a sweet and tart burst; each almond brought with it a satisfying crunch.
. To my brother, sisters and I, each backpacking trip was an opportunity to eat things we didn’t get in our daily lives. Our fondest memories of the White Mountains and the Catskills include how the gorgeous vistas and refreshing air were punctuated by dreamy tastes of Cadbury chocolate, smoked oysters and Cracker Barrel cheese.