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Monday
Oct162017

Sardine sandwiches by the seashore


Since all we have to cook on in our trailer is a propane burner, I have expanded my repertoire of things-to-make-in-a-frying-pan. One of my new creations this year is a fried pocket. I take a large tortilla, fill it with something yummy, fold it into a little package like an overstuffed envelope, and fry it on both sides. Voilà! Something hot and crispy that you can eat with your fingers and that doesn't get the frying pan dirty.

I started making these with ground beef flavored with taco seasoning—originally thinking of it as a fried burrito—but I have branched out into egg, sausage, ham, vegetables, beans, and mushrooms and cheese.

About a year ago, in my quest for variety in the meat department, I purchased a can of sardines. Whenever we were a little low on meal options the subject of the sardines would come up.

ME: We could have sardines.
TOM: Is there anything else to eat?
ME: It would be like a picnic.
TOM: Why did you buy those in the first place?
ME: Well, I thought they would make good emergency food.
TOM: Is this an emergency?

Since there has never been anything that would qualify as a real emergency, the sardines continued to languish in the back of the cupboard.

When you live in a tiny rolling house, even the space taken up by a single can of sardines is coveted. I kept thinking how that place where the sardine can was would be just the right size for a can of tuna or chicken—something we would actually use.

So finally last week, I had a brilliant idea. Sardine pockets! I laid out the tortillas, covered them with a layer of pepperjack, then the sardines, some salsa, and some sharp cheddar. You could hardly even smell the fish, and once I had folded up the tortillas, their slick little bodies were invisible. The pockets cooked up nice and toasty, brown and flakey on the outside and warm on the inside, and I laid out dinner.

We start out eating as usual. Tom eats his salad, a little bit of apple. Then he starts on his pocket. After a few bites he stops.

TOM: What's this?
ME: Fish tacos. (Said with almost a straight face.)
TOM: What KIND of fish...?
ME: There's salsa on them...

So much for that idea. Tom was not fooled for an instant. My sardine sandwiches worked about as well as trying to hide a pill in a ball of meat when we had to pill the cat. And much like the cat, he is now a little suspicious. These pockets have been a fan favorite for dinner, but now he looks at them a little sideways. I don't know if it's a good thing that you can't see what's in those, he says.

I guess that old saying about "what you don't know won't hurt you" doesn't apply to sardines. Some people ALWAYS know about sardines. But, honestly, I thought those pockets were pretty good. And if you are going to eat a sardine, it may as well be fried with cheese and salsa.

**********

Since we left Salem on September 7th, we have been rolling slowly down the coast of Oregon and California between Florence and Crescent City. When I say slowly, I mean that the bicyclists on 101 are going faster than us. In the past six weeks we have averaged about 40 miles per week of distance-moved-south. One cyclist I met in northern California had left Seattle the week before and planned to be in San Diego the next, for an average of 600 miles per week. At a relaxed walking speed, I could easily be traveling 75 miles per week. Anyway, we will leave speed to the bicyclists and the hikers—this is our favorite way to travel in Winky. We drive for an hour or less, find a place to set up camp and then hunker down for a week and see what we can walk to.

We have been listening to an audio recording of Travels with Charley, John Steinbeck’s account of a three-month trip around the United States in his 1960’s truck camper with his blue standard poodle, Charley. He says:

A trip … is an entity, different from all other journeys. It has personality, temperament, individuality, uniqueness. A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us.

What we are realizing is that we are now on a new trip, one with a whole different character than last year’s journey. You would think that where we are now would all flow smoothly out of last year’s travels, but it feels like we are starting all over, and once again there is so much that we don’t know. This time we are much more skilled at the practical parts of living this way—all of that has been seamless—but the trip has not revealed its purposes to us yet, and this can be mentally unsettling. Any effort to resolve this discomfort through planning has not been very successful. It seems that this trip is asking us to be patient, to see what it has in store for us. And to keep remembering, we do not take a trip; a trip takes us.

So while we are waiting, I have been working on completing some old writing projects, and we are always on the lookout for wildlife. On the wildlife front, it has been kind of quiet, but there have been some highlights.

One morning we walked out to the sand dunes in thick fog and early light and found Snowy Plovers moving all around us, half-seen like little wraiths, looking so much like the beach itself that it was as if little balls of sand had suddenly started up and come alive.

It was also a delight to watch the seals pulled out at the mouth of the Smith River do their sleepy calisthenics, stretching their flippers and flexing their rubbery bodies into tight u’s; and at Elk Prairie, the big bull elks with their heavy antlers grazed right up next to the trailer, their bodies steaming in the early sunlight.

Living so much of the time outside leaves us with myriad sense-memories. The wind hard in the salt grass sweeping down a wide expanse of beach. The massive presences of the redwoods, each one a cathedral to itself. The huge waves breaking over the sea stacks in great white gouts of spray. Sitting on the gravel bar of the Smith River in the early darkness before dawn and feeling my adrenalin spike from a nearby loud, unseen, ker-plunk in the water. Startling a little skunk outside the restroom and watching it run away in a circle around me, its long black and white fur flying in a graceful fringe. And all the little things: rust-red salamanders, delicate tree frogs, and bright banana slugs; unexpected swarming hatches of insects after an afternoon of rain; a fast garter snake in the grass; a large black widow spider treking across an open dirt road in the middle of the day; Red-shouldered Hawks lurking on low perches; a peregrine shooting through a flock of gulls along the beach, scattering the white birds like seaspray.

And for the past six weeks, the ocean has been a constant, restless, roaring presence. Near or far, we are always oriented toward it. Its long beaches—rocky, sandy, or covered with pebbles; the knobby, grass-covered capes jutting out into the surf; the protected bays sheltered behind seastacks and jetties; sheer cliffs fronting the swells, with their narrow, secret canyons worn by streams emptying onto the beach; fog rolling off the water in a solid wall at sunset; the green flash of the sun setting on a clear horizon; the long ropes of kelp rolled up in huge, snarled tangles along the beach; all the rotting weed and shell and fish and flesh at the waterline—that crust of grime tossed up like a dare to us air-breathers; and everywhere the endless shifting patterns of waves—water and light caught up in hypnotic, eddying swirls of foam and silt and surf.

We don’t know from day to day where we are going next. We do not yet have a long-term trajectory, though we are constantly rolling ideas around. The uncertainty of this surfaces lots of inner demons for us both. But deep down, I am so grateful to be here, to see what we have seen, and to be able to learn and grow together.

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