Stirring homegrown blackberries and a basket of raspberries from Ella Bella Farms into a pot of oatmeal turns the oatmeal a wonderful pinkish purple. Cold mornings at Lake Tahoe in August make it the perfect time to enjoy a hot bowl of creamy oatmeal with fresh berries. Leftover pie dough scraps make fabulous popovers. The heat of the stove or the oven in the morning takes the chill off the cabin. I can still sense that fabulous crunch as teeth sink into a blackberry popover. Blackberries and raspberries don’t stay in season for the whole year. Time comes in early autumn when the birds have taken the last of the plump fruit out on the vine and only dried fruit remains.
Walking down to the lake shore at Zephyr Point and getting into the frigid waters of Lake Tahoe sent a refreshing chill up my spine. Seeing my three year old niece and my five year old nephew insist on building an even grander sand castle than the day before cheered my heart. Vacations in Tahoe don’t last forever either. I can still hear, however, the sound of laughter from the kitchen. After the first round of chicken tenders inspired by Donna Hay and buttermilk biscuits cooked up from a recipe in Grady Spears’ “A Cowboy in the Kitchen”, I sat back and enjoyed the warmth created in the kitchen. Both by the oven and by the people with whom I shared the meal. The warmth of a kitchen, the warmth of a shared meal, brings a satisfaction that goes beyond the act of eating.
For three years Jill and I joined a group of walkers, runners, and hikers on the campus of First Presbyterian Church of Berkeley to navigate the streets of Berkeley and climb into hills above Strawberry Creek. At the end of each jaunt up the hill, we collected together to share a meal together. People peeled off on Telegraph Avenue as they had other commitments, but many foraged among the various cheap eateries on Telegraph like Naan ‘n’ Curry, Smart Alecs, or Crepes A Go-Go. When Jill and I first joined the group, we had been living in New Jersey for nearly seven years. Many of the friends we had before we left California had moved onto other places. Anyone who has moved across country and left their home knows how hard it can be to find community. This group of walkers became instant community. We were more than exercise buddies. We were people who stopped long enough to eat together.
When I stroll through Gold’s Gym in Richmond on the way to the swimming pool in the basement, I see that many people exercise in the solitude of their MP3 player. The loud booming distorted music echoing off the walls in the gym makes it almost essential to put plugs in the ears to block the noise with intelligible sound. After a basketball game, men will come into the locker room full of the post game glow and fill the room with laughter. But mostly, the locker room is silent with exception of the droning of ESPN. For six months I took a water aerobics class every Tuesday morning to improve the mobility in my shoulder. The turning point in my relationship with the other people in the water came we all went out to lunch at Applebee’s in Pinole. Getting in the water with each other started us chatting but sharing a meal created a conversation.
I think it’s no mistake that the central ritual of the Christian religion involves people sharing bread and wine with each other. One could argue that the most central ritual of the Christian religion is simply gathering for prayer, song, and preaching. After all, gathering in this manner happens every week. Music can stir an audience to experience deep emotion. Yet, grasping the bread and the cup in this meal of both celebration and reflection puts people into contact with each other in a way that staring at musicians doesn’t. Food, at the very least, means survival. At the best moments in human history, food means sharing the warmth created by human contact.
Many stories about Jesus in the Christian Bible tell of him walking with his disciples from place to place. Of course, two thousand years ago, they didn’t have cars. The act of walking with other people, or getting into the water to swim with them, initiates the group into a new space. I don’t know exactly what walking or swimming does. Is it just sharing the same space? I tend to think that being on a journey together (however short, dry, or wet) awakens a sense of belonging deep within the mind. This sense of belonging creates possibilities and enriches life.
Quick winter breakfasts no longer come with blackberries. The last of the insanely tender and sweet Warren pears from Frog Hollow Farm have lost their place to the more hardy Bosc pears or one of the remaining apples from the backyard. A hint of ginger or cardamom fills out the fullness of oatmeal and diminishes its predictability as Jill and I chat over breakfast. As the winter holidays approach, I am all too aware of the booming distorted noise that parades itself as what we all really long to have. I’m writing up a shopping list. Pork roasts, roasted parsnips with garlic, beef stew, spinach with mandarin oranges. I’m looking forward to the warmth of the kitchen—much more so than any new gadget from Apple, Inc. or Sony. A hot meal is especially refreshing after a long walk with others in the bracing cold of the dark and stormy days ahead. A warm kitchen and a good walk in the company of people cheers the heart much more so than any item from a catalog.