Mainer Potatoes, Fire Baked




[Here in the Blue Ridge, I am thinking of the Maine coast this morning, where our family lived for 27 years. I'm thinking of Maine because, here, it is cold this morning--about 18 degrees--and it is going to snow in the next day or so. I'm thinking of Maine because when it snowed in Maine, our children and I skied regularly, and also because our son Sam and I have just returned this week from a Special Olympics ski meet in the North Carolina mountains, near Blowing Rock.


[This was Sam's and my third year at this invitational meet, along with four other Virginia skiers, a smaller Virginia contingent than usual. I was pleased for Sam that he duplicated his success from last year--he took a silver medal in slalom, which was particularly impressive because the snow was difficult to ski, being wet, and warm and slushy.


[I'm also thinking of Maine because Channa and I have been married a good long time, and I mostly lived on the Maine coast when I was courting her. Takes me back....


[Here's a piece I originally posted in 2014 and updated once later.]




Mainer Potatoes, Fire Baked


Recipe by Dikkon Eberhart



Ingredients:


1 13’ Whitehall Pulling Boat, with anchor

2 oars

some tinfoil

1 match – just 1

coupla potatoes and a chunk of butter; salt

good heavy knife


Mise en scene:


  1. Go down to my shore and shove off in the boat. Row to the island. Anchor the boat so she stays afloat. (Tide falling; half.) Oh, yeah, bring along a heavy coat because it’s December, three o’clock, and clear. Gonna be cold. There’s wind from the northwest. Also a blanket, a hat.

  2. Below tide line, dig a shallow depression among sand and rock, and ring it with stones. Find some down wood and sit by the pit stripping the wood with your knife until you have a few feathery pieces and some other small stuff. Watch the sun set. Don’t think about it; just watch.

  3. Construct a fire, a careful cone of dry twigs with the feathery bits inside. Lie down real close to the sand and the shale, so you can smell it, even in the cold, and, while protecting the wood with your body, light your match. This is a test. You’re twenty-nine and mythic. Intentionally, you’ve brought only one match.

  4. If you fail, go home and try this test on another night.

  5. But this night turns out to be the right night. Some things, at least, you can do well.


Method:


  1. Keep feeding your fire with small stuff and then bigger stuff. Notice that it’s dark now except for a sheen on the sea—we have a quick twilight in winter. Wind’s from the northwest and steadier than you thought it would be. Low waning moon chasing the sun. Faint, lambent shoreline: one gull patrols then settles for the night.

  2. Listen to the cold sea water gurgling in over rocks and snails, gurgling out over rocks and sails, gurgling in, gurgling out.

  3. The fire tends itself now, and the sky darkens. The moon is yellow: then gone. Overhead is an appearing of stars. The meander of the Milky Way is a pathway between here and the other place. Mostly by feel, cut your potatoes in half, smash some butter between the parts, salt them heavily, close them, wrap them in foil, and push them into the coals with your stick. Clean your hands on your pants, wrap the blanket around your legs, tug down your cap, lie still. Alone; no muddle.

  4. In, you breathe, and out again. In, and out again. Feel your chest as it fills with air and empties. In, you breathe, and out again. In, and out again.

  5. There’s a woman you want to marry, but you’re scared. No real snow yet. The last marriage hurt.

  6. Alarmed at your fire, a squirrel chitters from the wood behind.

  7. Allow your imagination to enter into the earth. Feel the to-ing and fro-ing of all her parts. The tug of tree roots in soil as their limbs swing back and forth in the wind. The tide’s pull on rockweed as it swishes on stone. The flicker of barnacle webs sweeping plankton in.

  8. Allow your imagination to rise. The cold steam of your breath, invisible now, streams eastward on the air, over meadow, over shore, over sea. It takes you to an island that is further out than ours.

  9. Out and out, allow yourself to spiral through tree and stone, through squirrel and gull, through earth and sea—from star to star—until you find the entire awesome ponderousness that is God. Devil and angel, you find, devil and angel there.


Chef’s note:


Don’t burn your fingers when you grub the potatoes from the ash, open them, and, while they drip with butter, you eat them in the dark.


Clean-up note:


Pour water on the coals until they are really out. Toss everything into the boat. Drag the boat down the beach to the sea. Wade out beside her and pull her farther until she’s afloat. Stare off for a time at the black horizon.


Await revelation.


What if I ask her?


Maybe I’ll dare.

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