Jacob is making paste, a brown vitamin and protein rich paste we bake into hardened semi-sweet biscuits to supplement our meals. They taste like dog treats, but are palatable when dipped in tea.
My mom was a pastry chef, her kitchen a laboratory of equipment, mixers, blenders, processors, jars of labeled ingredients, sacks of flour and sugar. I would sit at the table and watch her make a mess of things, dabs of flour in her hair and on her face, her apron so dusty it bore more resemblance to the apron of a miller than a baker, and she would sing. She didn’t have the prettiest voice, more of a bird song’s radiance and energy. I would do my homework and watch her make a mess, then wait for dad to come home, kiss my head, remove his beret and gaze in wonder at the disarray of the countertops.
I miss her cupcakes.
“TB, I need more acorn flour.”
“There’s more in the store room, I’ll bring some up in a few minutes.”
I was home schooled for awhile, dad was not impressed by the quality of education in northern Sonoma. Instead, he took me on long walks to learn from life. We watched birds, collected wild flowers and edible plants, tracked small animals, caught fish, and learned traditional navigation techniques. It was as much a school for him as for me. When I was 11 we moved to San Francisco, and I went to real school as an anthropologist. Dad called school fieldwork, and would ask me to analyze the behavior of my class mates and work through basic ethnographies of each class, team, and club. I had friends, but was happier volunteering at the Marine Mammal Center in Marin, helping vets rehabilitate seals and sea lions. Dad and I would do fictional ethnographies of the marine mammals and draw comics of their dialogues and conceptual diagrams of their belief systems while we waited for pastries.
Sometimes mom would be outside on her potting wheel in the sunspot of the yard, and I would listen to the heavy stone disc rotate and the sounds of her hands on wet clay while I dreamed. I dreamed of being back in school in Sonoma with dad, building snares and checking our traps for rabbits and possum so we could take their pictures, and then write their life stories together while mom heated up the outdoor pizza oven.
I went to college and finished early, and began working with the Department of Fish and Game on wildlife population surveys, fisher reintroduction projects, and general small mammal monitoring and disease surveillance projects. Dad would often volunteer to come along, and mom would pack us a large basket of delicate french pastries and deserts to enjoy in our field camp. It was like home schooling all over again.
Where is the fucking brown sugar? The store room is a mess right now, there is shit all over the place. Cardinal must be stoned again, he hates our biscuits. Ah, there.
“Cardinal! Get down here and clean this shit up OK?”
Cardinal laughs, then winks and nods at me, headphones blaring as usual.
We did a study looking at radiation exposure of prairie dogs and field mice around one of the original cold war uranium mines in the early 2000s. It was on Navajo land, and we set traps around old mine sites and other areas targeted from aerial photographs as hot zones for yellow dirt. We lived in canvas tents on sheep ranches with some Navajo families, and for the first time dad started working on a real ethnography and a book on environmental justice. He was so happy then, so excited and full of life. That was the last time we camped together.
“Here’s the brown sugar, not too much left though, I hope it’s enough.”
“I’ll radio base and have them update the supply inventory so we get some next delivery.”
“That’s fantastic TB. Hey try this.”
The biscuit tastes like a dog treat, or like that strange unleavened honey-sweetened Catholic eucharist you get at Easter mass sometimes.
“Tastes like Jesus. You nailed it Jacob.”
I’ll have to write mom and ask her to send another box of pastries. Jacob is forgetting how real food tastes.
*Day 17 of Where Stories Begin