My mind is all a jumble. Thoughts fly through my consciousness like a meteor shower – it feels impossible to follow the progression of one before another catches my eye, before they all disappear somewhere beyond the horizon of my seeing. I close my eyes for a moment, shut them out, let my mind fill with quietness. The air is stifling and hot today, but there is a promise of change on the breeze. The sense of imminent transformation. I get out of the car and start down the shadowy path of the pine forest, the very one I was walking on many months ago when my Dad told me he had cancer.
The forest is full of greenish, dappled light and flickering shadows. The air is rich and clean, woodsy. It is so quiet in here, so still. I am savoring each turn of the path, each knobbly root sticking out the soil, knowing it might well be the last time I walk this path and experience its familiar tread. I am thinking about change, about life. About the way we fear change and the way we crave it. How life can sometimes feel so stagnant, but even then, change is working its spell before our eyes, subtly, imperceptibly and irretrievably transforming the fabric of our experience.
Even before my Father was sick, I was growing antsy for change. I felt stuck, as though I were being swallowed into a mire, lulled into complacency by repetition and familiarity. That 5 years, 10 years even 15 years from now, I would find myself in the exact same spot, wondering what might have happened if I had had the courage to pull my unscathed dreams out of their safe, sheltered home in my mind, and had exposed them to the dust and grit of reality.
I have dreamed my entire life of living in England, of writing a book, of having an adventure. Leading a life that was worthy of writing about – or better yet, of living. In the past I had always talked myself out of such notions – too expensive, too frightening, too irresponsible, too selfish – and those dreams seemed better left to my imagination, where they would never by dented or scratched by the disappointments and bumps of life. But the itch, the sense of unfulfilled longings and dissatisfactions, continued to build until I felt very much like a I would suffocate if I continued on like I was. That I would whither away under the firm hold of fear, until I was reduced to the lifeless pith of bitterness and resentment. I must break free, I must do this. I applied, after much deliberation and conquering of second thoughts, to several programs in the UK. When I was accepted into two of the programs I had applied to, I chose the program I liked best and resolutely, terrifyingly, sent in my deposit, securing myself a place in a graduate writing program, beginning the coming autumn in Cornwall.
Then my Dad was sick, and again I wasn’t sure. How could I go? How could I leave my family at a time like this? How could I possibly think of doing something that would uproot my entire life with no guarantee of anything? It seemed ridiculous, childish, naive – to think of humoring such romantic, heedless fancies. I was waiting for him to take my hand and beg me not to do it, to grow up and get a real job. In reality, he told me just the opposite. It was the one thing he told me during his illness, the closest he came to imparting that wisdom granted from the nearness of death. We were talking about his travels one day – his trips to Africa, to China – and suddenly he looked at me and said, that no matter what happened, he wanted me to go to Cornwall. He even talked about visiting me there, how I could take him out for fish and chips and a drink in the pub when he got better. No matter what, you must go.
Because if there is one thing we can learn from death, it is that life is not long enough. Not long enough, at least, to let your fears prevent you from living the life you truly and madly yearn for.
So in three weeks from today, we will be stepping into London Heathrow Airport to begin an adventure – M., myself and our two cats. I will spend the coming year engrossed in writing, in Cornwall, in food and history and cliffs and moors, and most of all, I hope, in living. I am filled with excitement and terror both, which my friend tells me, are the signs that you are living your life as you should be. And I hope to take you all with my, my dear readers, on this journey. I hope you will come along and listen to my stories and look through my eyes.
The path ends and I head back to my car. My thoughts feel clearer now, or at least quieted. Clouds are moving in and the breeze is picking up. Autumn is in the air. I head home and make French toast for dinner, with apples and the first squash of the season. It might not be the most conventional dinner, but life is too short for conventional. Life is about being extraordinary.
A few notes: first, I like to leave the skin on my apples and squashes as they become tender and delicious by the end of cooking, and are chock full of good nutrients that I think are shameful to waste. But the preference is all yours. Second, this compote was adapted from Good to the Grain by Kim Boyce, and is so delicious that you might want to make extra for stirring into your porridge or eating out of the fridge at midnight.
- 2 tablespoons butter, ghee or coconut oil
- 1/2 of a butternut squash, cut into 1/2 - 1 inch chunks (save the seeds)
- 2 cooking apples, sliced into thick wedges
- 1/4 cup muscovado sugar or dark brown sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 3 organic eggs
- 1/4 cup milk
- 1 tablespoon raw cane sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
- 8 slices of whole grain bread
- Heat the butter, ghee or coconut oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the squash in a single layer to the pan and cook for around 5 minutes, then flip each piece over and cook 5 minutes on the other side. You want the edges of the squash to caramelize against the heat of the pan and turn a delicious golden brown.
- Once the squash has started to brown a bit, add the apples, sugar, cinnamon and salt and stir to combine. Let the sugar begin to dissolve and turn into a gooey caramel consistency, and then add a few splashes of water. Cook for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the apples and squash are practically falling apart. Add the apple cider vinegar and cook for a few minutes more.
- (Note: The seeds from the squash can be toasted in the oven to sprinkle over the top if you like. To do this, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F, then clean the seeds as best you can (a little bit of flesh sticking to them will not be a problem at all, but an added bonus) and then toss them with a little oil and some salt. Place on a baking tray in a single layer, and bake for about 20-25 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally, until they are golden and crispy.)
- To make the French toast, mix all the ingredients except for the bread in a shallow baking dish. Place the bread into the batter, letting it soak it up for a few minutes, then turn over and let it absorb on the other side.
- While the bread is soaking up the batter, heat a good sized skillet or griddle over medium heat and add a little oil to the pan. Wait until the pan is fairly hot, then place the soaked bread slices into the pan, listening contentedly to the sizzle as they hit. Cook for about 4-5 minutes per side.
- Serve hot, topped with the compote, a sprinkling of pumpkin seeds and a good drizzle of maple syrup.
One last thing – I have finally finished updating the Food Page – it is now a visual index that I hope will be easier and more inspiring to look through.