Sunday, April 21, 2013

Three times Three

      I had forgotten, and have now almost again forgotten, how the landscape surrounding the Selway River seems always to be moving.   Not because the ever-present spring rain is wearing things down before your eyes or because the wind moves the shrubs around.  But because you are always staring at the river, and when you look up from the rapids, the hills and trees swirl for a second or two.

      Escape from the water is difficult while walking or sleeping on the Selway.  The water roars over boulders near the camps.  The river has cut down deep into its canyon and the few trails that depart from the main path along the river’s edge climb straight up the unforgiving ridges.  A walk in this place is about the river and, for us, it is also about flowers and buds and other sodden forms of life that have not yet emerged in our neck of the woods.  The elevation on the Selway is 1500 + feet lower than Missoula.

      A trip there is also, for us, about not doing much.  Wandering around agape over the fresh plants, staring at the water, drinking tea. 

     The trillium was this trip’s totem.  A favorite of mine from the plant world -with a common name to match its splendor:  Wake robin.  That’s what they called it in Missouri when I was a kid.   The name is spring itself.

Three leaves, three sepals, three petals.

     I had my third, and hopefully final, close encounter with a rattlesnake.  It may have been mourning its relative who lay belly-up and fly-kissed farther down the slope.  I walked within a foot or two of the sluggish, living snake without noticing at all- not until my wife pointed it out with her walking stick.  It did not warn me in any way, and it was not pleased with my presence.   Had it been warmer, I don’t think the trip would have ended well.

      I also broke my third travel gaiwan set from Yunnan Sourcing.  These things are cute as hell and they work great when they are not in pieces.   I'm the one who drags them around in the rocks.  The gaiwan itself survived as well as the cups.  Not so the cha hai.  Who needs them anyway.  It's camping, right?

     Drinking tea was very fine.  We did a lot of it.  So much so that we had to ration our camp stove fuel the last day.  The combination of a couple of really delicious teas from Stephane, the fabulous setting, good water from seeps and springs and the relative lack of distractions made for some of the most enjoyable tea drinking I've done in a long time.  The trip really brought me back to the plant and was a reminder that you don't need elaborate or expensive equipment to brew a great cup.  Good tea, good water, a cheap porcelain cup or two, a bit of breathing room for thoughts, impressions and sensations.  The world is thorny and there is no escape, but tea can be a kind of refuge.  

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Morning Fat Reduction

Two Lapsang Souchongs from the Cha Wang Shop have changed my whole approach to morning tea ritual (which still involves gimping along in the dark til I slurp down three cups of black tea in order to become ''functional'').

The luxuriousness of the pleasantly smokey Fujian Zhengshan Xiaozhong and it's more ethereal, lychee-fragrant cousin, the Fujian Waishan Xiaozhong have made my half and half habit untenable.  Certainly there are many hongchas that are butchered by dumping in a half gallon of cream, and there a few hongchas I've slugged that I could not bring myself to adulterate with a bronze fat cloud.  But I am addicted to the richness of strong black tea (usually a serviceable Dianhong) loaded with lactose.  My Morning Milkshake.  The fats seem also to take the edge off the tannins in the tea, which often make my stomach upset if I have not eaten.

I've always felt self-conscious about the cream habit.  It seems an abomination to pour cream into perfectly good Chinese tea.  One of my favorite things about visiting China was the positive effect the nearly dairy-free cuisine had on my digestion.

I've been off morning cream for a few weeks.  I feel so much cooler drinking my morning hong cha, seeing the cup's bottom through a sparkling ruby tint.  I allow myself the delusion that it's a slight ascetic maneuver- a deprivation for tiny tots.  This is kind of nice because my lifestyle really bends toward the hedonistic these days.

And the lack of cream is great for another reason.  The thing is, I'm getting fat.  My winter desk job combined with my beer, pork and half and half intake have produced my first noticeable spare tire.  A slinky-sized roll.  My slinky.  I don't wish to cut back on the pork.  I've slowed down on beer and sped up on bourbon.  (Just on weekends, mind you).  So I'm glad to be off the cream.

We're leaving tomorrow for our first backpacking trip of the season on the Selway River in Idaho. The elevation is lower and the trillium is, hopefully, blooming.  I'll get a chance to work on my spare tire and use some snowmelt to brew up Stephane Erler's Bi Luo Chun from San Hsia.  This tea has been my annual introduction to the spring tea season for many years now.  I have grown quite fond of it.  It is one of those signs of durability, like the crocus.  It leads out of bleak times and hibernations into more lit, less dark times.

It'll probably be raining on the Selway, but it will be 70, 60, 58 degrees.  You can bet I'll have some hongcha for the cold mornings.  And I won't even be missing my morning fat.

I hope this spring finds everyone ready for something different.