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Changes (+ Black Bean Soup)

[Cloud’s Rest, Yosemite, August 2012.]

Last August we camped for a brief time in the Yosemite back country, spending two nights at Sunrise Lakes because it was just too perfect a spot not to linger. We pitched our tent against a shelf of rock that was perfect for setting stove and books upon with which to cook and read; previous travelers had left a generous fire pit and there was plenty of room to spread out. In front of us stretched a flat, wide meadow that slid gently into a lake good for swimming and water gathering both. One night a thunderstorm boomed over the mountains that rimmed our spot, and fierce lightening cracked and flashed across the sky (not exactly what you want when you’re sleeping out in the open), but the next morning dawned cool and clear and sunny: a gift of a day, an alpine day, a day I will remember always.

We decided to hike over to Cloud’s Rest since we were already in the nearish vicinity despite the threat of more rain later in the day. It’s a fairly tough hike, made harder by the fact that the peak is listed as being at 9, 931 feet. The last bit involves marching up a pile of slick granite, head swimming with the effects of the altitude, the air thinning seemingly with each step. It’s glorious and terrifying and affords stunning views of Half Dome and the valley below, well worth every small slip and zing of nerves along the way. We sat in the wind at the top and ate our trail mix before the promised rain started spattering down, making our way back to camp just in time to tuck into in the tent and secure the rain fly before another storm kicked up.

These past few weeks I’ve kept the photo of the approach to the summit I took last summer in the back of my mind; it seems appropriate for the time I’m experiencing now — on the cusp of change, poised at the peak. Where does the path lead? What comes next? I know, sort of, but I don’t really know. And yet: perhaps that is the gift I’ve been given — to have a chance at something new and unknown, perhaps a bit slippery, perhaps a little terrifying here and there but with unexplored vistas of the mind and spirit (and yes, eyes too) as a reward.

[Yosemite in winter, February 2011.]

We went back to Yosemite this winter — we’ll take any excuse — and didn’t get to see much snow in the valley but it hardly mattered. Simply to be in the midst of those mountains, to smell the pine trees and taste the air sharp and cold on my tongue was enough. I’m not sure when I’ll get back so I tried to store up the quiet peace of the mountains to tide me over in the years to come until I am back in California for good with easier access to it. I will hold the feeling of it close when the Sierras seem far away.

I have been trying to channel that wide-open space these past weeks. My apartment is so full of things I’ve collected in my 34 years on this great green earth — old letters, books by the shelf-full, so many baking supplies. What do I want to keep? What to give away? What to bring? You can get so bogged down in the mundane details of this stuff it’s tempting to just throw up your hands and walk away from it all without dealing with it.

And in truth I have wondered in the past if I could leave it all to set out into the mountains, to walk tirelessly (or not so) through muddy fields, eating just lentils and rice for dinner, somewhat in the spirit of Peter Matthiessen’s wonderful ‘The Snow Leopard‘? Could I shed earthly possessions and start again if all was lost? I think: yes, though I am not so foolish to believe I wouldn’t yearn a bit for the things left behind or discarded. But to shed, to let go, to be open — this is perhaps a goal toward which I might work during this year of transition and movement.

Earlier this week I made a soup for a quick and unexpected lunch. I had barely anything in the house because we’re leaving San Francisco on Sunday morning and I’ve missed the farmers’ market for too many weeks to count. I dug out enough spinach to make a salad and roasted some sweet little beets; OK. But what else? I wanted to feed — hummus and tortilla seemed so pick-me-up, and this was a Monday afternoon, a stolen hour, a work-from-home day that afforded the small luxury of cooking for a beloved in the afternoon sun. So then: lots of garlic (no onions in the drawer, alas) sauteed in a splash of olive oil, a handful of sliced mushrooms, then a can of rinsed black beans, some crushed tomatoes. I forgot about the frozen corn that habitually resides in my freezer but that would’ve been nice, too — just black bean and tomato soup, and a salad, but it was perfect and helped decrease some of the stores.

When I moved to San Francisco 7 years ago I made many such dinners and lunches, clearing out the cupboards and emptying the fridge in the final days before I left DC. I can still picture my little studio, the first place I’d ever lived that was just mine and mine alone (despite the often frequent visitors). It was small enough, but it was cozy and home for the four years I’d lived in it. Though I was ready to leave, was impatient for it really, turning in the keys brought a certain pang. Change is hard even when we long for it, I suppose. The details and busyness of actually moving blunts this a bit, but it’s still there, lingering. And yet that change can create so many new experiences and opportunities it’s difficult not to reach for it when we can.

In terms of that: We are leaving for Morocco late next week and alas I imagine that posting here will be a bit light until I don’t know when. Things to be sorted out include Internet access, which might not be too reliable, and, I don’t know, everything else, including living out of a suitcase for awhile and starting a new job and trying to revive my rusty French. I will be back in California at the end of July (more on that soon) but hope to be able to write here a bit while I’m over there, depending. I have a feeling my little weekly regulars — Sunday Dinner and the like — may fall by the wayside in this new life, at least for the time being, but I will certainly do a big catch-up in August.

In the meantime, soup. And I’ll hopefully be back here soon.

[print_this]Black Bean-Tomato Soup

Optional additions include: fresh or frozen corn, spinach or other leafy green, chopped onion, fresh tomatoes. Serve with corn tortilla and cheddar cheese quesadillas for an extra treat.

2 tablespoons olive oil
4-5 cloves of garlic, sliced
6 mushrooms, sliced
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
5 cups vegetable broth or water, or a combination
1 can crushed tomatoes
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt (or to taste(
1/2 teaspoon finely ground black pepper

In a large, heavy bottom pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Sautee the garlic and mushrooms until soft and mushrooms release their juices, about 5-7 minutes. Add a splash of water if necessary to keep vegetables from sticking to bottom of pot.

Add the tomatoes and water or broth. Stir to combine. Bring to a low boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for about 8-10 minutes. Add the beans and the oregano, salt and pepper. Simmer for a few minutes, until flavors are melded. Taste for salt and add more if necessary. Serve hot with a sprinkling of parmesan cheese or chopped cilantro. [/print_this]


  1. Safe travels. I look forward to hearing about your adventures. You will be missed.

  2. Lovely expression of what you are feeling. Expressing one’s feelings is healthy! All will be known soon….enjoy the moments as you can.

  3. Thinking of you, friend! I hope you are able to update a little as I look forward to reading about your new home.
    And California will wait for you. I know you know this. :)

  4. Wishing you safe + happy travels at the start of this next exciting adventure, Nicole!

  5. Good luck with your travels and transitions – leaving for a big trip always makes me feel anxious and uneasy , even if it is a trip I look forward too. There is the hassle of not knowing exactly what to pack – too much or too little and not really knowing what you need (or don’t) need until you get where you are going.

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