Archive for January, 2021

A Man’s Tears

I was brought to tears last Sunday. The source of these twin salty flows was immense relief combined with shoulder-dropping humility. 

Those that know me best know that I can be overly sentimental and rendered easily to tears. But how can that be?  I’m a guy. I’m not supposed to cry.  At least that is the false narrative I grew up with. 

I followed the male script. I played football and joined Boy Scouts where we were drilled with elementary military ideals of discipline and rank. My friends and I played “army” and at times flung projectiles at each other in the form of acorns, packed snowballs and yes, even BB gun ammo. I donned boxing gloves and danced nervously in the arena of jabs, hooks and mostly flailing. And like Jimmy Carter, who admitted in a famous interview in 1976 that he had lusted after other women in his heart, I have done the same.  

I’ve shot deer, filleted my share of walleyes, trapped and skinned muskrats, and portaged canoes where no portage trail existed. I fathered two lovely daughters. I have done the “typical guy things.”

All through my boyhood and teen years, a constant message to those of us born with that Y chromosome was to “suck it up.” And even today more than sixty years later the culture continues to champion male aggression. 

For a second time, my youngest daughter, Maren and bonus son, Ben, have delivered news of a birth that melted me and renewed the flow of tears. 

The first time was nearly 4 years ago when they told us that they were expecting their first child and my first grandchild. 

Now we were on the brink of Eleanor becoming a big sister. Hours, including a night, passed with waiting. We waited with a lineup of favorite stuffed toys, Minnie Mouse, a giraffe, a panda, a hippo and monkey made from socks, all peering out the window. 

And suddenly the car pulled up. Eleanor hesitated at the window staring at her parents and baby brother. We rushed to the door, hurried out and opened our arms and exposed our hearts. Welcome Thomas Blake!! 

I cried like a baby when told his name. To have a grandchild christened with my own name is perhaps the most touching and honoring act I could hope to experience. 

Three days later, my 88-year old stepdad lost his month-long battle with Covid. And once more I cried.  Suddenly the newness of birth was clouded with death. In the hours following Orv’s passing, I pulled up memories of shared moments, whether it was travel, our usual Norwegian greeting to each other, and shared love of laughs, pickled herring and cookies.  He was a generous man who keenly loved his family.  Known as “Doc” by his great grandkids, he easily sculpted smiles on their faces. 

And now a week into Thomas’s life on the “outside,” I am cradling him quietly telling him how I can’t wait to share a campfire that Eleanor and he built. We will watch spires of sparks climb into the night sky to mingle with oh so many stars!  I will pull up stories galore about when I was a little boy, and there will be tales of the beloved “Doc.” 

I suspect there might even be quiet moments where the fire hypnotizes us into a silent surrender to wonder.  And along the way, I will happily show them, the blessed vulnerability of grown man crying.  

While the Bannock Bakes

Light up your pipe again, old chum, and sit awhile with me;
I’ve got to watch the bannock bake — how restful is the air!

-“While the Bannock Bakes” by Robert Service

There has been a resurgence in bread baking since the advent of Covid-19.

My go-to, simple bread is bannock. To bake this storied bread all you need is a handful of household ingredients, a cast iron frying pan and a source of heat. I prefer open coals because they remind me of its wild roots.

Bannock is a simple fry bread that has its origins in Scotland. During the early years of the Hudson Bay Company (founded in 1670), many Scots were recruited to sail to North America. Once landed, in what was to become northern Canada, they helped establish trading posts to barter with the indigenous people for furs to ship back to England. These early traders, voyageurs and trappers had to fend for themselves for months on end without the help of resupply.

Eventually making bannock became more associated with First Nation peoples. And to this day, many families take great pride in their bannock baking skills.

Each time I tend a bannock I am reminded of past versions. There was the delicious deep dish pizza along the remote Wind River in the northern Yukon Territory. Winter camping in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness outings have included lunch bannocks with left over bits and pieces of fried lake trout folded into the batter. Memorable lunches on the wild Gladys River in the Yukon included shredded cheese or sunflower seeds blended into the mix before frying the bannock.

Bannock is a versatile bread. A morning fire is perfect in fending off the chill and for boiling up a pot of cowboy coffee. Pair it with a breakfast bannock and you will be fueled for another day on the trail. Adding fresh picked blueberries, raspberries, currants, or even dried apples or raisins will perk up the most lethargic campers.

I have turned to it several times over the last half year. On a recent morning, while baking a bannock, augmented with raspberries, in our kitchen woodburning stove I committed two sins. First, I overworked the batter after adding water to the mixed dry ingredients. Secondly, I was impatient. I should have let my coals burn down a bit more. With too much heat I was worried I would burn the bannock so I pulled it from the coals earlier than I should have. The result was a bannock that didn’t rise like it should have and was slightly doughy.

My preferred recipe comes from Edna Helms. She is a Carcross/Tagish First Nation Elder living in in the Yukon Territory. Well known for her bannock making skills, she leans towards a sweeter bannock. I am including her recipe here. I have adapted the recipe to make one 8-10 inch diameter cake of bannock.

Edna Helm’s Best Bannock

1.5 C flour 

1/4 C sugar  (you can reduce this if you want to reduce sweetness, a good idea when making a more savory bannock)

2 tsp baking powder 

1/4 tsp salt

Mix all dry ingredients

3-4 C water (The key here is to add only enough water until the dough has a biscuit-like texture. Some folks use milk or you can carry dry milk and add to water)

Put frying pan on or just above the coals and add 1/3 C solid vegetable shortening or cooking oil. Note: You can also bake a bannock over a stovetop burner.

The bannock will rise. Gently flip it. You are aiming for a golden top and bottom. Be patient, making sure to not let the frying pan get too hot or you will scorch the bannock. After 10-15 minutes, test the bread by poking it with a sharp stick or knife blade for doneness.

And if you feel like it light up a pipe while your bannock bakes.