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Sardines and Quesadillas

By: mike yozell

The trail tips up gently from the parking lot. It’s not a new trail to us, nor is it a challenge. It’s a bit of an old slipper-type trail. Comfortable, familiar: home. What’s different this time is the why. Before, it was a bike ride and a quick out-and-back. Sometimes just a walk/hike with adventure games like pirates on a fallen log or badger in the hollow of a toppled tree (at this point, he’s seven, and I just act like I’m a kid.) Today it’s a destination.

About halfway up is an old cistern, one that probably fed a long-gone farm or homestead in the valley below. Now it serves only as a breeding place for frogs and the occasional turtle. Today, we’re riding up there and picnicking. Bonus surprise is that I have my camp stove, a mess kit, and provisions. Pancake batter. Tinned fishies (lightly smoked German Sprats) with crusty bread for me, though Isaac may partake too. Fresh fruit and Nutella for the aforementioned flapjacks, and two thermoses (Thermi?) One of coffee and one of hot chocolate. Truly a meal fit for kings.

Like me, Isaac (and, if I’m honest, most of my close family) communicates better while in motion. So, the talk on the way is of birds and bats, kids at school, the book he’s into now, and anything and everything that comes into his head and mine. Lots of dad jokes, tons of giggles, a few groans at the bad jokes we tell, the whole megillah. And lots of hugs. Because, well….Hugs!

We roll up the ribbon of trail; its tread speckled with rocks. Steadily up until we see the cistern. Isaac remarks that it looks like a battlement and quickly amends that to the conning tower of a submarine. Then a cliff face, his imagination spooling this way and that. It’s a joy to watch, peppered as it is with laughs and the wild exuberance of doing and being.

We drop the bikes and clamber up to the flat top. Isaac immediately has a stick in hand and is poking and prodding in the open top of the cistern, the large thin sheets of steel that are supposed to cover it strewn about our lunch spot. Leaves sunk in the pool are turned, splashes made. Too early for frogs: what we find, instead, are egg cases floating in the water, so with some gentle guidance, the stick is discarded in favor of not damaging the nascent froglings.

A satisfying amount of our adventure cooking takes place on my old 2-burner Coleman or well-worn MSR Whisperlite. Both have a patina of use from years in the field. And though Isaac has seen them before and eaten food cooked on them, something about this time and setting sparks more of an interest. He’s caught up and involved in the ritual of getting the Whisperlite going. The gout of flame as the fuel in the primer bowl ignites (he’s a safe distance back), the methodical laying out of ingredients and cooking tools, and finally, the settling of the pan on the grate.

As the first thin pancake comes off the pan, I slather it with Nutella and dot it with fresh berries. Quickly I slide a second ‘cake on top, plate it, and hand it to him with a quick “here’s your quesadilla.” Confusion sets him off, and I get a quick “I thought we were having pancakes” look. Panic averted, we discuss the ins and outs of thing-names. We agree to disagree that two pancakes with berries and spread isn’t a quesadilla, but I hold fast to the fact that a hot dog is in fact a sandwich and he, after some thought, agrees to agree. Success!

Fast forward to this year and Isaac is thirteen. He’s got the run of the local ski mountain with his friends and cousins, sans adults. We bump into each other in lift lines, cheer each other on the slopes when spotted from the chair lift, and meet up over hot food cooked on the same old Coleman propped on the tailgate of my Ford. And while he may be growing up and stretching the leash, I know from the twinkle in his eye, the hug, and the “thanks for the food” as he gets a hot meal that there will be much more of this to come. And I’m truly glad.