Sunday, April 13, 2014

13 April 2014

This morning, while eating breakfast I had one of those moments, that are usually fairly pedestrian and could happen to anybody. It occurred while I was eating bacon. Normally this would not phase me, except that in this facility we are rarely privileged to have real bacon, as in from a pig. The regular choice, which the residents don't get to make, is turkey bacon, a real miscarriage against the English language. It is from the thigh of a turkey, but it sort of kinda looks like bacon – if you haven't had the real thing for a long time, and you miss having bacon with breakfast.

Under those abnormal conditions, and with a lot of wishful thinking, I suppose you could be excused for hallucinating this dry, tasteless strip from a processed turkey carcass as bacon. The strips of flesh are usually shorter, much less infused with fat, which when heated in real bacon turn into liquid grease, and the contrast in the darker meat from the fat is not as distinctive as it is in real bacon. The final difference is the flavor. Everyone knows that fat is the flavor's address in meat. You want flavor. Dial up the fat. Why do you think good cooks save the bacon drippings when they cook bacon? They save it to add zing to normally flavor deprived foods like green beans. Turkey bacon isn't meant to taste good. You know that because the facility dietician constantly serves it to you, they call it a healthier bacon. This is like a politician telling you that a substitution is being made for the good of the public. It leaves a bad taste in your mouth. I know another healthy way to eat – stay away from things like turkey bacon. If you don't eat it all those bacon eating maladies won't affect you, and your taste buds are not assaulted too, as you try to reconcile Turkey bacon.

So on this Sunday morning I am eating at the end of my meal, a helping of Eggbeaters brand fake scrambled eggs, my allotment of two strips of genuine pork belly bacon. The smell of the bacon fat, the not as tough and stringy mouth feel as the turkey bacon, the flavor of real bacon makes my mouth come alive. I can feel the salivary glands in my mouth becoming active, my mouth is becoming lubricated like a Pavlovian dog hearing the bell, next I will need a slug of orange juice just to balance out the experience. I am suddenly aware. The world narrows down to just lying on my back and the bacon experience in my mouth. I take a second bite. The reddish meat parts easily between my teeth, no so tough and chewy as the miserable turkey substitute. Noticing this difference, I linger over the taste in my mouth. This meal could live within me a very long time.

I recall Sunday brunches where there were endless passes at the buffet, the many returns for more bacon. That it seemed like a forbidden treat for which the restriction had been temporarily removed. The only requirement then was I had to dress up, at least a sport coat (I did away with ties early in my life) The comparison between then and now was similar. The endless bacon was similar to today's bacon, it was cooked just right, not over cooked and too crisp. Not everyone seems to know how to stop cooking bacon at just the right time. To zealous at applying the heat too long or too high, results in overdone bacon, which is not so satisfying. This morning's bacon transported me far beyond the same white walls of this room I have come to know so well.

I am recalling deer hunting trips that were more of an excuse to get into the woods than actual hunting. The magic of early morning cooking bacon and eggs on a 1950's era folding propane stove in what was an old left over deer blind made from pine boughs. It was roughly equivalent to the snow forts we used to make when I was a kid, back when winter meant much more snowfall than now. Like those snow forts the walls of this deer hide were about four feet high, you would have to hunker down to be hidden. We weren't, it was breakfast, not hunting right now. The bows were unstrung, gathered in a corner of the pine bows. All of us, my father, mother and myself were staring at the miracle unfolding before us. Heads down almost in rapt (or was it reverent) silence we all of us dumbly watching the eggs and bacon magically transforming into breakfast right there in the woods, far from the usual breakfast preparation conditions. Heads down, hands in pockets of our hooded sweatshirts, we stood paying our attention to our own miracle unfolding right there. The eggs frying in the bacon fat, sizzled and popped in the hot grease. The bacon smell in the air, mingling with the resinous pine in which we stood. The fact that the very forest floor was soft and springy, unlike any floor I'd stood on while waiting for breakfast to cook joined the elements of the day. It was unique and a special experience.

Then there was a snort! A deep, resonant, sharp sudden exhale as if some large chested creature was clearing its nose from prior odors in order to take in more clues. Slowly we turned and looked behind us. There was a big buck, a male deer, with a large rack of antlers, head down so its head was even with its back looking directly at the propane kitchen and the iron skillet with the bacon and eggs cooking away, smelling up his woods.

There wasn't much that could be done, the bows were unstrung in the corner nearest to the deer. None of us had really practiced much with the bows anyway, so the deer was safe with us playing at being hunters. Besides, if we had been able to snap off a shot, the arrow would have sailed off swiftly into the woods bearing its murderous expensive broad head, to never be found again. The deer was safe with us. We all stood there for one of those moments that last an eternity, you can tell by how many sequential instantaneous thoughts seem to fit in that brief section of time.

The eggs popped one more time, the deer decided that he knew enough and with another snort, shook his head in a rolling motion as would a dog after a swim,but not as fast, turned and stepped away. He melted into the woods. The bubbling of the eggs in the hot grease drew our attention back to the miracle breakfast being cooked in the woods, which had just become more miraculous. I found a spot to sit down cross legged on the forest floor with me plate in my lap. Eggs and bacon in the woods is nice, add in some local fauna and it gets a whole lot better.

The reality of that moment grew. Not only were the setup conditions different from normal, cooking breakfast in the woods, etc. But through that difference there was a trigger to notice and to pay attention to the tiny elements that seemed so extraordinary so out of proportion with what passes for normal. These miniscule elements seemed to insist in a silent but very compelling way, take notice of this, its just like every other small element, but this time it will stand out to you. Do not fluff it off as you do every other common element. These come around often but only those who are mindful, will walk fully into the moment and are aware. Similar to the natural photographer's credo; “You have to be there.” So how is it you want to be there? Blind and dumb in the usual fashion, discounting everything with your mind. Or do you choose to be there as real as possible. Like the choice Morpheus offered Neo, we all get to choose the beauty and richness that surrounds us, or stay with the hypothetical blue pill and not see what is truly happening around us. Bacon offered me that choice this morning.

John Whiting

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