Well, here I am in Mississippi. Post-holiday, early January stillness which I so look forward to every year. It's supposed to snow today . . . enough to cancel stuff, so people are pretty excited and aflutter. Supposedly the first few flakes have begun to touch down but the sun has just set in time to conceal the magical image of flakes floating through bare tree branches and onto our dry yellowed grass. I must admit I would be very pleased to see this whole place blanketed in snow. It would feel somehow satisfying, as if, being a Northerner at my roots, I had some influence upon this weather. As if, finally, I could enjoy the effects of my Northern-nish and watch it affect the lives of others in such an omnipresent force as the weather, rather than feel it is something to set me apart as an individual. As if my personified Northerninity could retaliate against suppression, and manifest in its most well-known characteristic, Snow.
"Sorry, Mississippi, it just followed me down here."
Or, even better, I magnetically attracted it. Ah, to see this world blanketed tomorrow morning would feel good. As if, I could for an instant, mute it, and make it my own playground. There would be something familiar and estranged about it at once. Let's hope it actually happens!
I'm baking bread this weekend. The Tassajara Bread Book recipe for Whole Wheat Bread by Ed Brown. I am particularly interested in seeing if baking bread at this lower altitude will be easier than in Santa Fe. I've only made it there and always have a little trouble with the recipe, mostly because the timing is so difficult with all the rising and estimation involved, and labor! It really forces you to have a feel for the dough and the process which, although it is difficult and frustrating, impresses me. It is a challenge and forces you to learn and use your senses and feeling, a sort of intuition. The recipe is elaborate and detailed yet calls for the baker to know on their own when the dough has reached the right consistency, with helps and clues but no ultimate measuring yard. It is truly a recipe that is most likely only mastered with repetition and the level of repetition with which you ultimately forget the recipe itself, you've followed it so many times. Only then does the sense for cups of flour and levels of salt arrive innately and devoid of any measurement.
Of course, this is how it is with most cooking, or any art or skill for that matter. Learn the skills, study them hard, climb the ladder, only to ultimately kick it away (as Wittgenstein says of the limits of language) forget all you learned and follow your heart. With this notion of, "following your heart" understood to be more than following desire, but following a carefully developed keenness for where one's "heart" truly "wants" to go. It's written in a quieter language, and subtler to the ear and not really about "going" somewhere. But M pointed out to me recently, when talking about this very same topic, that people may often confuse "following one's heart" with following something else, like desire, or an image of ourselves. It is difficult to say what exactly because everyone has a different path so it is impossible to describe what a particular misunderstanding of it would look like, but I am talking about "following your heart" as not allowing the clutter of information that is constantly pouring in to obscure the plain and simple understanding of things as they are, or prohibit the appreciation of our subtler selves and lastly, as confidence in spite of error. I find that "following my heart" has been a process of remembering even more than learning. Its something I always knew but forgot, and now must traverse the landscape of my convoluted thoughts to remember, while so many things try and distract me and convince me to want them (mostly fashion-related items).
In other words, its once I've memorized and come to understand the rhythm of a process, that I could begin truly experiencing freedom with it. As in, improvisation in a jazz song, or incorporating nuts or some other variation into this bread recipe. For example, I never look at a recipe when I make beans, I've done it so many times that now I just wing it every time and welcome variations. While, before I became familiar with cooking beans, I strove to make every pot the same, perfect quintessential pot of beans.
So hopefully, making bread will one day be an experience beyond straining my neck to read as I knead, getting flour and oil all over my precious little bread book as I struggle with unwieldy dough and I can eventually begin to, you know, "have fun with it." Like when I walk into my kitchen, turn on the music, roll up my sleeves and say, "Alright, it's bean-cookin' time!" So, we shall see how these loaves that have been patiently waiting to be baked for almost 24 hours now come out. I'll have to find an especially warm spot for them to rise in their last stage before going in the oven as it has begun to snow and stick outside! Forecast says up to 8 inches! Beautiful, thick, fluffy flakes appear out of the darkness when headlights of cars pass by.