Greetings from the in-between days, what we hereabouts call the relatively quiet period between Christmas and New Year, the calm eye of the festive storm.
We’re in the country, celebrating a good old fashioned Nordic Yuletide with the extended clan, 30-odd souls (and 2 less than happy cats) snugly packed into 5 cottages.
It was early afternoon, and I was in the doldrumesque period between a slack brunch and an evening meal that seemed to be getting ever more delayed due to a chaotic mashup that included missing key ingredients and a lot of “I thought you were doing that!“-ing.
As the appearance of the dish of the day sur la table began to slip ever further behind schedule, I couldn’t help but notice that the mood in the kitchen and adjoining rooms was starting to slide towards a less than seasonal vibe. I decided that the best policy was to take evasive action, lest I became a lightning rod for the cooking team’s build-up of static discord.
Filling up a two and a half litre water container, I headed upstairs to our room, and set up my folding tea-table facing the window. Out came Dave, my ever faithful travelling kettle who is stationed here when not on the road with us, and I set him to work boiling water.
From my travelling tea kit I unpacked the cake of Lincang Old Tree Sheng I’d brought along for the sleigh ride, got busy with my tea pick, and teased 6 grams off the beeng.
Once Dave had done the voodoo that he do so well, I rinsed the leaves, warmed up the rest of the teaware with the wash, and after a short spurt of gaiwan dexterity settled in with the first round.
The soup hit the spot, and soon even the quarrel downstairs and the associated food related worries faded, curtained off by a glorious sheng fug.
I watched the smoke curl from chimneys, and a light rain spatter window panes and ancient timber frames, until at last the leaves were done and the light began to fade.
Post session I went outdoors, and left the spent leaves on the forest floor between the slumbering oaks and dormant beeches. It seemed the right thing to do.
The next day the vast majority of the others went into town to eat the kind of pseudo Thai food that would make even the hungriest of Bangkok residents weep. This little piggy stayed home, and dropped a Bai Mu Dan Dragon Ball into his gaiwan.
A near empty house meant peace, quiet, and space, man, so I setup my stuff on what seemed like acres of unoccupied kitchen tabletop real estate.
Porcelain chimed, leaves unfurled, time passed.
I took a cupful outside, and sipped sweet summer hay as I breathed in mulching foliage, and sub-zero temperatures plunged microscopic needles into my bare arms.
Then the sun broke though the low cloud for a half second, and did something unspeakably beautiful to the steam rising from my cup, before slipping back behind the grey veil.
When the time came to say adieu to these leaves, I placed them, still steaming, on a ice covered glass topped table near the house, an abandoned relic from the days of barbecues, salads, and al fresco dining.
They sat there, defiantly hot and fresh looking, staring down the surrounding cold and lifelessness, giving up their accumulated warmth to clear a small temperate zone in that frigid space.
It felt like I was performing some sort of ancient rite, helping to banish the shorter, darker days, and encouraging the earth to wake up and reach out towards the still distant spring.
Then I blinked, and the spell was broken.
I gathered up my cup and gaiwan, and went back indoors…