Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the world earth revolves–slowly, evenly without rushing toward the future.Thich Nhat Hahn
Those of you who have followed my blog likely will have figured out by now that I have a one-size-fits-all solution to whatever may be wrong in the world, at least my corner of it. Sit down and have a cup of tea. It may not always solve whatever it is that is troubling me, but at least it brings me back to what matters the most: the fragrance of the tea as the steam rises, the color of the amber fluid, the warmth that settles into my old twisted fingers as I wrap my hands around that cup.
Then there is the river, the canyon, the mountain peak, the sound of a raven calling, the mist as it rises revealing the ridge line at last, revealing my thoughts, my soul, my place in the world, however troubled that world might be.
Here are a few of the places where I have sat quietly with a cup of tea. I’ll begin with the Olympic Mountains and its rivers, for I have hiked those mountains since I was very young. Each river name is a poem: the Hoh, Bogachiel, Sol Duc, Elwha, Dungeness, Gray Wolf, Quilcene, Dosewallips, Duckabush, Hamma Hamma, Skokomish, Quinault. I have sat by everyone of those rivers and sipped my tea. Each time I dip my water filter into the river, and pour that clear water into the teapot, I try to remember that each molecule spent years trapped in a glacier, now freed, now my cup of tea.
There have been rivers in other mountain ranges of course and in the canyon country of the southwest. I camped under the shade of cottonwoods by the Colorado River when I drove the White Rim Road in Canyonlands National Park. The water that was now my tea had once created the route for John Wesley Powell and his group of adventurers. I tried to imagine what they were thinking as they floated along this relatively gentle stretch of the river. It was probably best they did not know what awaited them. All this adventure in a cup of tea.
My cup of tea has provided solace through countless storms. On the third day of a trip in Washington’s Pasayten Wilderness one summer, I made an early camp as the rain started to fall lightly on the slopes of Sheep Mountain. I pitched my small tent under the low spreading branches of a subalpine fir krummholz where I had to crawl out of my tent and then out from under those branches, but I stayed dry and comfortable through five more days of rain and got my water from a nearby stream. My stove sat near my tent on a flat rock, and I sat in my sleeping bag while, day after rainy day, I sipped tea and read a Michener novel which at least was long. Occasionally the rain would pause for an hour or two, and I would go for a walk to explore my surroundings a little more, but most of my time I spent confined to the small space of my tent. It was comforting in the morning to gaze across the Ashnola Valley where the ridges were snow covered, reinforcing my sense of well being that I was safe, warm, and dry. As the rain continued I thought of returning to the trailhead and then home, but really I had everything I needed there on that dry patch of ground beneath the tree: a cup of tea, a novel, and my journal. Why would I ever want to leave such a place?
Next come visit the mountain passes and peaks with me, beginning with the High Divide in the Olympics, where I pitched my tent next to a snowfield and melted snow for my tea water. To the west was the vista of the Straits of Juan de Fuca and Vancouver Island, to the south Mt. Olympus, the highest peak in the range. A herd of elk passed through my camp as I sipped my tea, seemingly unconcerned by my presence.
There was the day on the Pacific Northwest Trail, an exceptionally long one, when I lost the trail, as most people do at some point on that trail. I retraced my steps and got back on the trail, but the delay kept me from making it to the spring where I had planned to spend the night. I found a barely level spot to pitch my tent but had only a few swallows of water left, which I guzzled before crawling into my sleeping bag. The next morning I hastily packed up my camp, grabbed a granola bar for breakfast, and headed for the spring. There in the trough where the cattle had slaked their thirst lay a dead mouse. It did not exactly entice me to drink deeply, but I trusted my water filter, filled my teapot, and boiled the water a full minute before consuming it. I still think of that as the dead mouse tea.
Then there was the weasel tea. Sitting on a rocky slope above Misty Moon Lake in the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming, a weasel was nearby and eyeing me with concern as I sipped my tea, my teapot sitting next to me. I heard a clack and turned from the book in my lap to see the weasel running off with the shiny teapot lid in its its jaws. When I gave chase it dropped the lid, then turned and faced me, rising up to its full height, opened its mouth to display its sharp little teeth, and extended its claws in my direction, a fierce little creature who had earned my respect. I left the spot, but when I returned the animal had defecated on the rock where I had been sitting, as if to say, “I belong here. You don’t.”
In every one of those places I have sipped my tea from the same cup, an ugly green plastic thing that is misshapen from being stuffed into my pack on hundreds of trips over hundreds of miles. Over the years I have replaced my backpacking gear many times over, now aiming for equipment that will lighten my load, but I will never replace that cup, which is at least fifty years old. It has held tea water from rivers and lakes and snowfields, and it has held those memories, swirling there as the steam rises.
This morning I write this blog on a day in late winter. There is deep snow on the ground surrounding my home in the Okanogan Highlands. The sky is gray. More snow is in the forecast. The long winter has been long enough, but I can do nothing to hasten spring. But I can do this. Sit down. Have a cup of tea. Everything will be fine.