We spent Thanksgiving, not backpacking anywhere, but on a 10-day monastic meditation retreat on the outskirts of Santa Rosa under the auspices of Abhyagiri Buddhist Monastery. The monks of this monastery are in the Thai Forest Tradition; one could draw a tenuous connection between that tradition and backpacking, leading the wandering mind into discursive thought (yes, my mind) regarding the comparison of retreating & backpacking, of which I will offer here only the portion regarding food:
One striking similarity between retreat food & backpacking food is that there is no other food than the food one has. On retreat, as when backpacking, we can’t simply dash out to a restaurant for a meal or down to the local market to pick up some snacks. What we eat is what we have, whether provided by the talented & creative retreat cook or supplied by our own pre-backpack planning. Whether the food is what we are in the mood for, or whether it suits our immediate tastes or needs is, in either case, quite immaterial. We eat it; we are grateful for it.
Another interesting parallelism between meals in the back country and meals on retreat is the anticipation of those meals! While backpacking, anticipation is generally flavored with a real need for physical nourishment and a resting period for the body; on a meditation retreat, the anticipation may be more for an experience of sensual pleasure and comfort along with perhaps a rest for the mind. Concentrating on the savory, sweet, warm, cooling, smooth & crunchy aspects of a delicious meal seems a treat after hours of watching the breath, the usually unpleasant sensations of the body and the meandering of the mind.
In the end, though, the 2 meal experiences have a critical & unmistakable difference: salad.
The main retreat meal inevitably offers an abundant bowl of fresh raw greens: sweet, succulent, spicy and crispy leaves of various shapes, sizes, flavors and colors such as one might never see on a backpacking trip. Sometimes garnished with translucent slices of radish or red onion, orange segments, toasted nuts, olives, tomatoes, and always accompanied by the day’s lovingly composed dressing designed to accent the mouth-watering bowl of greens.
This Thanksgiving, eating silently & with great appreciation our vegetarian retreat meal with a generous heap of salad greens, I gave thanks to a very special John Muir Trail backpacker: Julia Storek, who generously gave me a bag of mixed salad greens that came as part of her Rae Lakes resupply.
So thank you again, Julia! And thank you to the other backpackers who donated food bars & extra nuts from their abundant supply to supplement my not-quite enough. And much gratitude to the retreat cook and all of his helpers, not excepting the most excellent evening tea brewer, my backpacking tea guy, Mr. Jack!