And the Warmth Rang True

I step out of the freezer, and immediately inhale smoke.

I’m not sure it’ll ever stop being alarming, for that split second before my brain catches up with my senses and I remember that everything is fine, this is a usual occurrence, it’s under control. Sous chef Rosa is cold-smoking creme fraiche again. It’s a process that involves setting a pile of hickory chips on fire with a blowtorch, and then putting that pile of burning chips in a closed oven so that the smoke fills it, dense and sweet. But the oven doors aren’t airtight, and the smoke seeps and gathers and lingers, dimming the fluorescent lights and triggering the occasional coughing spasm.

I love these days. Once the shock wears off, anyway.

It’s like the whole kitchen is full of campfire, and to me, camping is adventure and happiness and nostalgia. Woods and air so clean it burns and stars—endless, glorious fields of stars in a sky so midnight black you could just fall into it. Tents. Dusty shoes. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

It’s been years since I’ve been camping in the woods, and I crave it like some people crave cigarettes. The last time I went camping was in Maine, on a river, with two people I knew and eighteen people I didn’t, and for two beautiful days we canoed down the Saco River and we played guitars and we drank whiskey straight out of the bottle.

I live 3,000 miles away from that river now, but here in the kitchen of the restaurant I work at on a Tuesday morning in October, I breathe in the hickory smoke and I remember the sun dappling the water, and the sleeping bags ringed around the campfire, and the shadows flickering over faces all smiling.

On the way home after work today, I’ll listen to Old Pine on repeat, and I’ll let the memories soak into my bones and I’ll carry that little slice of bliss with me—cold sand in sleeping bags, the friends around you, careless and young and free as the birds that fly—until the next time the hickory chips crackle in the oven, and the smoke in my lungs first sends me into a momentary panic, and then floods my brain and bones with the warmth of all those sunny summer days.

Just to bless the morning.

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