Away and Back Again
Sunshine and heat. We sprawled in a tree shadow at the edge of the point. I love the rocky edges of our landscape with their the moss and lichen, their dry, wispy grass, their wind-twisted fir growing impossibly from cracks in the bedrock, rose thickets in the protected hollows. I love the green to gold transition, walking out of the cool forest, the path cut through salal as high as my head, onto the sun-bleached rock. I love the smell of dry grass and dry earth, the sweetness of yarrow crushed underfoot, the salt brine and fir sap. E was asleep. I read Ada Limón and watched the sky. We stayed, moving with the tree’s shadow, until it slid off the edge and out of reach.
Back home again this week the familiar work of baking bread and the dauntingly unfamiliar work of building a bakery swallow my days. No time for naps or poetry. No time to follow a shadow across the afternoon. The work, both works, are going well. They stretch out in all directions. I think about the edges between land, water, and sky.
Owner | Baker
But it’s hard to think about work when the trees are casting dappled shadows and the forest is full of birdsong. Ezra is currently loading up the market bike while I, for the first time in four months, have escaped the tight triangle of bakery, house, and farm and gone away. We left well before sunrise and arrived with a whole day ahead of us. A whole weekend, in fact. Two entire days! If you, too, are self-employed, or partnered to a farmer, or a farmer yourself, you know how delicious a summer weekend away is. There are ravens talking back and forth across the clearing, dragonflies above the tall grass, and just now a ruby throated hummingbird dipped down to drink from the phacelia. The world is green and green and green and blue above.
I promised last week to tell you about the new bakery, though, so before I settle fully into the weekend there is this: Raven Bakery has a new home. Or will have a new home. We’ll start building out a storefront downtown in August. I have plans and permits filed and a deposit made on a large and beautiful bread oven. The space has south and east facing windows and high ceilings. Most of it will be taken up by production with a small retail area in front. It’s going to be more functional than stylish, but with good light and good bread functional is more than enough. Building a kitchen from scratch—even one without any fancy trims—is staggeringly expensive and I’m going to be asking for private loans from the community once I have a better sense of what terms are fair and reasonable. If you have experience on either side of the lending equation I’d welcome your insights. Right now, though, I’m going to put away my computer and all thoughts of work, take a nap, and then ride into the village for a breakfast pastry and coffee at someone else’s bakery.
I hope your weekend is just as sweet.
Owner | Baker
The Lowest Tide
The moon wobbled and the tide went out. I walked the edge of the Nooksack delta from Squalicum. The gleaming sand was a mirror to the sky, clouds above and clouds below. I stood at the water’s edge looking out. The incoming tide rushed my ankles and I had the dizzying feeling of the earth moving under me as I stood still.
Owner | Baker
Across the Delta
We walked out from Locust Beach. A layer of fine, organic particulate covered the last feet of cobbles—bits of leaves and wood and mud—alarmingly looses and deep. We sunk in past our ankle as we picked our way out beyond the old posts with their crooked nest boxes, still empty of martins, and onto firm ground. We walked out and out, aimed towards the gleam of water. The sediment was finely graded silt, and clay in the shallow dips and rises. I wiggled my feet down into the silt. The clay was pleasantly sticky.
The water, when we reached it, was shallow and warm. We kept walking. The tide was still retreating. We aimed towards a ribbon of darker blue, dotted with shapes that became five, ten, dozens of eagles and a lone fishing heron. “The main channel has shifted west,” my friend said. “We could probably walk almost all the way,” and he pointed to the distant peninsula. We had been walking for most of an hour and both had work still to do. We turned back. I could no longer see the posts. The shore was a smear of green trees and brown sand where the bluff had slumped down to the beach, and on top of the bluff the ugly boxes of developments, like matching toy houses set along the land’s edge. South and east the city rose up from the crescent of Bellingham Bay, framed by dark hills. To the north and west the braided mouth of the Nooksack and the peninsula were a single low, green mass. The retreating water had exposed huge, rolling ripples running perpendicular to the shore.
I imagined turning and following one of those sand bars. Imagined it from an eagle’s eye view, bent around the river’s mouth, and me small as an ant, walking its curve. Instead, we negotiated a point on the shore to aim towards, half way between the old cement plant and where the bluffs dipped down to the beach. We walked back, adjusting our trajectory as the land came into focus. Our shoes were where we’d left them at the edge of the rocky beach.
Owner | Baker
Walking Away and Back Again
I left the bakery before the work was done: bread still cooling on the rack, floors unswept, tables and sinks not yet wiped down. I left because I was tired and restless and because I missed the sky. The rain had stopped. The streets and bars were filling. I cut south through the alley. Gray water wicked up the sides of my thin-soled bakery shoes. I was surrounded by concrete and traffic and noisy crowds, and then I was on the Interurban and alone under the green arch of trees. Fifty feet above me cars still roared down Boulevard, the ugly condos loomed, but on the trail the engines were overlaid with evening birdsong. The air was wet and green. I tasted wild roses blooming before I saw them. I took off my wet shoes. The sharp press of gravel felt good after twelve hours of standing on flat floors. Small rabbits watched me from the grass at the edge of the trail, darting away into the underbrush when I got close. I stopped to watch crows mob an eagle, to look out through the trees at the bright water. I walked till the trail bent across the railroad tracks and the trees opened into the grassy expanse of the park. Past the kids tossing a frisbee, past the couples on benches and the dog walkers, the steep, man-made beach was empty. I found my place at its edge. The gray water, gray islands, gray sky were quiet. To the north the Coast Range gleamed in the last light. After five minutes or thirty I put my shoes on and walked back to the trail, down the darkening green tunnel, through the alley, and into the bakery. The bread was cool enough to bag. I finished the work and rode home in the dark.
Owner | Baker
Outside the Kitchen Window
There are little brown birds foraging outside the kitchen window. One lands on a leaning dandelion stem and carries the seed head to the ground where he attacks it vigorously, white tufts flying around him. I flip through A Field Guide to Western Birds, left on the windowsill for just this purpose, but can’t match the white striped heads and clay colored backs to any of the drawings. Wren? Warbler? Chickadee? I don’t know. Little brown birds. Seed eaters. I stand admiring them while the water boils.
The chaos of our yard seems to please the animals neighbors, if not, perhaps, the human. There are brush piles, wood chip piles, piles of old cedar fence blown down in winter storms that shelter small, hopping birds and the occasional rabbit. The grass in back has grown long and tufted, well beyond the reach of our second hand mower, and full of bolting weeds. Three does, patchy from winter, wander through most days at dawn or dusk. We chase them away halfheartedly and lean old fence panels across the garden’s unfinished gates. Crows and robins probe the newly forked vegetable beds. There are blackcap chickadees nesting in a knothole at the top of the apple tree—branches too close to the house, the fruit small and mealy—that we limbed, girdled, and left standing as an interesting and unsightly snag. Soon, I hope, the Pacific tree frogs will come hopping back from wherever it is they spend their winters.
Coffee brewed, I return to the window. The birds are gone, leaving behind the murdered dandelion. I carry the mug to my desk and sit to write the morning’s note.
Owner | Baker
It’s overcast now, but for a few minutes this morning the bay was sunlit. The water, the cobbles under our feet, the green-gray mass of the islands, the purple martin nestboxes—empty still—all sharply defined. We stood looking out over the bright water till the clouds closed in and the sun sparkle disappeared, then turned away and climbed back up the bluff, walking home through ordinary winter-soft light.
Owner | Baker
Riding the straight shoulder of Chuckanut after dark, cars screaming by too bright too loud too fast, ducks rustling up from the flooded fields with my passing, and a barn owl glides towards the road. For a hopeless moment I think she’s going to cross and be struck but she lands at the edge of the ditch and turns her pale, flat face into the glare of my headlight.
We look at each other.
She lifts off as silently as she landed. I ride on towards the farm.
Owner | Baker
Light & Color
East of the mountains, sunshine and hard snow. For days the valley was dark with fog. Skiing along I could see the track in front of me disappearing into gray, the hummocked snow on either side fading out. The trees, the houses, the raven overhead were all shadows in the fog. Now in the sunshine, color. I ditched the ridged ice of the skate platform and double poled down the groomed tracks, looking up and around at the orange ponderosa, the white birch, the red twig dogwood, the electric green lichen dripping from the firs, the brown alder catkins. Textures stood out in sharp focus: the crinkle of dead leaves, the deep grooves in the cottonwood bark, the scarred-over scratch of bear claws down a birch trunk. Below the clear water of the creeks the cobbles were deep yellow, green, brown, their colors undulled by algae. And above the sky: blue and blue and blue.
Tomorrow we return west and I head back into the kitchen. There will be bread next week. If you haven’t already, you can sign up for the Winter Bread Subscription or order single loaves through the online store. This coming Wednesday I’ll be baking Tinned Wheat, Mountain Rye, Cinnamon Raisin (the Wednesday Special), Vollkornbrot, and Seedy Buckwheat. The last two I’ll bake only on the 4th Wednesdays of the month till the market resumes in April.
Owner | Baker
The Last Delivery
I watched the trees outside the window bend and sway as I stuffed my pannier with extra layers and water for the ride to the farm. It was my last delivery of the year. The wind had been blowing hard from the southeast all day. Just that morning the headwind had turned my southbound delivery route around the bay from an easy, flat ride into what felt like a five mile hill climb. Still, what was the point of an e-assist bicycle if not to assist with adverse conditions like these? I strapped the box of bread to the front deck, hung my pannier on the back rack, and rode out in defiance of the wind
I rode through the city under fast, gray skies, through the forest with the treetops swaying and the breeze gentle around me. I wound the tight curves south of Larabee, bedrock rising to my left and falling away to my right, the sun breaking clear above the islands and glazing the water below shining white. I rode past water falling white and fast into culverts, past the mud streaks of small landslides, past rockfalls, past a giant cedar snag nose down beside the road, a long skid like a sled run streaking the hillside above it. The bare branches of the maples stood out bright against the firs. Madronas blazed up from the rock, red and yellow and shining green.
Out from the protection of the hills the Skagit flats were as bad as I’d imagined. The wind picked up as the sun set, head on and getting colder. I distracted myself with birds. Red tail, red tail, starlings, red tail. Sea gulls floated in the flooded fields. A heron lifted off from just beside the road, awkward and startlingly large. Somewhere to my right I could hear geese—dozens? hundreds?—calling as they settled for the night. I was so tired I was blinking in and out of sleep even as my legs kept pumping. Five miles to go, and then two. I stopped to pull on another layer, heavier gloves, to drink water hoping it would wash the sleep from my eyes. Every mile was slower than the one before. I crossed the Samish and turned east. The wind punched me in the side and sent me wavering. I stared straight ahead at the road, at the dark clouds massed over the foothills. Pushed and pushed and I was at the farm. I abandoned the bike in the middle of the farm road and went straight inside. What was usually a ninety minute ride, motorless, had taken me nearly two and a half hours with the electric assist. E was gone on deliveries. I didn't care. I tore off a hunk of bread and spread it thick with butter. Ate it and I tore another, and two more after that. I finished the dried apricots in the tin above the sink. I boiled water and filled a mug, wrapped myself in a quilt, and drank it slowly. I was cold and exhausted and so grateful for walls and slippers, for the mug warming my hands, for stillness.
It was a good ride. Hard and good. I was glad for the ride and glad it was over, or I was glad for the year of baking and glad it was over, or I was just glad to be sitting down, warming up with the hot water and food. I was glad. And then I was asleep.
Owner | Baker
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