Sunday, July 20, 2008

Zen and the art of fish processing

This is poor Matt filleting 32 fish by himself in the rain. I felt sorry for him so I called my mom and she came over and took the kids away for the morning so I could help him. I couldn't remember how to fillet a fish so he had to reteach me. He said "Let the knife guide you." I felt like I was in the presense of either a great Zen master or Yoda. I tried my hardest to feel the force but I remained clumsy and butchered quite a few. After a while I found my rhythm and enjoyed the inner calm I always get while doing manual labor. It allows my mind to wander, which it is wont to do (but so bad when I am driving...)

I thought of the time I took Matt to Tassajara Zen Center in California for a weekend retreat. Twice a year they let "guest students" stay for free in exchange for some work. The first time I went with my friend Robin and all we had to do was chop a few vegetables and then we got to relax in the hot springs. That's because her mom was a high ranking priest. The second time I went, I was asked to hold a walk-in clinic for the Zen students. So while I sat in a little cabin providing very limited health care, Matt was put to work cleaning guest cabins. Before they began changing linen, the Zen students stood in a circle and chanted. It was all Matt could do not to chant "Oh wha ta goo siam". He still tells people to this day that they put him to work in a rock quary.

Then my mind wandered to a Garrison Keiler monologue about the merits of canning. I'll paraphrase: the problem with our society is that people don't can anymore. Then he describes going down to the basement in the middle of winter, opening a jar of peaches and the sensation of liquid sunshine melting in his mouth. Of course he describes the scene of these poor women slaving away in a hot kitchen, canning in the heat of August. He then complains about how we don't can anymore because we can buy mixed greens and baby lettuce in December, grown by liberal arts majors in Northern California. I had to laugh out loud here because the same sect of Zen buddhists that own Tassajara also own Green Gulch Farm which is their Zen center in Marin County. When you drive through Marin County you can look down from the road and see the rows of baby lettuce and mixed greens. He concludes by saying because we spend our money on expensive produce in the middle of winter instead of eating canned vegetables that we grew ourselves, we have no money left over to pay for good education so our kids have to go to mediocre colleges where they do not learn how to be outstanding. It sounded much better when Garrison did it.

So here are the pictures from our two days of canning 32 salmon. It was really hard work, especially with a very active two year old underfoot. Chris was a big help, as usual. He's our hard worker. Riley was at a sleepover, I think, it's all kind of a blur now...

Chris cutting up salmon to put in jars. Yes, he did cut himself with a sharp knife. I reminded Matt of a line from "Seabiscuit": It's better to break the leg than to break the man. It would have crushed him to not be allowed to help.

Maya doing her best to entertain herself.

Chris unloads the canner while Maya helps us scribble the dates on the tops of the jars.

Maya stacks the jars neatly. I wondered if she remembered stacking soda and beer cans in from the mini-fridge in our hotel room in Vietnam?

The boys were wrestling and she had to get in on the action!

1 comment:

thecurryseven said...

Matt and Irene -- Apart from the fact that I wouldn't have a clue how to fillet 32 salmon, your recent posts about fishing have made me a bit jealous of the Alaska life. A large part of me thinks we should be living in the wilderness... or maybe next to the wilderness... rather than where we are right now! (If we could bring the two families with whom we are closest friends, I guess.)