Aesthetics: Spare Not the Grace Notes

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside magazine, July 1996

Aesthetics: Spare Not the Grace Notes
By Bob Shacochis

I prefer to think that the wilderness as we have it these days, however attenuated and besieged, is more than ever the last refuge of the raw sensualist, and that the palate--the place where we taste existence--serves as the interface between the glory of the outer world and the nobility of the inner life.

Any unwashed fool can build a fire and boil water to add to a package of astronaut grub. But only a true philistine would think of trekking into the backcountry without a weightless bulb of garlic, or a sprig of rosemary, or a hip flask of balsamic vinegar to spice up his kit. Why bother? Why not? Consider my friend Mace, a man with an earthy appreciation for the appetite's finer cravings. Mace never ventures too far off the road without the forethought that somewhere ahead he'll luck upon a perfect place to sit and relax--and that nothing in the universe could possibly bring more pleasure at that moment than something wonderful to eat. Something more than mere fuel. Something to intensify the deliciousness of our surroundings. Something unobtrusive but flavorful tucked neatly into his pocket: A tin of smoked oysters. A few handfuls of pistachios. A small bottle of sun-dried tomatoes soaked in virgin olive oil. A tangerine.

More often than not, the meals I've most enjoyed with my wife have been cooked over an open fire in the unfenced outdoors, consumed in the absolute intimacy of our solitude: stuffed squid on a windy beach in western Sardinia, steamed littleneck clams and grilled redfish on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, pan-fried trout devoured in the streamside twilight of northern New Mexico, baby back ribs and roasted corn along the Snake River in Idaho. There is virtue in good food, and passion, eaten triumphantly in the face of the approaching darkness. The wilderness, I prefer to think, doesn't like louts.

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