Writing-related recipes: Wild Tea — character names, snowstorms, and gravestones

I hate to bump Connie’s beautiful sketches for our first two pages off the top of the blog, but it’s been a while since either of us posted anything new, and I did promise a Wild Tea recipe, way back when. (If you haven’t seen the sketches for the first two manga pages, just go back one post in the chronological list, or look under the appropriate categories off to the side there.)

We’re having a snowstorm here in the Maritimes, and southeastern N.B. is pretty much shut down. It’s even the top headline for the North American news on the BBC website. Gosh, horrors, it’s snowing in the Maritimes and New England …. We’ll be feeling like Toronto next. Snow — send in the army. How embarrassing. (For non-Canadians: the city of Toronto has yet to live down having once had the army called out by its mayor because of a heavy snowfall.) We had an extended autumn here, but in January winter finally arrived, with a storm just about every week, it seems. I guess that can be attributed to its being a La Nina year, according to some meteorological information I read somewhere or other. I enjoy being outside in winter if I have good boots (serious, felt-liner Kamiks, or my antique, thirty-year-old, fit-only-for-snowshoeing-now Sorels, from back when they were made in Canada and lasted), and nobody expects me to drive anywhere. Mr Wicked and I go snowshoeing, often in the nearby graveyard, which brings me to my first digression: gravestones and character names.

Old graveyards are fascinating places. There used to be so much information put on the stones. “Engineer S.S. Morion, lost at sea.” “Died Battle of the Hooge, Belgium”. “R.C.A.F. Buried in Reichenwald Forest Germany” (a bit redundant, that, -wald Forest). “Torpedoed”. It’s a chronicle of the twentieth century’s wars. There’s a memorial to a child who died in Shanghai and at least one woman who died and was buried at sea, reminder that sea-captains often took their families along. Going farther back, there are the marble stones of people born in the eighteenth century, Yorkshiremen and Scots. One of the early twentieth-century graves is of a woman named Mary Ellen Carter. I always wonder what she would have thought if she had known that decades after her death, people would pause by her stone to think, “Rise again!” every time they passed. People’s names mark history too. There’s a Cometta, born 1910, a Halley’s Comet year, and a Carpathia, born in 1912, named in honour of the ship which rescued Titanic survivors. There are a couple of Lloyd Georges, born circa 1914, and a Wilfred Laurier. And there’s an Attalissa. I don’t know the origins of the name. It looks to me like a feminine diminutive of Attila, which in itself was a diminutive. But that seems an unlikely thing for a family of British antecedents to name their daughter.

I like the name, though, as you’ll discover, when Blackdog (the title is now official) comes out next January or thereabouts from Pyr. Attalissa is one of the central characters in the story, goddess of a mountain lake, but also a mercenary on the caravan road. (Rather than “sword and horses” fantasy, to use Jim Butcher’s term, Blackdog is more “sabre and camels”.) In Moth’s world, gods of the earth are bound to their place, so how and why Attalissa comes to be in exile … well, that’s the story, or part of it.

Though I like snow, and snowshoeing in the graveyard, I’m also starting to think about spring, which brings me to Wild Tea. In spring, we’ll once again be able to partake of Wild Tea, sitting by the river. This isn’t exactly a recipe; Wild Tea isn’t some brew-up of forest greenery either (sorry, if that’s what you were looking for). It’s a movement, founded by steampunk and science fiction author Paul Marlowe, which advocates going to nice places outdoors and making tea. What you do is, find a nice place, build yourself a fireplace or firepit, and using your smoke-blackened kettle or billycan, make tea. Boil your water and throw in some good strong Orange Pekoe: Morse’s or King Cole is recommended. You can also make Wren’s Oatmeal Bannock (see recipe under “Writing-related recipes) and cook it in the authentic manner, on a stone, or in a frying pan if you happened to have lugged one along with you. Carry your milk along in a bottle and keep it cool in a river while building your fire and brewing your tea, as the Swallows and Amazons would have done. Wild tea must be drunk out of enamelled mugs. Dogs are allowed to drink their token splash of tea out of a hollow stone. Experience has taught us that though roasting eggs, carefully punctured to obviate explosions, is possible … the careful puncturing is not a sure-fire method of obviation. I.e. your egg may imitate the action of the grenado and go boom anyway. Better, if you want eggs, to bring a frying pan. Or you could boil them in the kettle, removing them before actually putting in the tea bags.

Of course, in some nice places (and times) you can’t just go making fires — dry seasons, someone else’s property, national parks, etc. Therefore, the official Wild Tea committee has decided that the traditional Boy Scout coffee can stove is also an acceptable Wild Tea engine. You could, of course, carry a samovar along with you, if you’re very keen on infernal devices, but that starts to seem a bit grandiose. The essence of Wild Tea is the tranquil appreciation of Niceness in landscape, so it’s best to keep your preparations simple.

Wild Tea is, essentially, an act of meditation and contemplation. And tea. It makes you slow down, sit back, and just look, while — because we’re humans and humans are always fiddling with their hands, as Ash observes in Torrie and the Snake-Prince — doing something harmonious with contemplation (poking the fire, warming your hands on your mug, beating out flaming bannock, dodging exploding egg …). A wilderness and pastoral tea ceremony, in fact.

About K.V. Johansen

The author of Blackdog, The Leopard, The Lady, and Gods of Nabban, epic fantasies from Pyr, I also write for teens and children, including the "Torrie", "Warlocks of Talverdin", and "Cassandra Virus" series, and the "Pippin and Mabel" picture books, as well as a couple of short story collections and two works of adult literary criticism on the history of children's fantasy literature. I have a Master's degree in Mediaeval Studies, and read a lot of fantasy, science fiction, and history. Blog at thewildforest.wordpress.com
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