Eating Authors: Susan Forest

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Susan Forest

I’ve been juggling too many things. While this is my normal state, and indeed how I prefer things, I find myself wearing a little thin (figuratively speaking) of late. I suspect a chunk of this can be blamed on my knee problems and I have an appointment with an orthopedist in a couple hours to explore options (it’s about noon on Friday as I prepare this post). I doubt that there are any immediate miracles in my future, but the forward motion will likely free up some mental space.

Meanwhile some things must continue as planned, including these weekly visits from authors with meals to share. This week’s guest is Susan Forest, mostly like known to you as a very talented writer from Canada, where she’s several times been a finalist for the Prix Aurora Award for her short fiction, a two-time winner for that award in Best Related Work for her editorial work with Laksa Media. She’s also won both the Galaxy Project and the Children’s Choice Book Award.

I first became aware of Susan’s fiction when our terms on the SFWA Board of Directors overlapped (she served as Secretary in 2015 and 2016). I owe her a great debt, because with only a couple exceptions, I’d somehow managed to be oblivious to incredible talent coming out of Canada in our field. I’ve since rectified that short-sightedness and sampled the fare from most provinces.

Susan’s new novel, Bursts of Fire—Book One in her Addicted to Heaven series (slated for seven volumes!)—comes out tomorrow.

LMS: Welcome, Susan. What’s your most memorable meal?

SF: The first thing you need to know about me, is that I come from a family of mountaineers. My father was the first person to climb all the peaks in the Canadian Rockies over 11,000 feet and the oldest person to climb Mt. Logan, Canada’s highest mountain. My older sister was part of the first all-woman team to attempt Mt. Logan, and my younger sister is a full mountain guide. So, as a far less accomplished climber tagging along on easier trips, some of the meals I’ve had were unique.

Meals taken on backpacking trips have to be well planned. My brother was unfortunate enough to be on a ten-day canoe trip once, when the woman in charge of food decided it was a good time to be on a diet. It wasn’t. My dad missed supper one night when his climbing party of eight was benighted on a mountain and had to finish their climb the next morning. Starving, they threw two meals into one pot to cook a quick breakfast of beef stew and fish chowder. My sister, stranded on Mount Cook in New Zealand, shared a chocolate bar with two friends for dinner—or would have, if the man who brought it out of his backpack hadn’t dropped it down the mountain. Yes, part of planning your meals is remembering to bring food.

Bursts of Fire

But those were the exceptions. Many times, when mountaineering with my father, we would make camp after a full day of climbing around 4:00 or 5:00 PM, and have the long twilit summer evening to cook and eat. And when you pack only one pot, it is a multi-course meal. The one I remember in vivid detail was eaten after climbing Mount Tupper in the Rogers Pass area of Canada’s Glacier National Park.

The climb, itself, was not technically difficult (though it had its moments), and the day was blessed with a spectacular bluebird sky and fantastic views from the exposed rock ridge, but the five of us had risen early, and were pretty tired by the time we came down off the climb to our backcountry campsite in Hermit Meadows.

After shedding our backpacks and swapping out climbing boots for camp booties, our first course was tea. We set up a kitchen of flat rocks a little distance from our tent so cooking smells wouldn’t attract wildlife to the sleeping area: a single large flat rock pushed well into the bracken to be stable as a platform for the stove. We snuggled our sleeping foamies into nooks in the sloping ground to create backrests for reclining, where we could view the panorama of peaks, pink with alpenglow. Of course, it takes an inordinately long time at altitude for the water to boil, but once it did, we sat back with hot, sugary tea topped with a splash of “take-off” –Triple Sec and overproof rum—for relaxation, conversation, and stories of past adventures.

The sun disappeared, leaving an immense cobalt-blue sky, and we made soup (dried food is light to carry) with crackers with antipasto. There’s something deeply soul-satisfying about sitting in a mountain meadow with the crisp scent of juniper and knickinick and heather, the hush of the wind, and the bite of crisp air as you sip hot, salty soup. We finished every last bit of soup, from hunger, from thirst, and from the need to empty our bowls before the next course. Of course, stories continued.

Immunity to Strange Tales

Noodles were next, and once they were doled out, the meat sauce was heated and added. By this time in the evening the light was beginning to fade, creating a haziness over everything. We put on warm sweaters and built a small campfire, adding the smell of wood smoke and the mesmerism of flickering flames to the spicy Italian fare.

Finally, deeply satisfied, dishes licked clean and washed in the stream with a bit of sandy moss, we finished with another cup of tea. The sky had shifted to deep blue and indigo, and the stars were visible. My dad recited poetry; Robert Service: The Shooting of Dan McGrew, Barb Wire Bill, and The Spell of the Yukon.

That day was a long time ago. My father has since passed away (a heart attack, cross-country skiing with my older sister and her husband), but our family still hikes and backpacks, though not as often as before. But when we do, we know the rituals of dining in style, with one pot and a plethora of stories.

Thanks, Susan. I’ve never climbed mountains, but I used to hike and camp and can attest to the perfection of quietly sipping from a cup, watching the day come to a close, surrounded by nature, and miles from any other human being.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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