Blue Skies and Barnacles (with a fir, cardamom, and nutmeg drink)
There’s something about a stormy winter day at the beach that is both humbling and comforting. Watching huge waves come crashing down on the rocky tide pools gives me such great respect for the creatures within; the delicate forms that glimmer under summer’s peaceful blue skies hold on to the rocks as thousands of gallons of seawater crash on top of them, unphased.
I have a deep respect for barnacles. In fact, you might even call it an obsession; despite growing up inland in the mountains and going to college in the prairies, all I wanted to make work about was barnacles. My instructors were as perplexed as I — they assigned me to figure out the root of this love. I spent hours and hours in the library learning everything I could about barnacles. (Did you know their male reproductive organs are 20x longer than their bodies? That’s not the reason I was interested in them, though. Promise.) During my years of study I never did really hit on a satisfactory answer; I just knew, deep down, that I was drawn to these little critters.
Eventually, I followed that love to the Oregon Coast. I’d decided that the only way for me to solve the Mystery of the Barnacles was to live closer to them and be able to observe them. I moved in the fall, and my first introductions to the mighty Pacific Ocean were the raging winter storms. I would sit at a safe distance all bundled up in a poncho, wet hair whipping around my face as both rain and ocean spray were carried horizontally by the fierce costal winds. I would sit and watch giant waves swell and come crashing in, spraying foam far up above the tallest rocks. I would feel the powerful energy of the ocean, the immensity of its waters stretching off into the horizon, ever rising and falling with yet another giant wave. I felt dwarfed, minuscule, invisible among the scale of those great waters.
When spring and summer came, I was surprised to visit the ocean on days when the water was nearly as still as glass, reflecting clear blue skies. I had always imagined there to be those same huge waves that had humbled and entranced me all winter. But on those still days I ventured ever further down the rocky shores, entranced by the sparkling delicacies of the tidepools. I felt like a giant, towering above immaculate little worlds in the waters beneath me. I’d sit and watch the barnacles, especially - out of those tough exteriors I would see such ethereal little feathery creatures emerge, waving gently in their saline homes. I would watch them in awe, constantly shocked that something so delicate could weather such intensity.
It was in those moments that I finally understood my obsession with barnacles: it lies both in their resilience and in their contradiction. Barnacles stay safe in their solitary homes, and yet they always appear in clusters, colonies, communities. They are soft and feathery and delicate and yet thrive in areas that experience a wide range of environmental challenges. They are a master of cycles, relying on the tidal ebbing and flowing. They bake in the dry, hot summer sun, then are submerged in the crashing tides; and yet, somehow, they survive. They thrive. I think of barnacles as the ambassadors of the Intertidal Zone, that magical strip that is not quite land and not quite sea, teeming with a voracity of life that thrives in its ever-changing environment. Like many of my favorite plants (elderflowers, especially) they are a sort of threshold guardian, marking the transition between worlds. Barnacles are both an invitation to explore beyond our comfort zone and a reminder of resiliency and adaptability.
So in the dark days of winter and the storms and the rain, listen to the messages of the barnacles. See how they stay safe and cozy in their little shells during extremes. Let their very existence comfort you and give you perspective. Hear how they remind you that blue skies are coming.
Blue skies, indeed. This hot milk-tea is a celebration of hope and comfort. It’s the perfect drink for a stormy winter day as it’s both soothing and beautiful. It gets its lovely sky-blue color naturally from butterfly pea flowers, though you could certainly brew up a tasty cup without them. It is spiced with grand fir, cardamom, and nutmeg - all cozy and comforting winter flavors that fill me with nostalgia. (The cardamom pods that my parents add to hot buttered rums, the sweet-spicy flavor of fir needles nibbled below the branches of a Christmas tree, the fragrance of freshly-grated nutmeg on top of a cup of eggnog…) Your own winter nostalgia elixir may be different; I would encourage you to substitute flavors as you see fit until you hit on something that is perfectly comforting to you. Until you find your own perfect cross-section of winter comfort, I am happy to share mine with you. Have a seat in my armchair and I’ll pour you a cup of blue skies and coziness and we’ll talk about the ocean and the mysteries below those churning waves.
Blue Sky Elixir:
1 tsp. dried butterfly pea flowers
4 cardamom pods
1 Tbs. white fir needles, stripped from the branch
a dash of freshly-grated nutmeg
1 cup of boiling water
2 cups of milk of choice
3 Tbs. honey
1. Pour the boiling water over the butterfly pea flowers, cardamom pods, and white fir needles. Let steep for 10 minutes, then strain into a small saucepan. Add the milk and honey and heat until just simmering. Serve warm and enjoy.
*a note: the teapot and cups in these photos were handmade by me as a gift for my sister, so they are not available to purchase.
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