The Slow Dry

Revisiting an old piece of writing and thinking of dear friends.

The Slow Dry
By Annis Karpenko
Published Globe and Mail, Facts & Arguments, April 10, 2007

My friend Monica suggested I try a new salmon recipe. My usual trick is to slather a side of salmon with a Dijon mustard and honey mix and then coat it with a layer of chopped pecans. Bake it and away you go. It is delicious and I always receive gratitude from our dinner guests. Monica had a new way. She had slathered her salmon with grainy mustard and maple syrup and coated it with chopped pistachio nuts. She assured me it was fabulous and going the extra mile as only a true friend can, she also provided me with her extra mustard/syrup mixture and a half bag of pistachios.

At the appointed dinner preparation hour I assembled all the ingredients on my kitchen counter and noticed that the pistachios were still in their shell. Unlike my previous efforts with pecans where I simply threw a handful into the food processor, I would have to shell these nuts. This would steal a few minutes from my schedule. I glanced up at the clock and began. I poured the pistachios out of the bag into a small pile on the counter thinking this might save some time. One by one I began to break open the shells and place each nut into the food processor. First one, then the next and the next. Although I am sure some television food wizard can shell more than one nut at a time, I have no such talent. I had to go one by one and as I did I was reminded of the effort I had made in the past but which I had forgotten; the effort towards mindfulness.

I had once practiced mindfulness each day; paid close attention to my body as I woke up in the morning, to the texture of my skin, to the feeling of the water running over me in the shower, the brushing of my teeth. I meditated and moved with intention, considering each step I took on my walk to work. Over time as more activity and change took over my life, I had forgotten.

Later in the week, after the successful salmon dinner party (pistachios work very nicely), the blow dryer I used to fashion my hair each morning died. It was a blustery piece of black plastic with three speeds and multi-temperature controls. It dried my hair with SWAT team efficiency and kept me on schedule each morning. The marvel of jet plane turbo proportion was now finished so I cursed, fluffed my hair with my hands in a frantic fashion and before day’s end headed to the store replace it.

The piece I brought home was a similar piece of black plastic but the next morning I plugged it in and the turbo charge was not there. In its place a subtle, warm breeze blew over my hair. I looked down at the controls – Low – Off – High – Cool. I shuffled the switch up and down, testing each level. Low was a mere whisper across my head. This breezy hot tropical flow was High. Cool was a wee bit faster but not much. I was stopped for a moment but did not have time to argue with the plastic or myself so I carried on letting the warm breeze blow slowly over my head. It was slow but it was drying my hair. I once again remembered the practice of mindfulness and resisting my urge to “watch a kettle boil”, I closed my eyes. The warm breeze brought a vision of a sandy beach, swaying palm trees and gentle waves to me in snowy March. I wiggled my toes and relaxed into the airflow. It was delightful. How had I forgotten? My usual turbo-charged morning routine was transformed into an oasis of calm.

I let the calm accompany me as I dressed. I noticed each button on my blouse; I paid attention to my lips as I put on lipstick; I noticed the blue of my eyes and the lines around them deep from time and laughter; I noticed my wrist as I slid on a brightly coloured bracelet and I noticed the new age spots that were now on my hands. I looked at my toes and feet as I pulled on my socks, counted each toe and admired my ankles. As I moved to the kitchen, I noticed the change in the light from room to room; I listened to the water as it filled the kettle and let my fingers feel the paper wrapper as I prepared my tea bag. And on it went all morning until I got to work and once again got caught up in my day.

The Tao reminds us, “After completion Come new beginnings. To gain strength, Renew the root.” I had forgotten to remind myself of the basics, the root or the influences that keep me grounded as I move off into new directions. Even master musicians must return to play scales each day, this allows them to move to the challenging pieces assured of their skill. The next morning, I plugged in the hair dryer again. I knew I would not return the slow machine. It came to me, perhaps because I was not paying attention in the store and missed the multifunction model, but no matter, its presence was a gift, a reminder to me to make time, to renew the root. Even in its unhurried state, my hair did get dry. It is a slow dry, the perfect way to start a day

© Annis Karpenko 2007