This is what it must have felt like to be a settler in this wilderness. Nothing but us and nature. The wide river is completely frozen. Charlie and I, in the middle of it, are in a home made catamaran made from two yellow canoes lashed together with two extendable ladders front and back. In the middle, a tripod with a film camera all ready to go should we spot an animal.
We battle the elements. I’m leaning forward, slightly precariously at the front of the canoe, trying to smash through the ice with my paddle so that we can continue our search for any signs of the otters we are hoping to film.
It has us taken us hours to get this far. We have driven to this remote location, carried two canoes and heavy filming kit through hip-deep snow one hard, heart-thudding step at a time. We have paddled for miles between marshmallow banks in dense silence, exhausted by the fact that we have had to go up river.
Its quite good that we have to be quiet because I can’t pronounce words with any accuracy anyway. My lips are no longer working in synch with the other parts of their facial team – they have taken on their own numb identity, as though they are inflatable ones just stuck on.
My toes hurt with cold. I know its best not to dwell on that as it will only get worse.
We have been watching a snow storm descend from the mountains, a grey fuzzy blur. As we crack through the ice, it descends upon us, reducing the visibility so much that, even if we saw an otter, we couldn’t get a decent shot of it.
Still, I can’t remember having had a nicer time. I love the digging deep, the grit, the pioneer spirit that these adventures take. This is all in a days work for Charlie but it is magical for me and there is always the chance, that’s the great thing about filming wildlife, you just never know what is around the corner.
Deep under many thermal layers my phone starts ringing. To answer it will mean taking my gloves off. It would be easy to ignore, but with a mother’s intuition, I know not to. I sigh. The gloves come off.
‘Could you come and get your son by eleven?’ (Never doubt intuition.) ‘He has been vomiting at the top of the mountain during his ski lesson’
(Yes you did read that right, here in Wyoming, PE is ski lessons instead of rugby which is amazing – until you are sick).
I look at my watch. It is twenty five to eleven.
I glance at Charlie. He is squinting into the driving snow. It has ‘iced’ the front side of him and sits on his beard. He is still slowly rowing his side of the catamaran. We are starting to go round in circles.
I try to say, ‘I don’t think I can make it for then because, you see I am in the middle of the frozen river in the middle of the National Park and I have just spent a long time rowing upstream to get here.’ but it didn’t really come out like that, more of a meaningless mumble on account of the numb lips and the pointlessness of resisting the peuking mountaintop scenario. Also, even if she could have understood, the kindly school secretary would have thought she was hearing things, no sane person goes to the Grand Teton national park with a kayak in the middle of winter.
The snow is whips around us now into our eyes and my mouth when I open it to speak.
‘I’ll call wu back.’
It just took one stricken text to a very good friend and, in the manner of amazing women, she was on it, ready to scoop him up as soon as he vomited/skiied his way to the bottom of the mountain and take him home to our house.
The snow intensifies. There is no visibility. The storm that was forecast for tonight is obviously here today. This isn’t our day. We turn around, time to go with the flow. It takes us almost an hour of falling through snow with kit to get from the water to the car, during which I wonder if my heart is going to explode from my chest. The heated seats are worth every ounce of effort.
But now the mother’s guilt.
A text; ‘He is asking for Tomato Soup’
Of course he is – he is a Brit, it’s in his genes, he is programmed to crave it, especially when ill.
That female pioneering spirit kicks in again. If I couldn’t get him from the mountain the least I could do is find him tomato soup!
However living here in Wyoming there is no Heinz Cream of Tomato soup. I know right? This is, without doubt, a life essential for every British person.
I am still cold to the bone after forty minutes in the car when we stop at the ‘gas station’. It’s going to take a long time to thaw out. I pick up a can of Campbells condensed cream of tomato soup $3.50 and inspect it. The second ingredient is high fructose corn syrup, the third is wheat flour. Why? Does tomato soup need these things? More to the point a sick child who needs nurturing back to health especially does NOT need these things.
Spurred on by mother’s guilt and the pioneering spirit of the Wyoming settlers I resolve, instead of battling my way through the ice to capture on film the incredible wildlife which manages to survive in the harsh winter to stand in the kitchen and make warm tasting-of-home tomato soup instead and help us humans survive the winter. This is no easy challenge.
The thing is, the canned type we love so much isn’t just any old tomato soup it has a certain depth, a particular flavour that can’t be denied – anything else frankly is a let down.
It took a while but finally I cracked it – not only that but I am willing to share the secret formula. If only the settlers had had this.
1 large red onion finely chopped and gently fried it with 2 cloves of garlic in olive oil till it was transparent and sweet.
A 14oz can of organic chopped tomatoes
A couple of tablespoons of Italian seasoning (nothing fancy – dried out of the cupboard)
A squirt of agave syrup (just enough to take away the acidity)
‘ Then I blended the lot on the highest speed for as long as I thought think the blender could take it. Till when I peered inside it was silky smooth. I heated it up and then I added a dollop of Almond milk at the end. Finally I relished the warm glow of motherhood (and being in a hot kitchen).
If I was feeling experimental and I had them in the cupboard. I also think it could benefit from a few sundried tomatoes – gosh there’s that pioneering spirit again. I keep finding myself humming the tune from ‘Little house on the Prairie.