We had just arrived back at the canoe entry point after about 6 hours of paddling and portaging. We packed up our tent life, ate a simple breakfast as the sun rose and took in the park’s stillness for a few more minutes while we brushed our teeth in the lake. The first leg was calm in the early light. We wrapped ourselves up in its cool quiet, making our way. Some winding rivers and gear-hauling jaunts later, we were at the final lake stretch of the trip. The wind was blowing right at us. Irritability started to creep up. My shoulders were hurting. All of those little cottages that dotted the lake, with their paddle boarding teens and solar panels hanging off the dock, seemed so ridiculous in their luxury. I had been dying for a coffee since we got out of the truck at the same launching point three days prior.
Obviously we made it and everything was fine. We washed up onto the sandy bit next to a convoy of very pale dad-types with ALL of the gear, reeking of Banana Boat and talking about optimal vegetable preservation methods (like straight out of Portlandia). We were bringing everything back to the truck and strapping the canoe onto the roof. There were two families milling about right beside us starting on their adventure. The kids were watching us lift and flip the canoe onto the roof of the truck, just seemingly fascinated by the whole thing.
Mark asked me to push the canoe forward, to center it on the roof. I tried with some emphatic might. Wouldn’t budge. “I can’t,” I said “You’re gonna have to come over here and try.” Now the parents were distractedly watching this whole gear-up thing go down at Access Point 1. One of the mothers, in a way that most certainly suggested a girl-power sentiment, volunteered this in my general direction: “Yes you can…”
I was still orienting myself after the effort. I smiled at her in a way that could only be described as polite. I was tired, kind of grubby, and had been interacting exclusively with the one person who knows me better than anyone else for the last four days. Maybe I wasn’t ready for human contact, or maybe I just read into it too much, but her comment kind of threw me. I kept circling back to it on the long drive home.
It seems obvious–the act of pushing the boat two inches to hit the right point of balance on a pickup for optimal highway driving is not a firm claim on my status as a strong woman. Her encouragement was positive and in terms of social graces, was offered rather easily–which is surprising and wonderful when you’re thinking about the human race in general. Maybe she drew a little fast on it though. Showcasing brute strength at any moment isn’t a statement of equality. I don’t want to cross that line, if it exists, either. I have a hard enough time negotiating the path to being a good and effective person on this earth, let alone trying to measure up with some “other” entity that’s just as human, and no doubt sincerely grasping to find the way just as hard as I am. What bothered me about her comment, possibly implying that if I dug a little deeper I wouldn’t need a man for the given task, was that it spoke to division and separation. It was that routine backing away from an attempt to understand what we all share in our humanity, which is everything. In that moment, I needed him because I was mentally spent and aching down to the bones; not because I lacked for anything in any regard.
Rather predictably, we didn’t end up moving that canoe the extra couple inches. It got strapped in right where it lay and arrived safely. There was nothing to prove. Everything leading up to that point, the actual physical effort, those human interactions that come from deeply rooted experience, the focused and visceral wonderment of the untouched world, the community feeling that is restored upon return… in the boat, the parking lot, and in my human life, had been enough.
When we came back, I found myself craving a lot of fresh things, all in the name of a slight life/body reset of sorts. So this salad came to be. I wanted it to be real easy. Even a little jam jar shake of some dressing seemed like too much effort. A lazy smear of aged balsamic vinegar on the serving plate keeps it cool and fancy-free. I’m not sure how hip melon ballers are these days, but I will always insist that it keeps pieces of the fruit very juicy. The presentation possibilities can be nice too (they can also be ridiculous) if you try to stay natural with it. I just scatter the scoops and thin wisps of cucumber and onion around, break up some herb flowers and give it a faint sprinkle of flaky sea salt. This time of year, the goods don’t need much fussin’ around anyway.
simplest balsamic melon salad recipe
notes: I use an aged, good quality balsamic vinegar for this. The kind that lightly coats a spoon and has traceable sweetness from the first impression. The taste and consistency of it negates the need for any other additions to this simple salad. If you have a thinner variety in your pantry, simply reduce it in a saucepan until it’s thickened up a bit and concentrated. Also, I intended to throw some halved cherry tomatoes in here too, but… just kind of forgot. Might be delicious if you have them around (and you remember them!).
3-4 tbsp aged balsamic vinegar
4-5 cups small melon balls/chunks
1/2 english cucumber, thinly sliced/shaved with a mandolin
1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced in half-moons/shaved with a mandolin
flaky sea salt, such as Maldon
thinly sliced basil + mint OR broken up basil + mint flowers
Pour the balsamic vinegar onto the base of your serving dish and spread it around evenly with the back of a spoon. The idea is that, with every scoop of salad, a little vinegar catches on the bottom of the serving over to the plate. This maintains an optimal appearance and it ensures even distribution.
Scatter the melon balls, cucumber slices and red onion slices over the balsamic vinegar-coated plate. Season the whole thing with flaky/crunchy salt and pull apart the herb flowers/leaves over the top. Serve immediately.