There is a chocolate shop in the town of Joseph, at the foot of the Wallowa Mountains in northeastern Oregon. I visited the candy maker after discovering it is also a coffeehouse. Tea and a laptop would perfectly follow a morning in the alpine zone on Mount Howard. (The mountain has a tram to the summit, which is how my septuagenarian body got there and back in a morning.)
I asked the person at the counter what kind of tea they had. She waved her arm along a cabinet adjacent to the counter, filled with maybe 15 clear glass containers of loose tea, most with names I had never heard of.
“I have no idea which one to choose,” I said. “But maybe you can solve an old mystery for me. I once had a tea that tasted like new mown hay smells, and I would love to have it again.”
Behind the counter person was a large work area devoted to the store’s main activity, the making of chocolate confections. Three or four women were working back there at large tables. The moment I posited my recollection, a strikingly beautiful, tall, dark woman at the farthest table raised an arm. (She looked Mediterranean, though I am holding out for Nez Perce.) The woman wiped her hands on a damp cloth, came over to the counter, and asked a question that severed my anchor and set me adrift.
“Has the hay just been mown, or has it been lying on the ground for a while?”
As she asked her luminous question, full of portent and promise, she gently grasped my right hand between both of hers, our fingers extended. It was a surprising and intimate gesture. She couldn’t have been more than 25 years old. Although possibly denoting a personality disorder, there was excitement, even a hint of breathlessness, in her voice, as if we had set off on a wondrous adventure.
I would have robbed banks with her.
Somewhat less than fully conscious, I said the hay had been lying on the ground for a while. She brewed me a cup of Pingcha tea, which the Chinese normally ferment and age for five to 15 years. But the batch she brewed had been aged for 75 years.
After I tasted it, I realized the hay had been lying on the ground too long. I should have asked for the “just been mown” tea, but that was now a minor point – except as a reason to return.
When she asked if it were the tea of memory, I lied, and said the too long tea was the treasure I had been seeking.
In love and politics, truth is merely an option.