Of bachelors and Babb
Flash in the Pan
The bachelor party began at Charlie’s Place in Babb, Mont., just south of the Canadian border. Outside and across the road, the massive topographical relief of Glacier National Park was bathed in moonlight. Glacier, crown of North America, where the headwaters of Pacific, Atlantic and Arctic drainages meet amidst grizzled mountains carved by their dwindling glaciers, was where our party was headed. Supposedly these glaciers will all be gone in 30 years. We were there to get our fill, while we still could.
The bachelor boy’s grin suggested he’d arrived at our Babb rendezvous ahead of schedule.
“Welcome to Babbylon,” he said. “How was your drive?”
“Not Babb,” I said.
Thus began a strange new language, or babble, that came out of nowhere to become a soundtrack of sorts to Babbchelor Boy’s three-day babbpacking adventure in the land of melting glaciers. Three days of babbtizing ourselves in the clear, blue, drinkable meltwaters. Three days of playing among the peaks, watching mountain goats, sipping fine scotch and laughing ’til our babbdominals hurt.
Leading up to this excursion, I remembered that it was nearly four years ago to the day that I was hired to direct a contingent of sarong-clad young men in the catering of a bachelorette party on the banks of the river. We poured the ladies watermelon sangria, dangled cherries into their open mouths and served a light but filling lunch of crostini, salad and smoked salmon.
The marinade for that smoked salmon, which I concocted on the spot, quickly became my default salmon marinade. To this day, I start by squeezing lime on the fish and rub it in. After half an hour, then I rub it with coarsely chopped dill (leaves, not the seeds). Finally, I pour on a mixture of roughly equal parts soy sauce, liquid aminos and sugar.
In summer, when the Alaskan salmon are running, I like to buy fresh salmon at the store and make salmon jerky with this marinade. It’s great for camping. But alas, it’s been years since I last packed salmon into Glacier’s backcountry. I was with Babbchelor Boy (before he was so) and Sleep When Yer Dead, and both were paranoid about the smell of my salmon jerky in grizzly country. After Babbchelor Boy rounded a corner and found himself nose to nose with a mama and her cubs, they heckled me mercilessly for bringing such tempting bear attractant into the park.
And now, after all these years, when it was my turn to cook dinner for Babbchelor Boy and the crew, suffice it to say no salmon was on the menu.
The first night was Sleep When Yer Dead’s turn. He made pasta smothered in pesto and butter then tossed with fresh broccoli, sweet peppers and elk sausage, and drenched it in parmesan cheese. It was quite a meal to carry 10 miles up the mountain, and it set the bar dauntingly high.
According to Babbchelor party protocol, chefs were to provide appetizers—babbetizers, actually—before their meal. I was surprised to see that Sleep When Yer Dead’s babbetizer was a large chunk of smoked salmon, served with crackers.
That’s when I realized I’d forgotten entirely to bring a babbetizer for my dinner the following evening. This oversight haunted me long into that windy night.
The next day, Sleep When Yer Dead led a small posse on a series of traverses, ridge walks and summit climbs known collectively as the Scenic Death March. Since it was my night to make dinner—and because my body already hurt enough—I hung out in camp.
My plan was to re-hydrate a dried mix of veggies from my garden (zucchini, collard greens, carrots) along with some dehydrated elk summer sausage and then fry it all in olive oil with fresh onion, fresh garlic, chili pepper flakes and a pre-made blender paste of pickled peppers, pickled carrots, fresh garlic, cilantro, coconut, lime, coriander, cumin, raisins and olive oil—all packed in duct-taped Tupperware and triple-bagged in plastic. This stew would be served on jasmine rice.
As I boiled water to make the chicken stock in which I would re-hydrate the veggies, the sun disappeared behind the ridge behind camp. Still no sign of the Scenic Death March posse. If and when they ever returned, I figured, they would be in need of quick nourishment. And there I was, sans babbetizer.
I hung my head in failure and exhaustion. When I opened my eyes I was looking into my pot of boiling broth.
I remembered the time in Siberia when I stumbled out of the mountains one winter night on the shore of Lake Baikal. A sable researcher named Ura invited me into his cabin and served me hot broth. That broth brought me back to life.
I checked my stash and found several extra cubes of bullion, and breathed a sigh of relief that I had found my babbetizer. I added water and cubes to the pot.
Just then, the Scenic Death Marchers stumbled into camp, limping, beat and satisfied.
Babbchelor Boy, who in the heat of the Scenic Death March might have wondered why he didn’t have a “normal” bachelor party, confessed, “I thought he said Scenic Breast March.”
Each man stayed where he had collapsed, and I brought each man his broth, which he suckled and slurped amidst murmurs of contentment, which grew to purrs of pleasure when dinner was served.
Thus, Babbchelor Boy prepared to tie the knot with his babby.