It's a different kind of nostalgia when you're out in the backcountry (or out of the country) and trying to preserve the holiday spirit—but these adventurers did their best and lived to tell the tale.
Hark the Hashish Angels Sing
Chris Kilham, medicine hunter, western Massachusetts
I’d been hiking through the Himalayan foothills and I’d stopped in an old British cantonment [military camp] for a few days. There was a group of local guys who maintained the place where I was staying, and on Christmas night we had the most magnificent fire. It was this starry night and the wood from the deodar trees is like the Himalayan version of piñon pine, it has this real fragrant frankincense-y aroma when it burns. And it was all so small and simple: You go get some logs, you get some matches, I’ll bring the candy.
For dinner there were some simple curries. You like cauliflower? Good. I like cauliflower. You like garlic? I like garlic. But the real coming together was the fire. Earlier in the day I’d walked into town and purchased little boxes of candy. They cook milk down in these big pots and mix it with pistachios, honey, and spices, then wrap them in gold and silver paper. The pistachio ones—you could become a craven addict in no time. I’m not a sweets person, but they were addictive. We ate the candies and smoked the local hash and sang religious songs.
I’m a big believer in the power of travel education. I don’t mean traveling to stay at the Four Seasons, but leaving those places rip-snorting behind and getting good and lost. It’s just a marvelous experience to have, and it’s remarkably mind-opening.
Saving Crabs on Christmas Day
Zoe Helene, multidisciplinary artist, western Massachusetts
In 1979, when I was 14, my family spent a three-week vacation, which spanned Christmas, on a beach on the North Island of New Zealand. On Christmas night there was a fire and a large pot for roasting 'pippies,' which are wild clams you used to be able to find easily in the sand by the incoming tide. As kids we would 'pick pippies' and hold them in our T-shirts (held up like a kangaroo pocket at the front). When you toss the poor little pippies into the pot over the fire they boil alive, like lobsters, and their shells open up and you just scoop them out and eat them in one large bite. I could never eat them. It felt wrong to me.
I also did not tell my mother, who is crazy for shellfish and who would have delighted in a fresh crab feast, about the extraordinary abundance of huge soft-shell crabs far up the beach where I was walking. The crabs weren't used to humans and didn't know what to think of me, so when I got close to the giant rocks where the waves were crashing, hundreds, maybe even thousands of them came out of their holes, walking sideways, to stop and watch me with their strange, posted eyes.
The pippies were abundant, so my family feasted. These days they are harder to come by due to over-harvesting, so I guess I was right all those years ago to not participate in the carnage.