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“I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow”

January 19, 2011

My nightly tug of war with blankets and sleeping bags has come to feel routine at this point. I was remarking the other day that I honestly cannot remember what it feels like to wake up in a relatively warm apartment or house, and move comfortably from under the covers to a nice hot shower. It’s for the best I think—forgetting that kind of convenience—because waking up now to my bedside cup of water frozen solid and my fire long depleted would feel ridiculous and unnecessarily cruel.

I’m lazy when it comes to ger temperature management. I know some people are quite robust in their fire tending in the middle of the night, waking up every two hours or so to add more fuel. Instead, I do a bi-hourly (that is every two hours, not twice an hour) dance of zipping up my sleeping bag and shrugging on more clothes and blankets. By the time my alarm goes off in the morning, the temperature in my ger is usually only slightly above the temperature outside, but I’m wrapped up like a burrito, cozy in my big, feather-stuffed tortilla.

Extricating myself from said tortilla is really my only form of athletic exercise here during the winter. I’m not sure one knows really how fast he can move until he’s dashing across a twelve-foot ger in the dead of winter in Mongolia, but I’m usually sprinting to the wood box and coal bucket to get things started in the stove for the day.

These gers do warm up fast. I’ve got a four-wall ger (as opposed to the larger five-wall), and after about fifteen minutes, I can’t see my breath inside anymore and I can start removing my hat and gloves. After another five minutes, my water has boiled and I can make my coffee and cook up a few slices of toast on top of the stove.

Our family is quite fond of French press coffee to get things started at home in the morning: the grinding of the beans (coarse, not powdery), the heating and then slight cooling of the water, the beans steeping for three minutes but not more than five, and finally, pushing the plunger on the grounds leaving you with smooth and tasty coffee. “Liturgical coffee” as my father calls it, where something in the tradition and measured practice of it is part of its appeal, part of the satisfaction–like those New York hipsters who’ve gone back to rolling their own cigarettes, not just because it’s “fashionable” again, but because there’s something immediately satisfying in enjoying sustenance (or vice, depending upon your point of view) that was crafted by you, and for you, alone.

My coffee out here is instant, but the routine is no less liturgical. In fact the whole night takes on its own little order of service, because those hours in the night when I’m awake to the quiet outside the walls of my ger would otherwise be hours lost to me, weaving in and out of REM sleep. The quiet at 3AM in the gobi, when even the guard dogs have stopped barking their threats to one another is incomprehensible in its completeness. I’m responsible for each night’s comfort here, it’s warmth, it’s restfulness, and something in the creation of it makes each one more restful despite the waking.

(Title of the post comes from the first line of Theodore Roethke’s “The Waking”)

RIP, Sargent Shriver.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Paul Kaufmann permalink
    January 21, 2011 1:45 am

    Nice article. Hang in there. Uncle Paul

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