I remember the first time I felt this way. It was far less intense and I wasn’t yet certain it meant anything at all. I was younger; it felt new and fresh, if not a bit ambiguous.
It was December and I was standing below the steel-grey sky that stretches endlessly across Manitoba. I was in Hamiota, a town of less than a thousand, plunked seemingly in the middle of nowhere. My throat burned with the cold as I strained my eyes across the prairies. These were the fields of my boyfriend’s childhood—fields that during the summer months anchor golden wisps of rapeseed, but now laid choked in a near-blinding blanket of prairie snow.
It was Christmastime and I was in for a series of firsts: first time on a plane, first time in Manitoba, first time meeting his family. I remember his mother’s horses, thick, splendid beasts outfitted in their woolly winter coats, pawing the snow with plumes of smoke snaking out from their velvety nostrils. I remember riding across the plains, revelling in the horse’s rhythmic gait despite frozen feet stuffed inside inadequate boots. I felt it then, a deep, dull ache, both surprising and confusing, but how quickly it was silenced when we returned to the roaring grey of our dull city lives.
It would be a few years later, and in much different circumstances, that I would feel that way again. On a whim, born out of frustration and a touch of desperation to escape the complacency of the everyday, I jumped a plane to Prince Edward Island, where strangers housed and nourished me in exchange for labour on their organic farm. En route from a desolate convenience store bus depot to their farm in Shamrock, my heart lurched with every breathtaking scene of rolling red and green. How I remember those brisk afternoons crawling on my hands and knees through the fields of red currants, wrapped in mosquito netting, tearing out weeds, and feeling so deeply rooted and heavily besotted. I never wanted to leave.
But I did leave, and like the overwhelming aftermath of an emotionally-charged dream, the unidentifiable feeling lingered with me long after my return, an aching pit in my stomach, twisting, almost agonizing. But then, just like the boyfriend, it eventually faded away, becoming almost imperceptible, as the rest of life muddied it up and got in the way.
For years I had been sidestepping the obvious, digging for the starting threads in this yarn ball of feelings, but always getting tangled up in dead ends. It took moving to a new place that required a twenty-five minute daily commute down a rural highway for the reality of it to strike. I had wondered, uneasily, how quickly the novelty of the commute would wear off when signing the lease on the apartment so far removed from my place of work. But to my surprise it didn’t.
Each day I found myself gripped in what felt like near-heart attack breathlessness; there were moments when I felt almost dizzy, held captive in the morning by the sun rising up from behind the barns, and then again in the evening by the sun setting behind the rolling hills. There was just so much beauty, and there was just no denying it: I was in love.
It seems a bit cliché, but nothing else makes me feel this way. Nothing else grips me so fervently, so completely, than the picturesque rolling countryside, the cow-dotted pastureland, the old stone barns rising out of the green and reaching toward the acid wash sky. I’m in love with the land, with the country, with every over-romanticized and often flawed ideal.
But like a naive and lovesick teenager, I’m letting it wholly consume me, and it’s drawing me in ever deeper. The twenty-five minute commute is no longer enough. I want us to move in together. I want to wake up every morning to that vast expanse of lonely pasture, and to come home to it every night.
And now I’ve found myself drawn even more to the rustic country breads of the European paysage, to the sweet and musky smell of roughly milled wheat, the warmth of a sprinkling of bran, that ripe but earthy-sweet smell of mature sourdough. As an experiment, I made a commercially-yeasted Italian bread, and it felt like the deepest, darkest betrayal. But it also led me to the loaf that will, I’m certain, come to define me.
I’m not ready to share it yet. It’s too new and fresh and uncertain. But I can tell you it’s a take on a classic Italian country bread from Genzano. It uses a naturally yeasted biga left to ferment for 12 hours. The biga is added to the final dough, leavened by wild yeast and retarded for an additional 12 hours. It’s dusted in bran and baked until the crust is remarkably thick, crackling, and a deep rusty brown. The flavour is phenomenal. It’s everything I want. And it’s all mine.