The smell of burning leaves and the taste of burned marshmallows forever mark the autumn season of my youth in Michigan. Once we’d piled all the leaves between the street and sidewalk, I forgot about the blisters on my hands from spending an entire Saturday raking the leaves into piles. The anticipation of jumping into the piles took away the pain of the wooden handle against the tenderness of my soft young hands.
During those early years of burning leaves, I perfected the art of roasting the perfect marshmallow. Now that burning leaves is no longer a safe or healthy option, [see my post on this topic], I rely on my memory to reflect on my marshmallow culinary arts.
Patience is the key to lightly browning the outside to create a crust while allowing the insides to melt gently. When it comes time to place the marshmallow on the chocolate resting on a graham cracker, the gooey innards of the marshmallow melts the chocolate and creates one of the best desserts known to man, woman, and child. S’mores are well-named because that’s exactly what we mumble as we eat the first one. “I want s’more,” we say as we scrape goo from our chin, mouth, and hands.
Then the process begins all over again: finding the hottest coals – not the flame of the fire – and slowly turning the marshmallow until it’s a golden brown. All the while, observing and waiting.
Creating the perfect roasted marshmallow requires qualities beyond putting a white blob on a stick; it requires patience rather than instant gratification. Whenever I’ve tried to roast it any faster, I’ve ended up with a burned marshmallow with raw insides. Same thing happens in real life and the ensuing mess isn’t pretty. Savoring the anticipation of jumping in the leaves or devouring my favorite dessert makes the wait worthwhile.
The next lesson from my marshmallow musings requires staying out of the flame. Living constantly in the middle of chaos and cacophony creates a life of excitement for sure, but the heat burns fast and harsh, leaving little behind but ashes. Staying away from the center of the flame still creates plenty of heat without all the drama.
Observing and remaining focused on the immediate has always been a challenge for me. But again, the marshmallow stands to teach me another lesson. Always wanting more, always remaining in the flame, and always pushing for center attention is as bad as eating a charred marshmallow with rake blisters on my palms, and unmelted chocolate on my S’more. Once I chose patience over pushing, heat instead of fire, and observing rather than starring in every scene, life became easier and simpler.
Many think of spring as the time of new beginnings, but for me it is always autumn that brings renewal. It’s the time of storing and savoring the fruits of the harvest after a long hot summer. And while I no longer burn my leaves from the yard, I still savor the marshmallow, a food to provide us with a cushion as we face the vagaries of life.