Making Tea & Cookies

I swore after college that I’d never take another writing class as long as I lived… Some promises, perhaps, are better off broken. We’ll see… 

This past Tuesday evening I found myself willingly sitting amid a classroom of writers in a YMCA Literary Arts, creative non-fiction class. Listening as my classmates read their work, it struck me how we all use the same words to form such distinct impressions.

Below is my first assignment. Its’ message is simply this: We all start out with the same raw ingredients in life, be they words, concepts, or even tangible goods, to some degree. How we choose to combine them, and what we create from them, is the ultimate form of individual expression, that when woven together, forms the fabric of our lives. Here’s a short story I hope encapsulates this concept:

Making Tea & Cookies 

       Emre set aside his blanket-pack at sunrise with a carved wooden spindle in one hand, a bow in the other. His first night alone in the wilds of Southern Utah’s Bryce Canyon, had not gone as planned. But despite being cold and exhausted from the midnight rain, Emre was determined to have a hot meal.

Prior to unpacking his fire-starting kit, Emre unloaded his handkerchief of rations: a quarter cup of oats; half a cup of peanuts mixed with raisins; and one small precarious looking pouch of baking powder, originally supplied, for the purpose of brushing his teeth. He stared at the ingredients for only a moment and decided instinctively on tea and cookies. I view this as the tell tale sign of a worldly man with a sophisticated mind. He was, after all, born in Manchester, raised in Holland, stationed in Michigan, traveled in Turkey and educated in Texas. 

With no doubt of his ability or question as to how, he got his fire blazing and started on his recipe. In a steel cup with water he’d collected the night before, he crushed the peanuts, poured the oats, and added his “toothpaste” to ensure the dough would rise. He mixed the lot together using his spindle. And once the patties sat cooking on a rock in the fire, Emre would gather pine needles and dandelions to flavor his tea.

Eight of us had set out alone that night to begin the solo portion of our week-long survival school mission. Each was provided with the same raw ingredients. Some of us who could not get our fires lit, ate raw dry oats. Others had consumed their rations days before and left themselves with nothing at all. Most of us went hungry. I think I nearly starved.

Emre made tea & cookies.

Emre shared this experience mater-of-factly with the unit once reconvened at our appointed destination. He had, on several occasions, expressed his fascination and passion for cooking. When I asked him what he liked most about it, he said it was the process of transformation. He liked the idea and the sense of possibilities it instilled – that one could take such raw materials, so commonly available, and combine them in a way that had never been done before… to produce something that is, effectively, “more than the sum of its parts.”

Recall all the resources that you have right now; ideas, abilities, skills and beyond. Visualize them in front of you and just imagine the possibilities. Now ponder this question: If you had no limits, what would you create? What story would you tell? – I believe we all actually have this choice whether we’re used to exercising it regularly or not.

Whether on a battle field, a writing rant, in cooking class or life – we all start out with raw materials. They may not all be the same exact ingredients, but with some resourcefulness, confidence, and sheer determination, we all have the power to forge from them what we want. That is our gift, and that is our task.

Nature itself is raw and unfinished. And it is man’s given task to evolve things to a higher level.  – Paracelsus – Swiss German physician, founder of toxicology, and grandfather of modern medicine

*Special thanks to Emre Demirors and his sister, Meltem, for being awesome survival school companions and people, and for inspiring this post. 


  1. Marian says:

    I love this!

  2. Riz says:

    Damn, I really need to go out on one of these survival school adventures. Do you know if they do this on the east coast anywhere?

    1. Ben says:

      Unfortunately not. You really need to go out west for these types of expeditions. The one I did was BOSS (Bolder Outdoor Survival School). Another primitive skills based field course I heard was good in Montana is called, “The Knife”

  3. Steve says:

    Never stop learning Ben!

  4. […] – Making Tea & Cookies in the Wild – An example of first principles thinking in action […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *