This meditative personal essay by Ayla Samli is about the time-consuming, careful, yet transformative process of making rich, thick bone broth. As Samli stirs a pot of bones, she recalls growing up in North Carolina and how her grandmother tended fire, and reflects on other examples of tending, like one’s evolving language or growing and raising a child.

Tending the fire meant keeping it going, and this was Nannie’s work. It required lighting the paper or pine straw, feeding wood to the stove, prodding the coals, and helping the fire to glow slowly. I recently asked my older sister what else one tended to. She suggested babies, crops, farm animals, and food. One tends to a garden by tilling and watering the soil; to farm animals by watering and milking them; to meat in the oven by basting or dressing it; and to babies by keeping them safe, happy and alive. In my grandmother’s North Carolina dialect, tending connoted a kind of essential, time-consuming care. Tending has a thickness to it—it entails attention, time, and something like sacrifice.

Cheri Lucas Rowlands

Cheri has been an editor at Longreads since 2014. She's currently based in the San Francisco Bay Area.