Tuesday, April 12, 2011


"[My beanfield] was, as it were, the connecting link between wild and cultivated fields; as some states are civilized, and others half-civilized, and others savage or barbarous, so my field was, though not in a bad sense, a half-cultivated field. . . . Though I gave them no manure, and did not hoe them all once, I hoed them unusually well as far as I went, and was paid for it in the end. . . I harvested twelve bushels of beans." Henry David Thoreau, "The Beanfield," Walden (1854).

"What shall I learn of Beans and Beans of me?" Thoreau

I made the mistake early on of identifying and allying with Thoreau. High School was very unpleasant for this fact alone. Add my protruding Adam's apple and painful shyness around breasts and you have a recipe for a self-loathing recluse. Glad I beat those odds, har har har.

So, beans and cucumbers and hot peppers and sun flowers are on their way, a little late because germination should begin around February 20th. What was I doing then? Looking for a ride to Tampico. And this leads to a transplanting in May, around Mother's Day. But it's an experiment, like Thoreuavian Transcendententalism, and leads to something unlike a finish line or ultimate answer, but hopefully to a hillock above the worms where rabbits graze and chickens preen, where one can ask the right question. In other words, you'll never know how late you can begin germination without being late. Get it? So , I can check that off the list.

"I knew a man who would speak but wouldn't talk." Ah, was that man Thoreau? Where has he gone? It's gotten to the point where the Indians want to eradicate the Indians. Thoreau is honored like Harry Houdini, a person who was original and gifted but of course no one would see him as a model for living. I mean, you can't get in a box and get thrown into the river and try to get out before you drown just like you can't eschew the latest invention and obey a higher law of self sufficiency and light impact. The empathy you might have for the woodchuck in his sleepy burrow and the chicken in her wooden hut is sold by CNN to McDonalds for a plastic figurine painted with lead in China. Naw. That's not realistic. It's a dark future when the flood waters of IBM are threatening the roots of Thoreau's fragile cabin. I don't see how the two can coexist. Expanding need for electronics and the rare minerals pretty much guarantee 100% attrition of wild animal habitat. Unless the Vietnamese and Chinese are happy being seamstress slaves to trendy Americans then they will also want to step up to the buffet of unicorn hearts and arctic wolf brains. We're moving toward some kind of society of canned human beings who are maintained like batteries. Computers are already used to fight computer attacks and we don't really have artificial intelligence yet. I see that I've declared war against Apple without realizing they declared war on Thoreau thirty years ago...and will win when Thoreau's cabin door is finally outlined in the stars. I feel that the strength of my campaign is that it is exclusive: one will conquer the other but there is increasingly little evidence that Walden Pond will remain pristine while Silicone Valley returns to a lupine meadow. A kibbutz would stand a better chance in 1940 Berlin. No. Thoreau is going the way of Pan and Aphrodite. I can understand, since loving nature isn't really a natural trait; we should feel some kind of respect for it or at least empathy for those animals who live in trees and underground as we once did, but not safety or love. Everything from cholera to shingles and small pox are waiting to turn us into virus incubators. We've chosen to fight that which threatens us with everything from stem cells to toad secretions. If that leads to an unstable planet, even an uninhabitable planet, then we will solve that problem too without a thought to the past or future casualties. So, those loyal to Thoreau would do better to turn their swords into plowshares for their own bean furrows. The territory we're fighting over is already metaphysical so lay down your iron swords and defend yourselves with mental arguments. Ultimately, IBM may take Walden but the waters of the oasis in your heart need not dry up in the microchip processing plant. Use it to water the beans of your own garden while it lasts.

Green beans played an important role in some analog memories I own in black and white dreams. Mother kneeled in polyester brown corduroy skirt with two pockets in the front, probably sewed on grandma's old Singer machine, the one in the corner of the room with yarn nearby.

Mother handed fists full of green beans plucked from the garden where a woodchuck (native son of Maine and distant relative of Thoreau's Concord nemesis) lay in wait for father's .22 bullet. The beans cracked wide under my childish thumbs, liberating the seeds into a stainless steel bowl.

"Do you know where beans come from?" she asked.

I adored my mother and did all I could to please her. We had a special bond, I suspected, we shared a language unspoken. My brother and father were not on the same channel as us. We were practical and reserved and walked gently on the earth, leaving all who met us more at peace and richer. We were beautiful and smart and we could predict an upcoming conversation just by the sound of someone's feet approaching. We were that gifted! We gave the impression of humility but only because we knew it was impolite to be a showoff. We really knew we were better than everyone else.

"No," I said; though I did know and she knew I knew and I knew she knew I knew. It was this characteristic of our relationship that made it special.

She gave no hint to this secret and nor did I as a Maine summer wind thick with gnats rolled through the green maples on the border of our estate. A sound of escaping oxygen thundered through the canopy. The ghosts of February were shaken from their crooked limbs and violently sent North for reinforcements. "We'll see you in November," they cried but I wasn't paying attention...

"The garden," she said. "We grew them. Remember when we planted them in the spring? That day we had the late snow? Remember in the basement when you were home from school."

"We had the day off." I confirmed because it was a luxury one never forgets and to spend it in the basement with one's pajamas on and one's mother and a Cat Stevens 8 Track tape playing repeatedly in the background and snow piling up on the early tulip heads and the plaid sunshine streaked patches on the green shag rug where the cats lay napping were details one guards hopefully until better memories take their place, was dreamlike.

"That's right. You had the day off and we prepared the seedling tray and planted beans and what else?" Her lips never touched cosmetics, if I remember, and with one eye on the beans and one eye on her face I thought, these are my lips speaking and my mother's ears listening.

"Cucumber. And Lettuce for the rabbits. And carrots," I said with memories of the small seeds pointing downward and the image that this would one day be an orange carrot sliced on the table top for a summer salad. Future salads, preparation, dreams and corduroy

Another bean pod opened for my thumbs and the seeds fell in rich green freshness into the seed bowl. I bit the seed pod because it too was fresh but too stringy to eat. The seeds split in two in my mouth and grown from Maine compost and downeastern chicken livers these pods were portals to the history of the Northeast with bloodshed and conquests and retreats and heartbreaks of widows who loved clipper ship captains too long.

"And you planted them in the spring."

"After my birthday," I said, remembering the plastic cowboy guns I received and wore over Pooh Bear pajamas. I had turned 5, an odd number that sounds even because it is halfway to 10 and halfway to ten was an eternity that was as close as the next set of shoes and flare madras pants along with a relocation.

The garden was surrounded by silver chicken wire that the woodchuck had dug under and the ..22 rifle lay in the shed with the push lawn mower and the now dusty red plastic sled for winter snow rides.

Importantly, of his enemy woodchuck, Thoreau argued against any defense thusly, "...what right had I to oust johnswort and the rest, and break up their ancient herb garden?" I do not think my father concerned himself with the paradoxes that would become my adopted tasks and my mother's practicality was supplanted by Thoreau's intense contrarian dignity.

A strand of chestnut brown hair captured in the summer wind curled away from her seashell barrett, around my mother's ear and slipped into her mouth. She didn't wear glasses yet but she was squinting into the bowl and casually caught the hair and pulled it from the corner of her mouth.

"We planted them in the garden after the snow melted."

"After the last frost. This was an early Spring so that was in April."

These months all were identified by a holiday like my birthday (march) or Easter Egg hunts (April) my brother's birthday (May). end of school (June), Fireworks at the ball park (July) Archery Camp (August) New shoes for school (September) and so on. Age happened so slowly and irrevocably stealing that which I prayed would be stolen and so I pretended not to notice as the months and years swept away boyhood sleds and corduroy skirts. The last beans fell into the bowl and mother scooped the shells into a bowl for the compost pile. A few escaped her hands and I quickly grabbed them and helped carry them through the woodchuck friendly garden fence, past the Hav-a-heart trap, to the compost bin where their purpose was some function of the garden but more importantly my mother was doing this and I was helping and it's cause or effect ended there. A cat yawned and stretched in her summer warming spot near a rose bush. The lilac bushes in a shade of purple owned exclusively by Maine lilac bushes exuded a heavenly fragrance that was close to cosmetics as my mother ever approached.

The beans were a side dish for the hot dog casserole we had planned for the evening summer dinner. Broccoli, green beans from our garden, and hot dog casserole. A baseball game on the radio and books my father would read to me about stars and a family of talking elephants.

"Thank you, Oggy," mother said telepathically, and I grew a foot from pride and self-respect. A half mile down the hill on the corner of state road 120 another summer wind blew shadows over century old gravestones, the rusted gate rattled against the granite walls as the engraved names galloped toward oblivion.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Beautiful - as for all of us, a time of grace and special bliss, but lost to time and the pain of growing up - with luck, our childhood is as good as it gets.

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Man in the Van by Oggy Bleacher is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.