Friday, August 24, 2012


My sister and brother-in-law live in the country and have enjoyed a succession of dogs through the years. Old age took a few and the busy county road took more. Their property is separated from this road and its traffic by a deep stand of pine trees with a few deciduous supplying autumn color.

One of our first trips to visit them coincided with a Doberman occupant who smiled fearsomely and pranced up to our car with a cheerful welcome that felt decidedly threatening. We lived with a 200 pound St. Bernard but took no chances with the Doberman at our first meeting. (There are those of you who will suggest this post is going to the dogs.)

My brother-in-law would have been happier if Sandy had a mean tooth in her mouth. We witnessed her docile personality at dusk. Viewed through the family room window, the dog peacefully lay under a tree watching a doe and two fawns meander through my sister’s garden. The deer and dog raised their heads, recognized each other’s presence. Confident of no challenge the deer lowered her mouth and enjoyed her meal.

Henry David Thoreau wrote in Walden, Chapter Seven The Bean-Field, about his garden. “What shall I learn of beans or beans of me? I cherish them, I hoe them, early and late I have an eye to them; and this is my day’s work. My auxiliaries are the dews and rains which water this dry soil…. My enemies are worms, cool days, and most of all woodchucks. The last have nibbled for me a quarter of an acre clean. But what right had I to oust Johnswort, blackberries, cinquefoil and the like, and break up their ancient herb garden?” 

A few pages later he writes tongue firmly in cheek, “Why concern ourselves so much about our beans for seed, and not be concerned at all about a new generation of men?  Here comes such a subtile and ineffable quality, for instance, as truth or justice, though the slightest amount or new variety of it, along the road. Our ambassadors should be instructed to send home such seeds as these, and Congress help to distribute them over all the land. We should never cheat and insult and banish one another by our meanness, if there were present the kernel of worth and friendliness.”

Thoreau’s preferred philosophy seems to be plant a larger garden and be prepared for honest work and to share both the bounty and ourselves. Sandy had it right. Hospitality first and then we eat.

At Adagio we don’t grow beans or even green tomatoes. Our garden is privileged to grow people who have grown me by demanding patience, thought and grace.

Internet articles on Henry David Thoreau brought me the delightful poetry of Amy Belding Brown, specifically More Thoughts on Beans. She gives me permission to share it with you.

When he mentioned that he was resolved to know beans,
Henry knew it would get a good laugh,
for one thing New Englanders do with their speech
is to sort out the wheat from the chaff.
And so, as he tended bean plants by the pond,
and studied their habits and style,
it never occurred to his dexterous mind
that folks might not notice his smile.
If, when reading Thoreau, you encounter a phrase
that tempts you to find hairs to split,
just remember what Henry himself knew so well:
great philosophy favors great wit.

You can read more at her website and blog, Sifted Light.
Her book, Emerson’s Wife, is available at

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