Bean Counting

As June edged into July, the summer increasingly seemed marked by “that sort” of day – disjointed, frustrating, compelling, anxiety-ridden, tiring and tiresome days.

There was plenty of heat in Houston and elsewhere being measured with thermometers. There was even more heat rising around the country that didn’t seem to fit into any known scale – heated words, over-heated emotions, simmering anger and pot-boiling rhetoric. While terrible thunderstorms – even an uncommonly strong derecho – raged across the Eastern Seaboard, there was enough political and social sturm und drang to make even the most avid Wagnerian happy.

More than once, while contemplating apocalyptic imagery from the Colorado wildfires and apocalyptic language from political commentators of every persuasion, I found myself thinking of a favorite poem written by Kay Ryan. Poet Laureate of the United States from 2008 to 2010, Ms. Ryan represented the U.S. at Poetry Parnassus, a festival held at Southbank Centre as part of London’s Cultural Olympiad.

Deeply personal yet not confessional, notable for its minimal use of the first-person singular in a society devoted to the great god “I”, Ryan’s poetry can be a tonic, a cure for what ails us. Take, for example, her spare and simple Making The Best of It.

However carved up
or pared down we get,
we keep on making
the best of it as though
it doesn’t matter that
our acre’s down to
a square foot. As
though our garden
could be one bean
and we’d rejoice if
it flourishes, as
though one bean
could nourish us.

I’ve always read the poem as a paean both to hope and to determined independence.  Ryan seems to suggest that the “as thoughs” of life can be as important as the garden and its crop. Certainly across this country and around the world, people continue to live as though it doesn’t matter that their acreage is decreasing or that the heat of anger and the drying up of civility and compassion – worse by far than any effects of nature – are diminishing their harvest. In short, they have chosen to live as though celebrating beans is more important than counting beans, as though the flourishing of even the smallest bit of reality will outshine the tempting glitter of fantasy.

No one hopes for the carvings-up and parings-down of life. But when they come, as they do to us all, it’s worth considering what Ryan implies: that even a square foot of land allows for taking a stand, that one flourishing bean may nourish more than we can imagine.

And after all – if “making the best of it” seems simplistic or silly, a sign of resignation or an acknowledgement of defeat, what possible pleasure could lie in its opposite? Would any of us really wish to “make the worst of it”?

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Published in: on July 7, 2012 at 7:39 pm  Comments (75)  
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  1. Wow. Love it. Standing O. Thank you for this invigorating view of the value in taking a stand with even a square foot of land. I was tempted to see the poem from the standpoint of frustration over how things appear to be, but your insistence on choosing the better view encouraged me to as well. And I thank you.

    Beautifully written.

    • Teresa Evangeline,

      I vividly remember trying to make a chocolate layer cake while still in grade school. Something went wrong and the layers fell. Without even a hesitation my mother said, “We’ll make the best of it”. And we did – with the help of whipped cream to fill in the valleys!

      “Making do”, “making the best of it”, “getting by” – those expressions never have made me think of deprivation or teeth-gritting endurance. They’re much more evocative of persistence and creativity. I suppose that tells me as much about my parents and extended family as anything else.

      I love your use of “invigorating”. That’s exactly how this poem makes me feel – invigorated and renewed. Thanks for coming by, and for your kind comment.

      Linda

  2. Linda; Such a wonderful theme! We have such power over our lives to be happy or unhappy, depending on whether we chose to make the best of it or the worst of it. Yes, times can get really tough sometimes, but if one looks hard enough, there are plenty of good and beautiful things still, to take heart in.

    Like the old saying goes (to paraphrase): “The secret to happiness is to be content with what one has.”

    Thanks for reminding us to appreciate life’s gifts, whatever they may be.

    ~ Beth

    • Beth,

      We do have that power of choice. Luther made the point rather more colorfully when he said, “We can’t keep the birds from flying around our head, but we can prevent them from building a nest in our hair”. There’s a lot “flying around” these days that I’d prefer to keep from nesting anywhere in my neighborhood.

      I used to think those sayings about being content with what we have were prescriptions for apathy or disengagement, for just sitting around saying “ain’t it awful?” Slowly, I began to understand that unhappiness – the presence of negative emotions like envy, anger, resentment – sap the energy necessary for creativity or change.

      I still remember the days when perfectly loving people – like my mother and a few friends – would say, “Why in the world do you keep up with that blog business? You only get about ten visitors a day…” Sure enough, I would say. And everyone of them counts.

      Linda

      • Linda; I love the quote about not letting the birds nest in our hair- how true! (Although sometimes my hair looks like a bird’s nest without any help from the birds!) I know how hard it can be to keep a positive frame of mind when it feels as though the walls are crashing in on you, but making yourself focus on the good sure can ease the grief. There have been plenty of times when I scolded myself; “You’re not going to think like that any more!” There’s too much good life out there to waste time on the bad parts- and beyond dealing with them constructively, they’re not worth one more second of my time.

        Again, and as always, I love reading your blogs- they’re always thought-provoking and artfully composed. Thank you. :-)

        • There’s no question that thoughts can take on a life of their own, and we can end up responding to our thoughts rather than reality. Mom was bad about that. She’d think of all the bad things that could happen to me, and pretty soon she’d be panic-stricken, even though I was home doing the laundry.

          It’s the same with life in general. Tell ourselves “there’s nothing I can do” long enough, and we won’t do anything. I’m not a mind-over-matter sort, but I’ll surely go along with mind-affects-matter, and I try to – uh – keep that lesson in mind!

  3. Though the bean crop is not large this year, it is certainly easier to count.

    • montucky,

      And there’s this – when the crop is smaller, there’s much less waste. We know what we have, and cherish it.

      Linda

  4. Great post Linda! One bean and one jar of jam. I’ll never forget your friend who shared her only jar of jam with you (all she got from last year’s paltry fruit crop in Texas).

    Even though Kay Ryan served two terms as our Poet Laureate, I don’t know her. I look forward to reading her poems. Her simple spare use of words in this poem reminds me of the Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska poetry.

    When I read this quote (from your link above) I thought it perfect for the post:
    ” Kay Ryan has said that her poems do not start with imagery or sound, but rather develop ‘the way an oyster does, with an aggravation’ “.

    • dearrosie,

      I’m delighted to introduce you to Kay Ryan, especially since you’ve introduced me to so many enjoyable poets – including Szymborska.
      Another of my favorites, Pattiann Rogers, deserves a post one of these days. I’ve never found her work referenced online, except when I’ve gone searching for it, but I love it dearly.

      Isn’t that line about poetry arising from aggravation a good one? I certainly can understand it. I suspect Flannery O’Connor might have, too, since your quotation reminded me so quickly of this line from O’Connor – “I suppose I divide people into two classes: the Irksome and the Non-Irksome without regard to sex. Yes, and there are the Medium Irksome and the Rare Irksome.”

      The Rare Irksome’s the one over there at the edge of the field, saying, “Hey! You know you’ve only got one bean, there, don’t you? Why don’t you leave it be and get out of that heat?”

      Linda

  5. Well, there’s counting the beans, and then there’s making the beans count. As far as “making the best of it” goes, we tend to overlook that word “making” — making involves planning, vision, imagination and effort. You can see “making the best of it” as doing without, settling for less because that’s as much as you can get, or you can see it as an exercise in creativity — an opportunity to re- imagine what you have and use it in unexpected and imaginative ways.

    • WOL,

      That’s it, exactly.

      When the doll clothes I wanted as a child were entirely too expensive to purchase, Mom went to work sewing and knitting, searching the button box, pawing through the little snips of ribbon and lace to create “originals” of equal beauty and higher quality.

      When I drove from Tyler to Nacogdoches just hours after Hurricane Ike had rolled through, the roads already had been cleared by neighbors with chainsaws and in one tiny town, the “cafe” was open – a propane stove for making coffee, along with rolls and biscuits from who knows where.

      I still love the LaQuinta in Nacogdoches for what they did during Rita. They reserved one room – not for some special person, but for all the people they couldn’t accomodate. Folks camping out in their cars and vans could use the room to shower, charge cell phones, watch tv and so on. Their gesture was completely unexpected and deeply appreciated. It certainly made “making the best of it” a lot better.

      Linda

  6. Beautifully written indeed, Linda; as well as all your writings. Even though we are in the middle of our rainy season, we are enduring a torrid summer of political heat. For most of the pundits, the glass is half empty and the mainstream citizens are believing the illusion.

    We should publish Ms. Ryan’s perspective of the world in this part of the world to let the people know that “one bean counts”. Thanks you for enlightening my day. It’s now 04:50 a.m. in this narrow strip of land called Panama.

    Before I forget, I loved your landscape picture too.

    Regards,

    Omar.-

    • Omar,

      I suspect your part of the world is much like mine – the people who understand “making the best of it” as an active, hopeful and creative process also tend to be hidden people. They may be well-known in their communities, but they tend not to capture the headlines.

      And let’s be honest about this – politicians and bureaucrats have a vested interest in “making the worst of it”. First they try to convince us the sky is falling, then they try to convince us their brand of pillars is the only one that can hold it up!

      I’m glad you enjoyed the photo. It’s one I took on my trip through the midwest last fall. It’s Illinois farmland, not far from the banks of the Mississippi River.

      Linda

  7. This part of summer seems be a time of reflection – heat, hoping for rain for another hay crop, school supplies appearing. A time of adjustment and reevaluation. (what else can you do in this heat?) A time to reinvent yourself – make plans and resolutions – so when Mother Nature lets up on the heat and chaos – you can go into action when the fall weather reenergizes you. Great post

    • phil,

      It’s easy to think of winter as a time of lying fallow, but it clearly happens at other times. When my Cape Honeysuckle stops blooming and the tomatoes stop producing, I know we’ve moved into the doldrums of summer. It’s a time to drift just a bit. Even at the marinas, the afternoons are strangely empty – no one wants to work in this heat (trust me on that!) but no one wants to play in it, either.

      It is a time to take stock – to count the beans in the jar, but also to get out the seed catalogues. After all, there will be those fall gardens to plant!

      Hope all’s well, wherever you’re “enjoying” this heat!

      Linda

  8. TIME Magazine recently released “Keeping the Dream Alive”. Jon Meacham reminds us that the phrase “The American Dream” came out of the Great Depression. Once again you have your fingers on the pulse of what many of us are thinking about – bean counting rather than bean celebrating. Thank you again for another excellent piece that highlights Kay Ryan’s optimistic perspective.

    I’ll confess it here, that I was greatly surprised that every season is a good time for planting when I observed my mother-in-law plant her fall, winter, spring, summer and late summer gardens.

    • Georgette,

      “Making the best of it”, in the best sense of those words, nurtures dreams precisely because we can see the results of our efforts in the present, without having to wait for some indeterminate future to arrive.

      Beyond that, making the best of things in the present helps us to discover we have the knowledge, skills and flat tenacity to get to a better place. Knowing when, and what, to plant certainly is part of that.

      There still are some of us around who reflexively count the number of peach halves when we open a can, knowing in an instant how many people we can feed and for how many meals. That kind of knowledge, passed on from those who lived the Great Depression, makes rumors of armageddon a little less frightening. Even those who survived and flourished didn’t make it through unscathed, but they made it through. So can we.

      Linda

  9. There is no greater optimism than the sentiment that something, anything could make an avid Wagnerian happy.

    I have a feeling this nourishment of the bean is a thought I will carry with me today. Thank you for that.

    • Hippie Cahier,

      I’m still laughing. I wondered if anyone would catch that. You never disappoint.

      I’ve been thinking about you through this hot and hotter mess, not to mention the derecho. Obviously, you’ve got electricity now – or at least some kind of connectivity. It occurs to me the dynamic of Ryan’s poem could apply to kilowatts, too. To paraphrase the old saying, there’s an infinity between some electricity and none – rather like the infinity stretching between “let’s make the best of it” and “deal with it”.

      Linda

  10. “making the best of it”…

    No better “rule” for living a life that matters…Matters to yourself and those around you.

    Just make the best of it, and it’ll make the best of you.

    Thanks for the reminder.

    • Coffeemuses,

      Isn’t that a great saying? “Just make the best of it, and it’ll make the best of you”. I’ve not heard it in a long time, but it’s true.

      It’s a way of acknowledging a truth we sometimes forget – the decisions we make affect other people, but they shape us, too. I suppose that’s why we talk about “building” character. How we turn out happens one decision at a time.

      Speaking of good decisions – the figs I bought at Froberg’s yesterday definitely were on the good side of the ledger!

      Linda

      • Have you tried their yellow tomatoes? That has been one of my “best” discoveries of this summer.

        • I just did, and they are great. Never mind the bacon and lettuce. I’m happy with good toasted bread, mayo and tomato. It’s the essence of summer.

  11. How apposite the quoted lines are for someone who spends time in nature. Over the dozen years that I’ve been photographing native species in and around Austin, I’ve seen development reduce parcel after parcel of land in size or often destroy it altogether. From my perspective, that’s an example of making the worst of it.

    • Steve,

      People who’ve had your experience of watching the land literally shrink and disappear beneath your feet are going to experience Ryan’s poem more literally.

      Some, like you, are sharply aware of the consequences of urban development run amok. Some, like my friend Wendy in Lousiana, have watched forces including oil exploration eat away at the coastal wetlands. In Appalachia, they move mountaintops to get at the coal, and the environment dies. There’s no use debating which is worst. They’re all bad.

      Thinking of it this way, I’m reminded of a corollary to all these folksy sayings: another commonplace about “making the best of a bad situation”. There’s Nash Prairie, after all, and the Ghirardi Oak, the The High Line and the urban forestry movement. We can’t unbuild the freeways and unpave the roads, but it seems to me increasing numbers of people are seeking to slow if not stop the thoughtless destruction of the land. So I hope.

      Linda

      • Earlier today, in a comment on Susan Scheid’s blog, I mentioned that a few days ago Eve and I walked the High Line from around 32nd St. to around 12th St. Near the end of that trajectory I noticed that the gardeners had planted some Hibiscus moscheutos, which is native on parts of the Texas coast (and other places).

        • I knew those did well in our winter, but I didn’t realize they were quite “that” cold-tolerant! They’re beautiful – nice to think of them in New York, too.

  12. One can live in hope only to die in despair, which seems to me the majoritarian thing to do. One might wonder why. Our cultural malaise surely encrusts some tumor needing excision. Your attitude seems on the right side of the Christian ideal; the Lord helps those who help themselves; don’t hide your light under a bushel. That infinity between “let’s make the best of it” and “deal with it” seems nothing, with the right attitude. Its not the best way being self reliant, a rugged individualist, to use it up, wear it out, make it do, its the only way.

    • John,

      Interesting perspective. While I might be willing to allow for a “gap” between “let’s make the best of it” and “deal with it”, rather than an infinity, the difference still seems real. It is, after all, the difference between “let us make the best of it” and “you deal with it”. Joining with others to solve problems always has seemed more effective to me.

      Linda

      • Agreed, Linda. “Let it be”, “you deal with it”, isn’t that an abdication of self responsibility? Its a root cause of our being governed by plutocrats, statists, and tyrants who torment us for our own good. One has to ask exactly why we don’t “join with others” to affect decent self governance.

  13. I appreciate montucky’s response — certainly making the best of things. Those parings-down, though, they can be wearing.

    • nikkipolani,

      Wearing, indeed. I think of roomie’s dear mother, with her broken jaw and the impending surgery. That’s “paring down” in rather an extreme form, and I only can imagine how it’s changed everyone’s life.

      Still, I see those bottles and jars lined up on your kitchen counter: cauliflower curry, Thai peanut, baked potato. You’re helping her experience this as a temporary set back, as though the six weeks is not only to be endured but to be lived.

      Perhaps you could devise a Cream of Bean for us!

      Linda

      • Hmmm, cream of bean, huh? I’m personally not a fan of beans (gasp!), but roomie’s mom is. I’m thinking of trying a black bean with corn and tomatoes and maybe carrots with some corn tortillas. Perhaps blended up, it will be reminiscent of a tortilla soup she likes especially.

        • Don’t forget the cilantro!

  14. I often do not comment here, for I feel I never have enough words to describe how it inspires, rejoices, excites me…How sometimes I shed a tear, and often find myself thinking about Varnish John, the Derelict Boats, or the “carvings-up and parings-down of life” days later.

    Thank you, Linda – for all the joys and sorrows – not “either/or” but “both/and”.

    Red

    • Red,

      Interesting that you mention Varnish John. I thought of him a good bit while I was writing this, particularly his advice that helped to sustain me after Allison, Rita and Ike: “After the big ‘un, you start where you can start, and do what you can do.”

      And you make me smile with that mention of one of my basic life choices. There’s a time for “either/or”, no question about that. But most of the time, “both/and” serves me better, and gratitude for what is surely can co-exist with an abiding hunger to improve one’s lot, to move beyond the limits of the current day.

      I’ve just never experienced “making the best of it” as an invitation to apathy or servitude. I suppose that’s why I respond to this video so strongly. Thanks for reminding me of it, too – and thanks especially for your kind words.

      Linda

  15. First of all, I love your commenters. I really must go and visit their blogs, should there be any.

    Linda, I would so love to agree with you and the poet (who is new to me and another item on my ‘must-go-to’ agenda. Of course it’s good sense to make the most/best of ‘it’ but it also smacks of

    a) counting ones blessings, and
    b) ‘putting up with things as they are’.

    Neither maxim appeals to me.

    The ‘we can’t do anything about it anyway’ school of thought, which prevails in the UK, sits back and complains bitterly but ends up leaving things as they are.

    Counting beans and acreage is an abomination, it’s what those who rule over us do best. Making do with a bean and a foot of space is all that’s left for some; should they really be quiet and maybe even grateful?

    Even now, towards the end of my active life, I feel personally affronted that the rich get richer while the poor get less and less.

    Heigh-ho.

    • friko,

      I love the conversations that start here, and the different perspectives that people bring.There’s a sense in which blog entries are like Rorschach tests – everyone sees them a little differently.

      The same’s true of poetry, of course. What we bring to a poem at least partly determines what we take away. I can read Ryan’s poem with a focus on the acre and the single bean and experience it as a quite sharp social critique. I understand that perspective, but it’s not my natural inclination.

      On the other hand, I’m completely with you when it comes to that business of putting up with things as they are. I’m not very patient with whiners and those who affect helplessness as a cover for laziness. Counting beans and blessings is one thing – finding ways to multiply them quite another.

      I will confess my own reading of the poem probably has been influenced by a different kind of carving up and paring down. Yesterday marked a year since my mother’s death, and while active, painful grieving lies in the past, there’s no question the slow disappearance of family has affected me. When my aunt leaves us, there will be only a tiny clutch of cousins, far from the large, boisterous family that once was. So, there are choices to be made. Will it be withdrawal and bitterness over loss? I’ve certainly seen that. Or, will it be a reaching out for a different kind of connection? That’s possible, too.

      I suppose what I said to Red, above, also applies here. I’ve never been a fan of either apathy or servitude. If life reduces me to one acre or one bean, I’ll cope. If someone tries to take my life and impose only one acre or one bean – that’s rather different.

      Heigh-ho, indeed!

      Linda

  16. What I love about this post and the poem you quote is that all I have to think of now is ‘bean’ and I will immediately feel invigorated thanks to you Linda! Julie

    • Julie,

      Anything I can do to help keep you invigorated is fine by me. There’s plenty enough in the course of normal days to sap our energies, and you’ve had a double triple quadruple dose.

      So on we go, with Bubble and Tapper and Tina Turner flapping along behind. We may not know where we’ll end up, but it’s surely one heck of a parade!

      Linda

  17. You’ve touched on what bothers me most about the times in which we live, the loss of civility and compassion. Cooperation is another lost soul. One of Dad’s friends used to tell me stories of when they were young, and how people depended on one another and shared with each other when times were difficult, and times were difficult for a long time. They literally survived because of their compassion and cooperation with each other.

    You don’t see that so much anymore. It’s me, me, me. I always hope that my perspective is skewed due to age or a pessimistic nature, and maybe things are not as bad as I think.

    • Bella Rum,

      Now you’ve got me laughing, remembering that old joke. “Cheer up!” they said. “Things could be worse.” “So I cheered up, and sure enough, they got worse.” (How is that AC, by the way?)

      I mentioned our July 4th activities – the trip to the park for the community celebration. After we’d eaten our hot dogs, compared notes on the politicians circulating through the crowd and enjoyed about an hour of the music, we decided to leave. On the way back to the car, a friend said, “You know what I noticed? For the twenty minutes we were standing in the food line, every single person who cut through said, ‘Excuse me’. Even the children.” And she was right. The fact that such a small thing seemed worthy of remark says a good bit about our society.

      My paternal grandparents belonged to what was called a “Mutual Aid Society”. I still have the receipts for some of their contributions. The receipts I have show a contribution of $1.25 each week.

      They lived in a small Iowa town where the coal mine was the primary employer. There was no social security, food stamps or medicare. If someone was injured in the mine, there were some small payments from the company, but when a family needed help with illness, burial costs and so on, the Mutual Aid Society helped to provide what was needed.

      Beyond that, neighbors helped neighbors, and family helped family. My own mother often walked home with a sister, carrying a bucket of milk they’d been given.

      That habit of helping others lived on in my folks, and helped to shape me. It’s one reason (despite my occasional grumping) I was determined to care for Mom at home as long as possible. It’s just what families do.

      Linda

  18. Linda,

    It’s funny how being an optimist gets a bad rap sometimes, like somehow this type of person–for looking at the positives in any given situation–is not in touch with reality. I’ve always felt that what we focus on has a huge impact on the tenor of our lives, so yes, celebrate each bean, celebrate what we have, what’s in each of us that’s worth loving, all the good that is in this one hot day.

    Thanks for this.

    • Emily,

      I do think there’s a kind of false optimism that people find distasteful or wearisome. And poor Pollyanna – I don’t think she’d do so well today!

      But true optimism, grounded in reality and experience, can strengthen and sustain. It’s not so different from hope, after all. I suspect that’s one reason so many of the older people I know become more, not less, optimistic and hopeful as they age. They’ve had enough experience to know there’s at least a chance that “this, too, shall pass”.

      And you’re right about the importance of focus. Flannery O’Connor puts it rather nicely, saying that a wise author is “careful of what he reads, for that is what he will write. He is careful of what he learns, for that is what he will know.” The only thing I’d add is that we should be careful whose voices we listen to,because those voices will influence our own.

      It’s certainly good to hear your voice again. Welcome home!

      Linda

  19. Of course we would never intentionally make the worst of it, but sometimes it seems, in government and politics, that a well-intentioned vote counts for nothing and we become the victims of the worst of it. Things have, as you point out, heated up across this country the past couple of weeks from more than just record-breaking summer temperatures. But words like yours might help cooler heads to prevail, and then the rains of patience and hope can wash away the worst of it all and give us hope to make the best of it. BW

    • Bayou Woman,

      Your words sound so much like the good Mr. Dickens': “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity…” Except he was telling the tale of two cities, and you’ve been living the tale of one ecosystem.

      You surely have been a victim of the worst of it from nature and politics, but when I think about the work of groups like Bayou Grace and the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, I can’t help but be hopeful. The virtues Bella Rum mentioned above – cooperation, compassion and civility – are obvious down on the bayous. Progress has been uneven and occasionally frustrating, but there is progress.

      What’s wonderful is that the power of individuals to facilitate change has been obvious. Catch people’s attention with “Swamp People’s” alligator hunting, a good recipe for fig jam or the chance for a nice cruise across Lake De Cade, and before you know it, the education can begin. You sly woman, you!

      Linda

  20. Well expressed, Linda, and I haven’t thought of it that way in the analogy, perhaps, of half-empty or half-full in that of a bean.

    Indeed and yes to this you had said: “…it’s worth considering what Ryan implies: that even a square foot of land allows for taking a stand, that one flourishing bean may nourish more than we can imagine.”

    Truly enjoyed this post, and my, you do have a way weaving the words in a rich tapestry.

    • Anna,

      Well, after all – it only takes about a square foot or maybe a little more for a photographer to stand and do her work! (I suppose you might need an extra foot or two for that equipment bag.) And if we need to take another kind of stand, we can do that, too.

      Speaking of – that photo Preston caught of you while you were out on your Sunday shoot was marvelous.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the post. I hope conditions up there are improving, both in terms of temperatures and rainfall. I’ve been hearing that things are a little iffy, crop-wise.

      Linda

  21. Your post reminded of something Thomas Merton wrote:

    “The irreligious mind is simply the unreal mind, the zombie, abstracted mind, that does not see the things that grow in the earth and feel glad about them, but only knows prices and figures and statistics. In a world of numbers you can be irreligious, unless the numbers themselves are incarnate in astronomy and music. But, for that, they must have something to do with seasons and with harvests and with the joy of the Neolithic people who for millennia were quiet and human.”

    • Charles,

      Merton was a marvel.I was introduced to him through “The Seven Storey Mountain”. Later, I found “Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander” and began paying more attention.

      In the 70s, I found his writing both appealing and puzzling. He certainly didn’t fit the image of what I understood at the time to be a “mystic”. He seemed entirely too grounded in this world, too much attuned to the cycles and rhythms of nature. Later, I came across concepts like “incarnational theology” and things became more clear.

      I can’t help but smile – the struggle in our town over the moving of the Ghirardi Oak was very much a struggle between those who rejoiced over something growing in the earth, wishing to save it, and those who could see only the “prices…figures and statistics” associated with the project. The bean-counters, as it were. ;)

      One good Merton quotation always calls to mind another. In writing about the “point vierge” of the dawn, Merton says, “Here is an unspeakable secret: paradise is all around us and we do not understand. It is wide open. The sword is taken away, but we do not know it. We are off “one to his farm and another to his merchandise.” Lights on. Clocks ticking. Thermostats working. Stoves cooking. Electric shavers filling radios with static. “Wisdom,” cries the dawn deacon, but we do not attend.”

      Linda

  22. Linda,

    I love this post! It came at a time when one bean plant really started to take off, but Claudia was getting a little down about a couple of the others whose leaves weren’t as perky as she was hoping they would be.

    Your words, “celebrating beans is more important than counting beans” made me think of how some people find richness all around them while some feel impoverished as they continue to fatten up their fat bank accounts. As Alan Watts observed– you can’t eat money.

    Claudia

    • Claudia,

      I have a friend who gardens like this: she buys one of everything and puts it in her back yard. Then, she gets out the hose and sprays them when she thinks of it. If something thrives, she buys more. She considers wilting leaves the plant’s way of saying, “Don’t drag any of my relatives into this.” Such a system.

      Your comment about celebrating and counting put me in mind of “The Poor Little Rich Girl”, a cautionary tale that was repeated to me during my own childhood. Here’s the synopsis of the 1917 film that starred Mary Pickford: “The film tells the story of a rich girl whose parents ignore her and whose servants push her around, until tragedy brings them to realize the error of their ways.”

      There you have it. I think Alan Watts would approve. And just so you know – the film was shot in Fort Lee, New Jersey!

      Linda

  23. Wherever did you find that splendid poem? It is simply perfect — and yes, she could have been writing about the impact of drought in Texas or lack of water in Michigan. Our fruit crop is weak and today on the radio they were saying the corn will be as well. The two things I love most will be priced out of the market!

    The celebrating beans thing made me smile. Rick has his first garden — the spinach was good, the tomatoes slow (but coming along), same with the basil, and when we pulled a carrot, it was three inches long. But his beans are coming on, and last night he called, all excited and said, “We have to do something good with the beans! We have beans!” Celebrating the bean, indeed!

    • jeanie,

      I can’t remember where or when I first found the poem, but it’s been safely tucked into what I call my “Blog Fodder” file. It’s a huge file with a few sections (music, poetry, art, etc.) but it’s most a mish-mash of things I want to save. Every now and then, I think “Gosh, that reminds me of ‘X'”, and I go grubbing around to find it. Think of it as your craft room, gone cyber-world!

      Gardening’s such a good metaphor for so much in life. We plant, tend, fuss over and hope, and eventually we gain the harvest – or not. But we learn in the process, and there’s always next year.

      Tell Rick that he and Nathaniel Hawthorne appear to share some feelings about those beans. In “Mosses from and Old Manse”, Hawthorne writes, “I used to visit and revisit it a dozen times a day, and stand in deep contemplation over my vegetable progeny with a love that nobody could share or conceive of who had never taken part in the process of creation. It was one of the most bewitching sights in the world to observe a hill of beans thrusting aside the soil…”

      Linda

  24. I’d like to think that the young girl placed her bean in the hat as her offering.

    • Rick,

      That’s one of the most wonderful videos I’ve seen of late, and I do love your interpretation. It certainly adds a layer of richness to the video.

      Nice to have you stop by. I trust all’s well in your world.

      Linda

  25. Funny, isn’t it, how difficult it is to be simple?

    • kathryningrid,

      Difficult, indeed. Of course, the Shakers understood that, in the end, simplicity is as much gift as achievement. It’s rather a wonderful perspective, and has very little to do with bean-counting.

      It’s so nice to have you stop by. You’re always welcome!

      Linda

  26. How powerful one bean can be! I’m particularly intrigued by your saying that it’s ‘personal yet not confessional’. Interesting, that comparison says a lot about the writer of the poem. And, taking Anne Lamott’s advice on writing (her book Bird by Bird), we’ll just have to voice out bean by bean. ;)

    • Arti,

      “Personal, yet not confessional” has been one of my guidelines since beginning this blog. I began making the distinction in those terms after I came across this quotation from Georgia O’Keeffe: “Where I was born and where and how I have lived is unimportant… It is what I have done with where I have been that should be of interest.”

      It’s a strange alchemy, this transformation of experience into literature – whatever the genre. I don’t think it’s a mistake that adults tend to ask, “Tell me what happened”, while children plead, “Tell me a story”. Adults are busy, after all, and increasingly take their information in quick bits and bytes. Children (if they’re lucky or blessed) have more time. They’re the ones who are willing to plant a bean of a story, and then hang around to see what happens.

      Linda

  27. I don’t comment often because your writing and your sharing is so deep and filled with such dimension that I’m almost intimidated to enter your world as if I am the bouncing, bubbly (but not bubble-gum-chewing and not blonde) blogger who follows you. I take resonance with this post because, as you know, I’m a Glass Half Full Gal. Same glass either way. It’s just the point from which you view it. ;-)

    • Glass_Half_Full_Gal,

      Shoot. One of the reasons I love visiting your blog is because you’re a down-to-earth sort (in every sense of the word!) who helps to keep me grounded with your humor and your reporting on the daily goings-on at your farm. We’ve got a few big things in common, including our dependence on weather and the need to keep going no matter what the weather does. Without optimism – that glass half full – it can get pretty grim.

      It’s really great to have you stop by. As grandma used to say, don’t be a stranger. The back door’s always open, the iced tea’s in the fridge and the glasses are over there under that dish towel. If you take your tea sweet, there’s some sugar there, too. ;)

      Linda

  28. What a beautiful combination — Kay Ryan’s poem and your pure prose. Together they serve as ample warning that all-or-nothing thinking and the expectation of perfection will almost always leave us feeling disappointed. Thank you for this much-needed reminder, Linda.

    • bronxboy,

      That gap between “what is” and “what I expected” or “what I hoped for” can be a killer. Of course, not getting to perfection is one thing. Not even reaching our quite modest goals can be just as painful.

      And you’re right about that all-or-nothing thinking. I’ve lived around that a time or two. It’s not pleasant or helpful for anyone, perhaps most especially for the one caught in its grip.

      Glad you enjoyed the poem. It really is one of my favorites.

      Linda

  29. making the most of things is what we need to do and we (humans in general) can get used to almost anything. The problem with that is that it allows deterioration of living conditions to just keep going on….

    Juliet
    The Crafty Green Poet

    • Juliet,

      I think that’s part of the wonder of this poem – that it seems to communicate two things at once. On the one hand, it’s possible to take joy in life no matter how “pared down” we become, while at the same time it’s necessary to learn how to take our stand, to defend what’s right and true.

      Perhaps because of the circumstances of my life over the most recent years, I don’t read it as having so much to do with social and economic issues as with the natural “parings-down” that life brings us, no matter what: illness, age, limited time and energy. But I certainly can see how others might read it differently.

      By the way – if you haven’t seen my post a couple of entries back, called “Follow the Muddy Dirt Road”, you’ll like it. It’s about my town’s saving of a historic oak tree, and moving it to a new site to avoid having it cut down to make way for a road. ;)

      Linda

  30. as much as i hate making the worst of it, as you put it, that’s really what builds character. i see people of all ages who have never gone through bad times or if they have, they’re pretending they didn’t. people seem to enjoy looking through their rose colored glasses and living in a fantasy world of everything is okay. of course now we have many families who have found out on a first hand basis that things are not okay and they’re either breaking under the pressure or their character is growing.

    it’s a strange world we live in. i watch documentaries of the great depression and see people who were all affected coming together. nowadays i see people so wealthy and heartless that they won’t look on the poverty and those who are living in poverty….well, i’ll step down from my soapbox before i fall off.

    thank you for sharing the poem. i wasn’t familiar with it.

    • sherri,

      When I spoke of “making the worst of it”, I really was thinking less about people in tough circumstances than of those with quite comfortable lives who still tend toward carping, griping, complaining and generally acting as though their circumstances are the worst ever experienced in human history.

      But your persective’s equally valid. And heaven knows we’re surrounded by folks who are discovering – whether they acknowledge it or not – some of the same realities that our parents’ generation knew all too well. Unfortunately, some of those rose-colored glasses are being handed out along with the benefits that support the all-is-well fantasies. In only the past two days, I’ve read about the banks beginning another round of sub-prime mortgages and GM beginning to encourage sales with sub-prime loans. This isn’t a way to build an economy or support families – but that’s my soap box, and I’ll clamber down myself.

      I don’t mind wealthy people. Were it not for people with a good bit of disposable income, I’d not have work – nor would all the others who work in their businesses. But heartless? Those are the ones who distress me, and they can be found at every income level. When I listened to my own family members tell their stories of the Great Depression, what always came through was the help that families and community members gave to one another. Now it seems we’ve moved into a “I’m gonna get mine” sort of culture. Whether we can move out is yet to be determined.

      You’re always welcome to bring your soapbox along. And I’m glad you like Kay Ryan’s poem.

      Linda

  31. I missed this post Linda. You have reminded me of something I had forgotten… And inspired my next post. Thank you!
    ~Lynda

    • You’re welcome, Lynda ~ I’ll look forward to it!

  32. Not counting words or beans or chickens that walk whichever way they wish has come as a nice break this Sunday morning. I marvel at your ability to tell a story and your consistency, too.

    Of course, I have for years. Three or four, though I no longer recall the count. But I do remember the first time I saw your blog, as it was flying by the screen on some sliding show website and then afterwards, the time it took to hunt it down, without benefit of having your blog’s full name. I could only recount scanning a few words about growing roses in Houston after a hurricane. But it was enough. That bite of words in a search engine was enough to find you again.

    Your chicken post reminded me of all of that as well as last autumn’s desire to read words of O’Connor. Maybe this autumn, I’ll reach for one of those O’Connor books languishing in my TBR basket.

    • Janell,

      It’s so nice to have you stop by. I thought about you a lot this weekend while the fires were at their worst. I haven’t checked this morning, but last night I saw many were under control and people were being allowed to go home.

      I know exactly which post that was. It was called “An Almost Silent Spring”, and it needs to get tidied up and reposted next spring. I’ve stayed aware of it because it’s my second-most-read post. The reason is my mention of Cape Honeysuckle. Every year when spring rolls around, I get a lot of visitors who’ve been searching for the plant on Google. You never know.

      Ah, consistency. I just put paper to pencil and figured it out: 239 posts since I began. That’s one every six days or so, with some variation. Sometimes there were only four days between, sometimes ten. Sometimes it’s been easy and fun, and sometimes it hasn’t – but I’m learning as I go. After all, I’ve said from the beginning that I established this blog as a place to learn how to write. I’m happy with the results, and the fact that some other people like the results enough to stop by now and then is gravy.

      As for Miss Mary Flannery, my admiration for her grows every year. It tickles me to think of you being at Iowa, too – one of the places that nurtured her. And of course I can’t let that pass without adding another favorite quotation that you may or may not know:

      “Everywhere I go I’m asked if I think the university stifles writers. My opinion is that they don’t stifle enough of them. There’s many a best-seller that could have been prevented by a good teacher.”

      Welcome home!

      Linda

  33. Linda,
    I just loved that essay and it is PERFECT for our world today. It made me think of things differently.

    Are we going to just sit back and watch our acre keep on shrinking and do nothing? Yes as long as we have even a square foot we can still take a stand. I love that quote of yours.

    Thank you for writing a timely essay to provoke thought and awareness!

    Patti

    • Patti,

      We can take a stand – and that doesn’t necessarily mean what people imagine. When I think of you taking a stand, for example, I think of your trip north to take care of your grandson, and all those trips with the kids to the butterfly garden and other places. I think about the way you “do holidays”, and the multitude of little ways you keep the family ties strong. All of those activities grow out of your values – and people who see you living your life recognize that.

      There are political and economic issues, of course, People disagree about them, which is to be expected. But just throwing rocks – verbal or otherwise – isn’t particularly helpful. Figuring out creative ways to take a stand in those areas is important, too!

      So glad to have you stop by. I hope life begins to settle down a bit for you – it seems like everyone’s world is spinning these days!

      Linda


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