Scarlet Empire Bean Update

Pearl Buck — one of the three Scarlet Emperor Beans in my garden who survived the spring frost — has lived up to her name. I guess most people who’ve heard of Pearl Buck know The Good Earth but maybe not that she adopted a lot of children or that there’s an organization even now in her name, Pearl S. Buck. She adopted seven children and fostered many, many more. It seems only right that Pearl Buck, the Scarlet Emperor Bean, has more flowers on it than I’ve seen on a bean in my four years of growing them. Pearl Buck was also a very prolific writer. So, not only did Pearl Buck, the Scarlet Emperor Bean, make it through two frosts, but she’s living up to her name in other ways.



I wasn’t self-motivated to learn about Pearl Buck. My thesis advisor, Dr. Richardson, said, when I got home from China, “Why don’t you write a book about Pearl Buck?” It was a good idea. I’ve always been interested in popular literature as opposed to the arty-farty stuff (some of which I like, too). Before I started the project, I hadn’t even read The Good Earth. And Pearl Buck had — this is my assessment based on reading most of what she wrote — never loved anything as much as she loved China. I started reading and writing and, in my old trunk, is a manuscript discussing Pearl S. Buck as part of the Chinese literary tradition. There’s a good case for that, but, really, who cares? It was the first book I ever attempted and most of the time I had no idea what I was doing.

Other people have since written “that” book.

I did have a fancy typewriter that would delete whole sentences if I told it to as well as making corrections. It had a little micro-processor, I think. About two years into that project, when I was living in San Diego near Balboa Park, some guys moved into the apartment above ours (me and the good-X) He was (as was the Good X) a computer guy and he had a Macintosh. “You want to borrow it while I’m in Japan?” he asked one day. “It’ll make your work a lot easier.”

I was hooked.

Still, there was no Internet. Old time research was a lot more colorful and less a matter of finding answers. I did my research in the library at San Diego State and at the public library in San Diego where I found everything I wanted in 3-D form, actual old Asia magazines. I had a nice little file box to carry my 3 x 5 cards on which I wrote notes and quotations. It was a serene way to do research with elements of discovery that no longer exist. It’s really NOT the same to “Google” something as it was to sit at a long library table in the late afternoon with a stack of old magazines from WW II. And, then, too, there’s this.

Pearl Buck’s Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech which I stole from the San Diego Public Library. No one ever said anything about it…



It was from these magazines I learned about WW II, beyond what I was taught in school or the fragmentary stories of my dad and uncles. I learned that the Japanese attempted to conquer China (never learned that in school) and then, in great detail, of the Rape of Nanjing. The magazine was Asia Magazine and its main push was to involve the United States in helping China eject the Japanese. It wasn’t successful, but Pearl Buck and her husband were the owners/editors, and I know from reading through every issue that Pearl Buck was desperate to save the place she viewed as “her” country.

Pearl Buck grew up in China, the daughter of a Presbyterian missionary. There were few trips back to the United States, and China was home. Besides being taught at home by her mother, she had a Chinese tutor. At the time she returned to the United States, she was teaching at Nanjing University.

That she was in the United States at all was the result of a combination of things — but one was the whirlwind of the Japanese invasion of China. Two years after she left, the Japanese would occupy Nanjing in the most horrific way. Pearl Buck wrote graphically about that, an event that may have escaped the notice of most Americans who were struggling with the Great Depression. China must have seemed very far away. Pearl Buck’s impassioned plea for American intervention seems to have been not much more than singing in the wind.

I visited her house in Pennsylvania back in the 1980s. I’d read about her house and how and why it was designed in a certain way, notably that her desk looked out a window onto a Chinese style garden. When I went into her office and looked out the window, I saw what she had done to assuage her life-long homesickness for China. She truly saw “China” through those windows.

She sought a visa to return to China in 1972 after Nixon’s visit, but her attacks on Chairman Mao had made her persona non grata in the PRC. It wasn’t until 1992 that she was “rehabilitated” and allowed to “return”. Of course, by then she was dead, but perhaps the most important part of a writer’s life is the books, the legacy of their ideas, transcribed and shared. You can read about it here: Pearl Buck’s Return to the Good Earth.

But what did she say about writing? That had the longest-lasting effect on me.

“[writing] is a process proceeding from within. It is the heightened activity of every cell of [the writer’s] being, which sweeps not only himself, but all human life about him, in him, in his dreams, into the circle of its activity. From the product of this activity, art is deducted, but not by [the writer]. The process which creates is not the process that deduces the shapes of art. The defining of art…is a secondary not a primary process…for the novelist the only element is human life as he finds it in himself or outside himself.” Pearl S. Buck, Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech

Why I stole the book…

Time and Tide Wait for No Bean

Frost took Tu Fu early Tuesday morning even even though I had covered him (and the others). Li Bai had some damage, but not bad, Li Ho and Bai Juyi suffered nothing. Scarlet Emperor Beans ARE very susceptible to frost. I cut Tu Fu down to the original little 6 inch plant I set in the ground in June. It will go, too.

A few more beans were ready to harvest for next year.

In other climes Scarlet Emperor Beans are perennials, but not in this high valley. In other places, they’re just fodder for cows. After cutting him down yesterday, I pulled the tomatoes. A couple of days ago I cleared up a small bed and planted 16 Leper Bells — fritillaria that’s more often called “Snakes Head.” They don’t do great here, either, but…

There’s no way to escape the fury of nature, even when that “fury” is as quiet as the settling of frost on a clear September night.

Sunset
Tu Fu

Cows and sheep walk slowly down,
Each villager has shut his wicker gate.
The wind disturbs the clear, moonlit night,
These rivers and hills are not my homeland.
A spring flows from the dark cliff,
Autumn dew drips on the roots.
In the lamp light I sit, white-haired.
Why do the flowers continue to bloom?

For anyone who might be interested in the structure of a Chinese poem, here it is in Chinese with a Pin-yin transcription. (I found a great website if you like Chinese poetry… http://www.chinese-poems.com/

日暮

牛羊下来久
各己闭柴门
风月自清夜
江山非故园
石泉流暗壁
草露滴秋根
头白灯明里
何须花烬繁

rì mù

niú yáng xià lái jiǔ
gè jǐ bì chái mén
fēng yuè zì qīng yè
jiāng shān fēi gù yuán
shí quán liú àn bì
cǎo lù dī qiū gēn
tóu bái dēng míng lǐ
hé xū huā jìn fán

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/09/30/rdp-wednesday-fury/

Ripening Beans

Once I won a ham in a grocery store drawing. I was a kid and the ham wasn’t very big, but it was a prize. We ate it. Otherwise? Most of the prizes I’ve won in my life have been for running (through 9th grade) or public speaking (in high school). In my adult life? Only one. My novel, Martin of Gfenn, was shortlisted for an award by Chanticleer reviews. But to win prizes you have to compete, and I don’t like the competitive side of my personality very much.

Yesterday I was out with my beans. Li Bai, Tu Fu, Li Ho and Bai Juyi have had a GREAT summer out there, exceeding my wildest bean expectations. I’ve eaten several handfuls of their young beans and enjoyed them all — even last night. Now I’m allowing many pods to stay on the plants to ripen into beans for next year and or soup depending on how many I get. It’s strange but true that I get a peaceful easy feeling standing around my beans.

As I contemplated their beanish wonder yesterday evening, I thought of the passing season. I realized that it’s been a pretty nice summer, and I will be kind of sorry to see it go. I missed tea parties and lunches with my friends, especially Elizabeth whom I haven’t seen much. I missed visits from Lois but we had one short one. I guess I surrendered to the imperatives of this virus a while back and have mostly just forgotten about it.

When the beans are fully grown and ready, the pods turn yellow. I harvested a pod a few days ago. I brought it in and opened it to find 3 very large beautiful black and purple beans.

Yesterday I read a thing on “Brain Pickings” that resonated with me. It’s a long piece about Wendell Berry in which he gently rails against the “more” culture of consumerism. The part that struck me was this:

“In these times one contemplates it (life) with the same sense of hope with which one contemplates the sunrise or the coming of spring: the image of a man (whom Berry knew) who has labored all his life and will labor to the end, who has no wealth, who owns little, who has no hope of changing, who will never “get somewhere” or “be somebody,” and yet who is rich in pleasure, who takes pleasure in the use of his mind! Isn’t this the very antithesis of the thing that is breaking us (American humans) in pieces? Isn’t there a great rare humane strength in this — this humble possibility that all our effort and aspiration is to deny?”

I’m sorry but Li Bai, Tu Fu, Li Ho and Bai Juyi are too busy working on their beans to share any poems today. Li Ho even said “Poetry is for the young” and that almost led to a contretemps between the four of them, but they held it together and went back to beaning.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/09/02/rdp-wednesday-prize/

Not Quite Raw Hide

“That’s gross, Bear.”

“I didn’t bring it in. Teddy did. But I plan to steal it.”

Now that the ground is soft and damp after several days of rain, Bear is digging again. This is good and bad. It means the meds are relieving the pain in her shoulder AND it means there are more holes out there, but I’d rather have her dig than be crippled up and in pain. As Tabby T. Cat (RIP) used to remind Dusty T. Dog (RIP) dogs bury bones. Lacking bones to chew, Bear buries her rawhide.

When the rawhides are the RIGHT texture, either she or Teddy brings them back inside to savor, deriving the maximum enjoyment. They are slimy, covered with dirt, and if they’re the rawhide pencil type of rawhide, unwound. The big ones, the stout flat ones, don’t usually make it back inside. I don’t know why.

I think they are a great metaphor for these days. Slimy, covered with dirt and unwound.

For those of you needing a Scarlet Emperor Bean update…

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/07/27/rdp-monday-stout/

Beans and Rain

After being in a drought since December 2019, the San Luis Valley is finally getting rain and it’s glorious, even if it terrifies Bear. Teddy could not care less. We’re having bright, warm mornings and stormy afternoons.

We just had a gully washer.

The garden is thriving. The squash sex I had last week has brought a nice healthy squash into the world that I expect to eat tomorrow or Monday. Today I helped both squash plants out. They are “Sunny Delights.” Completely new to me.

Sunny Delight Squash (borrowed photo)

My Aussie pumpkin appears to be gay. It’s just sending boys into the world. That’s OK. I’m a tolerant gardener and I don’t know if there’s room for it to really get going — but if it does, I’ll help it, too.

Some of the Scarlet Emperor Beans are nearly 10 feet tall (3 meters). I spend time with them every day, I mean I literally stand in their garden and tell them how great they are, how proud I am and that I love them. Li Ho remains the shortest one. Even little Bai Ju Yi has surpassed him. OH well. Li Ho was always kind of a rebel. He might have other dreams, for all I know.

Maybe I should have had kids after all.

Clearing Rain
Tu Fu

The sky’s water has fallen, and autumn clouds are thin,
The western wind has blown ten thousand li.
This morning’s scene is good and fine,
Long rain has not harmed the land.
The row of willows begins to show green,
The pear tree on the hill has little red flowers.
hujia pipe begins to play upstairs,
One goose flies high into the sky.

Morning Gossip of the Scarlet Emperor Beans

“I think she loves us, guys.”

“I KNOW she does. She SAYS so.”

“How many people do YOU know who name their bean plants?”

“Or stand around with them and tell them they’re beautiful?”

“Do you think she might be a little demented?”

“Possibly, but it doesn’t hurt anyone. And we are pretty amazing!”

“Look at everything growing down there. I never imagined when I was living in that one spot of light inside the house that we’d would grow like this!”

“Look at YOU Li Ho. You’re still kind of short, but you’re putting out a good effort there.”

“And Baby Bai Juyi!”

“What? I was sleeping.”

“You’re really growing, in ALL directions.”

“I have to catch up. I didn’t even get my poles in until last week.”

“I worry a little about Wang Wei out in the front yard, though.”

“Not a good place for a Scarlet Emperor Bean.”

“Not really, but he does get a lot more sunshine.”

“A dog might take a piss on him, though.”

“Yikes!”

YIKES???”

“Oh look! Bees!!!!”

“Did you see her out here yesterday doing something with the squash?”

“Sex.”

WHAT???”

“Squash sex. They keep putting out female flowers and male flowers at different times. Finally little Schubert down there had a male and female together. She was making sure Schubert got pollinated. Liszt, though, he/she just doesn’t get it together.”

“Isn’t squash sex the bees’ job?”

“Bees, schmees. You never know if they’re going to make it at the right time. I saw one trying to pollinate that primrose when the flowers had already closed.”

“Stupid.”

“Right?”

“Don’t you love these hot days?”

“Fabulous. Look at the tomatoes! They’re going crazy down there!”

“Silly plants, but I guess they have their place.”

“Look sharp, guys. She ought to be out here soon with those two sycophantic creatures who are always making so much noise.”

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/07/10/rdp-friday-plant/

Garden of the Joyous Beans

My poet beans are doing well so far, at least Li Bai, Tu Fu, Li Ho and Bai Juyi are doing well. Little Wang Wei is struggling in the front yard having gotten a late start. He’s trying to grow in a far more exposed location. These beans like to be sheltered from the wind. I guess Wang Wei has been banished to the frontier as was the case with all of these poet beans at some point in their careers as public servants.

The tallest bean is Li Bai which is fitting as he was — and still is — China’s most beloved poet. The next tallest is Tu Fu, Li Bai’s life-long friend. Li Ho is pursuing an independent growth pattern between his two squash consorts. Between Li Bai and Tu Fu is Bai Juyi who started later but is rapidly catching up.

Thoughts on a Night Journey
Tu Fu

Reeds by the bank bending, stirred by the breeze,
High-masted boat advancing alone in the night,
Stars drawn low by the vastness of the plain,
The moon rushing forward in the river’s flow.

How should I look for fame to what I have written?
In age and sickness, how to continue to serve?
Wandering, drifting, what can I take for a likeness?
–A gull that wheels alone between earth and sky.

trans. Cyril Birch



Anhedonia of the Times…

As I keep reminding one of my friends, these are strange times and nobody’s normal. By “normal” I mean no one’s their normal self. I’ve now done three days of my Internet diet, and day three wasn’t very successful. I realized that the Internet is a place I go when I feel that icky combination of depressed and anxious. Boredom — I think — is often a result of depression and anxiety. I don’t mean major depression, just the depressed mood thing. I fought it, but I also accepted it. One thing I have learned from stopping other bad habits is to cut myself slack.

This one is a little different. I live in this country and I’m horrified that — in this day and age — nearly 130,000 people have died of the virus. I’m horrified that people don’t use critical thinking skills to seek out accurate information and act in harmony with it. I’m horrified that “beliefs” aren’t questioned more. I listen to our esteemed leader speak about his plans for his second term (which I pray he doesn’t get) and all he can say is talent is more important than experience and now he knows a lot of people in Washington DC. As a reader of this blog said, we go online and scroll hoping for good news. She is right.

I have seen that the real challenge right now is overcoming my preoccupation with all this stuff and because, really and truly, all I can do is wait for November. Believe me, as soon as that ballot arrives, I will carefully fill in the bubbles and follow instructions then drive it to the City Clerk in Del Norte, Colorado and stick it in the ballot box.

Meanwhile, out in the garden, which is still pretty ugly, with the deck I have yet to enjoy, things of nature are offering me a model for life by pursuing their internal imperatives unquestioningly.

All of the beans are doing magnificently. Li Bai, of course, ahead of the others as befits China’s most famous and honored poet (not bad for 1500 years!!!!) Bai Juyi is alerting me to the likelihood that he’s going to need some support soon. Tu Fu and Li Ho are pursuing slightly different directions. Rather than sending up one vining tendril and blooming early, they are reaching out in a couple of directions. The squash is a type I have never grown (or eaten) but it seems happy. A couple volunteers have emerged — the one I thought was an Aussie pumpkin turns out to be zucchini. I’ve eaten salad from my garden. The tomatoes are happy.

Aesthetically, the yard still leaves a lot to be desired, but Rome wasn’t built in a day. I made more progress this year than ever before. As the progress evolves I see what I need to do differently. Basically, I’ve decided I need to fence in this whole area, but I can’t do that now. This temporary fence works pretty OK.

This morning the first song I heard on Mohammed’s Radio was The Clash, “I’m So Bored With the USA.” I had to laugh. Here’s the song. It’s punk rock so it might not be to everyone’s taste.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/06/26/rdp-friday-enough/

A New Bean

Another Scarlet Emperor Bean has popped its head out of the soil in my little garden. I had to move him. The garden is too small for four beans and two squash as it is. The only place he could go was the front yard to keep one of the straggling pumpkins company. His first night in his new home he had to confront below freezing temperatures, but he faced it like the heroic bean he is.

When I planted him, I didn’t have a name for him. I had to do some research on Tang Dynasty poets, having exhausted my existing knowledge (not difficult). I found the perfect poem and the perfect poet. I’m going to explore more.

This bean is now known a Liu Changqing (Lou Changching more or less) and he’s a Taoist bean who was also a government official. So far I’ve only read a few poems by this (to me) new poet but they are perfect for this moment and where this bean will live, in view of the San Juan Mountains, especially my favorite, “Windy Peak.”

While Visiting the Taoist Priest Chang on the South Stream  (尋南溪常山道人隱居)[5]

一路經行處,   Walking along a little path, ;
莓苔見履痕,   I find a footprint on the moss.
白雲依靜渚,   A while cloud low on the quiet lake
春草閉閒門。   Grasses that sweeten an idle door.
過雨看松色,   A pine grown greener with the rain;
隨山到水源,   A brook that comes from a mountain source – 
溪花與禪意,   And, mingling with Truth among the flowers, 
相對亦忘言。   I have forgotten what to say.

Scarlet Emperor Bean

I know you’ve all been losing sleep wondering how Li Bai, Tu Fu and Li Ho are faring out there in the wilderness of my yard. They’re doing very well. The hot weather that makes me and Bear wonder what we’re doing here and question the entire point of life, has made the Scarlet Emperor Beans and everything else out there shoot up in plant bliss. Here they are:

To hedge my bets when I planted these esteemed beans, I stuck some seeds into the ground. One has come up. 🙂 I’ve named him Bai Juyi who was one of the most famous poets of the Tang Dynasty. He was also — as the others were, except Li Ho who was something of a renegade — a public official.

Bai Juyi is famous for the times he was governor of various Chinese cities, I think most notably Hangzhou. Anyone who has been to Hangzhou has gone primarily to enjoy the incredible beauty of West Lake. Cixi, the last empress of China, had a replica of West Lake built in Beijing for her enjoyment. It’s said of Hangzhou, “Heaven above. Earth below. Between, Hangzhou.”

Back in olden times West Lake sometimes dried up making it impossible for the farmers to grow crops. When Bai Juyi was governor, he built a causeway that successfully held the water in the lake and controlled the flow. It was not just a thing of beauty, but of utility. Of course, the causeway he built is long gone, but the one that is there now follows Bai Juyi’s plans, more or less.

West Lake, Hangzhou China

Bai Juyi’s most famous poem is a long story-poem called the “Never Ending Sorrow.” It was incredibly popular in Japan and in one of Japan’s oldest and most well known (and amazing!) novels, The Tale of Genji Bai Juyi’s poem has a central place. Japanese fashion of this era was strongly influenced by the poem as well.

On the Lake

Two monks sit,
playing chess on the mountain,
Bamboo casts a shadow on the board.
I hear the monks slam the pieces down.

Bai Juyi