There are so many words in the English language that came from other languages and other times. Every once in a while I’ll be doing something completely UN-word-related (like walking a dog) and it will hit me what a word actually MEANS. The most recent experience like this was “manger.” I was walking at the Refuge with Teddy and suddenly an extremely negligible epiphany, “Manger — manger. “Fuck,” I thought, “that’s French. But ‘Away in the trough, no crib for a bed’ wouldn’t scan. And pronouncing it in French? ‘manjay’? OK you get an internal rhyme but it sounds silly.”
So here we have “cavalier,” a word I’ve heard mostly describing a careless attitude. “I don’t like your cavalier attitude,” my mom was wont to say when I dismissed her hysterical concerns over my behavior. Cavalier? French AGAIN. A guy who rides a horse. I know there is a lot of history behind all these words, but we live on the surface of history so what difference does that make to us? None, really. Just fodder for the pensamientos of idleness.
You are all probably on tenterhooks about the situation of my Scarlet Emperor beans. Tonight is predicted to be the year’s first hard freeze.
The beans are still sending out new tendrils and I’ve harvested a bowl full of dried beans. There are still several almost-ripe pods on the plants. Wang Wei was the first to stop sending out tendrils and blossoms, and also the first to yield a ripe pod. The rest are not slowing down much in spite of the colder nights and shorter days. I’m torn between cutting them down before the frost hits or leaving them to nature. You can see snow in the forecast, too.
My friend Lois is here for a visit, and the dogs and I couldn’t be happier. Last evening we took a stroll out at the Refuge and then ate at Ninos, one of the local Mexican restaurants, the one in which I — seven years ago — tasted the green chili I had missed in California. I haven’t been out at night in about a million years so coming home to real “country dark” was kind of surprising and also informative. I learned that the batteries are dead in two of my outside motion sensor lamps.
The beans survived three freezing nights in a row with nothing but frost burn on some of the more exposed leaves. This is slightly strange because the beans are not “keeping each other warm.” At this point I think they could be doing anything.
Yesterday Lois and I were talking about the arrival of fall, like when does it really begin? This was the result of a (pretty funny) debate she was having on FB with a family member who is polemical and punctilious to a fault. As we drove out to the Refuge I said, “I know it’s fall when the cows come home.” It wasn’t just the idiom, either. At the beginning of fall the cows really DO come home from grazing in BLM lands, spending their summers in the mountains. They are excellent at keeping low-level forest growth from getting too thick or too high. Awesome sub-contractors for this task. The sheep come home, too, and some of the gates at the Refuge are open to let the hoofed animals cross from farm to pasture. South of the Refuge, a few days ago, I discovered a small herd of goats protected by a vigilant llama.
The first Chinese holiday I experienced was Mid-Autumn Festival or Moon Festival. It means a lot to me every time it rolls around. Last year I took a walk out in the fields to watch the full moon rise. I don’t know what I will do today. Something in me has changed and I find myself resisting everything that’s scripted, organized, seasonal, prescribed. Events in our world have made me skeptical of our traditions and customs, and I wonder how much of life we live by rote so that when an immense change falls into our world we are unable to respond. I don’t know. Probably a bogus theory, but part of me says, “I’m doubtful about all your traditions and rituals. We have to figure this out.”
But in all that is nature and nature — with some hiccups — is a parade of change. Here where there are four seasons, there’s a clock behind it yet…
The clock of fall arrives today/tomorrow and freezing is forecast. I’ve covered the tomatoes and had a long talk with my now 12+ foot tall beans as well as taking in the dried pods filled with next year’s beans. I also saw, to my surprise, new growth, small leaves coming out in several spots. This hasn’t happened in a while, but now I understand that with some pods ripened, my beans are ready to put out more.
All their energy has gone into this for the past six weeks:
My beans are not Chinese. They originated in the mountains of Mexico and Central America. Because “Scarlet Emperor” beans sounded so very Chinese that my first beans — four years ago? were named for Chinese emperors. After that? Chinese writers — Cao Xue Xin and Li Bai. The next year — last year — I named them all for Tang Dynasty Chinese Poets. They were a huge help during the lockdown and it was wonderful letting them “speak” through “their poetry” on my blog. As beans, they were amazing and brave, surviving an early snowstorm (with my help). This year I planted their offspring. Along with the poets, there are a couple of fiction writers. Lao She (who killed himself during the Cultural Revolution) succumbed partly to frost, down to the root in June, but recovered, to my total amazement. He was the first to produce ripe seeds for next year. Pearl Buck has been the most prolific and she was one of two beans I was able to successfully cover from spring frost in June. The rest? Li Bai, Tu Fu, Li Ho suffered some frost damage or were replaced by beans I stuck into the ground have all done well. Wang Wei went out as a 3 inch plant and was easily covered when necessary. He has all done very very well. Today he gave me three pods. There are two beans who sprouted in the garden from seeds that I haven’t named.
So, with these lovely and inspiring beings out there acting with perfect faith in the future, I wish everyone a Happy Mid-Autumn Festival. It is the festival of remembering distant friends, and since the past year and half have increased the distance between us, it could be everyone. Here is my celebratory post. I hope you enjoy it.
Quiet Night Thoughts Li Bai, Tang Dynasty (1300 years ago…)
床前明月光 疑是地上霜 举头望明月 低头思故乡
Moonlight before my bed Like frost on the ground. Lifting my head, I see the moon, Lowering my head, I miss my home.
The canals between the rows of cabbages reflect the full moon. I ride my “Wu Yang,” a locally made “Five Rams” bike. Flash, flash, flash—the moon, the dark, the moon, the dark, the moon shines from the still water. Beside me dark lorries roll, their headlights dimmed. The bicycle has the right of way. Mist sifts across the road between the white-painted trunks of eucalyptus trees. The moon in south China is not the moon anywhere else. Even poets have said so.
“Teacher, why are you smiling?”
“Because I’m here. I’m teaching and I’m in China.”
“You’re smiling because you are here? Or do you laugh at our poor English?”
I am stunned. “You speak English well.”
“No, no we don’t. We know our English is very poor.”
“No, truly, it’s very good.”
“You are being kind. Our English is poor.”
I do not yet know about the trap of Chinese humility.
“Don’t you miss your home?”
I think momentarily of the Rocky Mountains and a few friends, but no. Ever since reading Richard Halliburton’s travel adventure books from my mother’s library I have wanted to go on “the royal road to romance.” That my first road led to a Chinese university was a stroke of good luck I never could have imagined. I smile constantly and this makes my students suspicious.
“I’m happy. I love China. I love to teach.”
“How can you love China and love America?”
What is patriotism? My own country could not possibly give me THIS opportunity. I am my own world.
“I love them both.”
I look behind me at the large character poster above the chalkboard. “Noble Spirit, Proud Beauty,” it says in English.
“The Moon Festival is the festival of distant family and friends,” I am told by one of my graduate students. “The Chinese eat round things because they look like the moon. The children carry moon-shaped lanterns. We recite poetry and think of people far away. We know our relatives and friends at home are doing the same, so though we are far away from each other, we look at the same moon. You will love it.”
Outside the door to my apartment I find an ornately decorated box. Inside are mooncakes, a gift from my students. They are filled with red bean paste with a perfect round egg yolk in the center. The moon.
Just a week later I take the train to Hong Kong to meet up with two friends from Colorado, one a wealthy old man I am fond of; the other is my former boss who is traveling with him. My old friend was born in China, near Tianjin. His father was a missionary for the YMCA. His family left China during the Japanese invasion. The old man sends me out to find some cotton undershirts for him and a cane. He has just been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and walking is increasingly difficult. On my way back to the ship, I stop in a bakery and buy mooncakes. When I hand him the brightly printed shopping bag with its picture of the Moon Goddess, Chang O, his eyes glow with pleasure. “Oh my, oh, Martha! Mooncakes! I have not had these since I was a child.” Time and memory distill in his blue eyes and slide down his channeled cheeks. His hand reaches for mine.
There is no way for me to go back. Even the boy who carried my heavy trunk up three flights of stairs to my apartment is now a man in his sixties who writes me from Toronto telling me how Qi-Gong helps him with his aches and pains. I remember his stories of the Cultural Revolution when he was sent north to work in a machine shop in Luoyang. He spent ten years in mind-numbing drudgery staying up late to learn English from the Voice of America. His ancestry was mixed, his mother bourgeois, his father a poor peasant, a Party member. When the Gang of Four was overthrown, he was too old for college, so he worked as an interpreter, assistant, and spy for the Wai-Shi Ban, Foreigner’s Office, at my university. I helped him come to the U.S. to study and he got a B.A. from NYU.
“Dear Sister,” he writes in an email. “You are a better Chinese than me. I forgot Mid-Autumn Festival! Thank you for your good wishes!”
Time and space are not convergent only at the outer edge of the universe; they converge everywhere, every moment. I search the Internet looking for cheap tickets to China. I imagine going back when I retire, but with perfect certainty I know there is no way.
China is a bus on which I am riding that has stopped for no reason on Chong-Shan Wu Lu (5 Sun Yat-Sen Road) in downtown Guangzhou on a late spring afternoon. Through the window I see a public telephone. It is an old black phone on a wooden desk in front of a building. A Chinese man in glasses and a white shirt sits behind the desk taking tickets from people waiting for their turn to make a call to someone far away. In the shadows, I notice a tall, dignified, white-haired, blue-eyed, white man in a blue silk padded coat. He is leaning against a building as all the raging race of China’s modernization passes in front of him. We make eye contact for a fraction of a second before he abruptly turns and goes inside. That is China; that man, that blue coat, that furtive moment, and now it is something else.
I’ve been spending a little time with the beans. I’ve harvested four pods for seeds and am ready for next year. The beans can’t read the forecast, but they know what’s happening. The days are shortening. The nights are getting cooler. They know more about what’s happening than I do, I’m sure. It’s OK. Maybe they’re tired? I don’t think so. In the places where Scarlet Emperor beans are indigenous and the seasons are less sharply divided, they grow all year. I learned today that they like high altitudes. They are South American mountain beans.
Apparently my town recently held a “Freedom Rally” objecting to the Governor’s vaccine mandate (though it isn’t the “governor’s mandate:” it’s an emergency mandate handed down by the Colorado Board of Health) for health care workers. Signs were “Not Anti-Vaxx. Anti-Mandate” and others, the normal, I mean usual, things. The REASON the CBH made this mandate is because the voluntary stragedy didn’t work. It wasn’t the “first case scenario” it was the “worst case scenario.” Our popular but to me despicable mayor joined in. Sigh…
“At an emergency rulemaking meeting on August 30, 2021, the Board recognized that approximately 30% of the healthcare workforce in facilities under its jurisdiction remained unvaccinated for COVID-19. Using prior Board rules mandating the flu vaccine as a “baseline” for the emergency regulations, the Board found that “[w]ith the rise in the Delta variant, ensuring that all workers in licensed healthcare facilities are vaccinated is one of the most effective means the state can take to protect public health, safety, and welfare of all Coloradans . . . .” (Source)
I’ve been trying to fully understand why I’m so incredibly disaffected. This kind of thing is definitely a big factor. How is it difficult to see the concrete evidence that people who get sick might die and that this can be prevented? Why is this a question of “freedom” and “rights”? Why isn’t it a question of loving thy neighbor?
Anyway, I’m about to go out into the wider world today, to the beautiful town of Creede to see the annual quilt show. I’d better get moving. Yeah, I’ll be wearing a mask.
Got up, went to the kitchen then out the back door, and the first thing I heard was Sandhill cranes. I yelled a hearty “good morning!” and came in and made coffee, fed the dogs, made my breakfast. The BEST start to the day.
Yesterday it rained. Real rain. For hours. There are muddy dog tracks on the pads all over the carpet and I am so happy about it. Teddy and I went out to the Refuge to enjoy the humidity and comparative cool. The air was fragrant with clover, alfalfa, hay and chamisa. A guy was standing on a rock in our parking spot taking pictures. I pulled in and he smiled the biggest smile. Pretty much everyone I saw yesterday was happy. Quite a change. A great way to celebrate the arrival of September.
Last year the weather predicted freezing or below freezing temps for the second week in September. My beans were at the same place they are now — mature and gorgeous with pods near but not quite ripe. The forecast got even weirder in the ensuing days — snow. SNOW??? Yep. We got more than a foot (22 cm) and my main preoccupation (in a year of preoccupations) was saving my beans which had grown to be over 10 feet tall. I kind of succeeded and harvested seeds for the remarkable beings I’ve grown this year. This year, there is no such grim prognostication. It looks like September as usual. The beans should make it into October scot free.
Living in an agricultural area a person gets a different view of seasons than in the city, especially different from a city in Southern California. Yesterday as I drove to The Big City to pick up my groceries I watched a man turning over his hayfield. Everything had been mown and the season was over. He and his tractor slowly pulled the discs through the field, turning the bare soil to the top. Mulching. I thought he must have been glad for a cloudy, cool day to do the job and by the time the rain really came, his field would have been turned. A good thing. On the way to the Refuge I saw rolls and bales of harvested hay, ready to sell, ready for winter feed. Starlings lined up on fence wires.
My plumber’s words, “If we can’t be nice to each other, what’s the point of living?” are always present in my mind. They are pretty much the philosophy I moved here with. The past few years have challenged that, but really, should our inner motivations be shoved off course by the idiot vicissitudes of, uh, idiots? They will be, but I think it’s important to fight against that.
After my drive past the farms and fields between my town and The Big City, I arrived at City Market and called in to pick up my groceries. Soon, in the rearview mirror,I saw the young woman who very often brings out my groceries — Desiree — approaching with a cart. I’m always very happy to see her because she’s funny, kind and spontaneous. I hopped out of the car and waved. She waved, grinned, and approached more quickly. “Did you go over your substitutions?” she asked. I’ve kind of obviated that whole thing by putting on my order substitutions I’m happy with.
“I didn’t know there were any.”
“Yeah, we didn’t have that size bag of m&ms so we had to give you a bigger one.” She looked apologetic.
“How’s that bad?” I laughed.
“Oh a lot of customers would be angry.”
“Seriously. I can understand being angry at getting more broccoli but more m&m’s?” Desiree gets my humor.
We loaded up my car and I looked at her, thinking that people could actually be ANGRY at this girl (I’m not virtue signaling here…). “Desiree,” I said, “We’ve been hanging out, what, a year or so now?”
“I’m always happy to see you. You really brighten my day.”
“Oh Miss Martha me too. I love your smile and sense of humor.”
So there you go. Waiting for the beans to mature and give me beans (yum), and watching the crops growing in the field during summer which seems to last forever and ever and ever, filled with deer flies and thunder, and then, suddenly, the potatoes have been stunned (long story) before the harvest — I thought, “This life thing goes so fast and yet so slowly. Then it’s over and some machine goes through the field and digs up the root crops.”
Leaves are beginning to turn here in the back-of-beyond and, as my trusty Facebook Memories has informed me, that’s par for the course. A cold snap wandered through the Rockies night before last and powdered some higher peaks in the northern part of the state. It was cold last night and I had the first almost decent night’s sleep since I hurt my shoulder. I’m feeling tentatively, cautiously, shyly hopeful this morning — not “frothy as air” (?) but a little lighter in my heart. Even my sagacious plumber likes winter and for the same reasons I do — it’s quieter, slower, prettier. “I’ll take 20 below any day over 90 degrees,” he said as he made sure the snake went the right direction in my multi-directional sewer pipe. Long story.
It also looks like this year I might have enough fully ripened dried beans to make soup. Crazy. I have about a cup of beans from previous years and it looks like I might have enough from this year even after saving out seeds for next year. Bean soup is great but not easy to make here. Because of the altitude, the boiling point is low. I know the trick is soaking the beans overnight, but even then my neighbors have said it doesn’t always work. No idea, but I may give it a shot.
None of the beans has been passionately poetic this summer. T their focus has been on surviving a confusing spring and making beans. I respect them for this. They are their own poems as perhaps we all are. I think a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins might fit them best.
As Kingfishers Catch Fire
BY GERARD MANLEY HOPKINS
As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame; As tumbled over rim in roundy wells Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name; Each mortal thing does one thing and the same: Deals out that being indoors each one dwells; Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells, Crying Whát I dó is me: for that I came.
P.S. Bear looks a little pinky/orange in the photo because of the smoke in the air and the angle of morning light.
The Scarlet Emperor beans captured a lot of light this summer once they got going. I have four or five pods ripening now on different plants for next year.
The beans seem to have liked being somewhat crowded together. There are so many flowers that the hummingbirds are fighting over who has the right to suck the nectar.
Little Wang Wei, who’s been outside since May (covered from frost many times) is an incredibly prolific producer of beans. Tu Fu — who survived two frosts (covered) — is the tallest, so tall and heavily laden with beans that he broke his support. I went out there and saw it and said, “No way am I climbing on a ladder, Tu Fu. We’re going to have to figure out something else.” We did. It’s not perfect, but…
I think the best thing for them would be trellises, very high trellises, set permanently in the ground. It would be pretty, too. A walkway covered with Scarlet Emperor beans. I don’t know who’s going to build that. 🙂
I don’t know about you, but I feel like the persistent ambient noise from the past year is still droning on. I hoped so much it would diminish this year. I guess that was an unrealistic hope on my part. It’s like there’s persistent background static. I’m a pretty introverted person anyway, so I’m easily overstimulated. I find this exhausting. I’ve dimmed my online activity. Let Twitter throw me off. Avoid the news for the most part, but ambient reality still creeps in somehow.
A couple days ago I learned that there is a legit vaccination ID card (which we should not need because everyone who can be should have been vaccinated by now but NOOOooooooo…..) and I signed up for it on something called “My Colorado.” It really IS Colorado so the legitimacy of that isn’t a concern. But as I accomplished everything necessary to get that information where I needed it and could use it, I thought of how it was to go to the library at San Diego State and do research before computers. Then I thought of the moment that the entire card catalog had finally been computerized and the day I sat there, using the computer to look for books, writing call numbers on the little cards conveniently provided beside the computers. The one I pulled from the stack happened to be the suddenly obsolete card catalog card for Emerson’s Essays. I felt very sad.
Once upon a time, when I wanted to read a book or a magazine, I hopped on my Robin Hood 3 speed, flew down the hill to the public library in Bellevue, Nebraska, said “Hi!” to the librarian, went to the card catalog (Dewey Decimal system) and found a book, or I went up and down the aisles looking for something I might like to read. Then I checked out the book, put it in the basket on my bike and rode home.
Some people say, “Simpler times,” but no, it wasn’t simpler. It was a lot more complicated, but it was three dimensional, an experience involving a whole person. Something is missing from our? my? world and I think it’s that. With “information” so easy to find and the human mind so intrinsically lazy where are we?
I don’t know. I think I’ll go hang out with my beans for a while.
In a little while my side kicks and I will head over the mountain to experience all the wonders of the civilized world. Huh?
The beans in the featured photo — all but one — came from Pearl Buck but one from Tu Fu. If you ever doubt that nature is a clock, think about this. I ate the first beans from my plants last year on exactly the same date.
Among Pearl Buck’s achievements was the translation of one of the all time great novels written anywhere, Shui Hu Chuan or The Water Margin which she translated and titled All Men Are Brothers (she hoped…) The novel — written in the 14th century — is said to have been written by Shi Nai An, but as Pearl Buck writes in her introduction, “Like many of the Chinese novels it developed rather than was written, and to this day the final author is unknown.” About Shi Nai An, “…little is known…” It’s almost like Shakespeare, the debate about who really wrote this monumental work. Pearl Buck writes, “One Chinese scholar at least gives as authority for Lo Kuan Chung’s (author of the Three Kingdoms) the fact that Shui Hu Chuan is so evil a book that the curse was laid upon the author that for three generations his descendants were to be deaf and dumb and sine for three generations Lo Kuan Chung’s descendants were deaf and dub therefore he must be the author.”
Shui Hu Chuan was banned. Booksellers who sold it had their businesses destroyed. Moral education has always (apparently) been a “thing” in China.
But it’s an amazing story. Some people say it’s the “Chinese Robinhood,” but I only see a very superficial similarity there. There are “robbers” and they are better men than the so-called “good” guys. Chinese authors in the olden times wrote for different reasons than we usually think of authors writing. They often wrote to entertain themselves (I get that) and may have read their stories to friends for their entertainment. Since fiction was forbidden, it couldn’t really have another purpose. Shi Nai An wrote in his preface (we’ll just go along with the idea that he wrote the book):
“In this book are seventy chapters. When my friends were gone and I sat alone under the lamp, I wrote in idleness. At time when the wind blew and the rains fell and no one came then also did I write.”
These old Chinese novels don’t follow a linear structure, but tend to be episodic in nature which, personally, I like a lot. Sometimes that line Western literature seems compelled to follow seems arbitrary. I don’t see my life as having been linear, but a string of episodes, many of which really were/are pretty random. The “story” of Shui Hu Chuan is difficult to summarize but basically it’s the story of a rebellion against a corrupt government, but the rebels are a pretty sketchy bunch themselves, though extremely lovable. Song Jiang, their leader, is a true hero. Among his many gifts is the ability to write good poetry.
One of the stories in Shui Hu Chuan — the story of Wu Song who was an amazing hero and compelling character — was taken as the beginning of another long novel, Chin Ping Mei, Plum Blossom in a Golden Vase, written in the 16th century. This book was also banned, but for obscenity. Pearl Buck alludes to this book in one of her novels, Pavilion of Women.
Shui Hu Chuan is still a best seller in China. It’s been made into movies, cartoons, comic books and a video game. When I was in China, it was sold on the street in what I guess we’d call graphic novels and the little kids LOVED the stories. I do too. There are tigers, halberds, horses, mountains, cudgels, poetry, beautiful (but evil) women, cannibalism, inescapable destiny, and magic. It’s probably the perfect story. 😉
I may have emitted a guttural sound or two when I tripped and fell on the nubbin of last year’s evil lilac tentacle yesterday in the dog yard, landing on my shoulder and opening one of those road-rash things on my leg (it bled like an MF). And why? It was time to get out there and cut down the lilac suckers for once and for all this summer ( ha ha ha ). Picture Don Quixote.
Otherwise? The beans have reached an immensitude that’s troubling from the perspective (ha ha) of harvesting beans, but I’m very happy about it. This is little Wang Wei, one of the original seeds started inside. He was very slow to sprout. I pretty much gave up, but then??? He went outside in May, was covered from frost several times, never succumbed, was slow getting out of the gate when the weather warmed up — probably thinking, “What’s the point?” But now? I think he’s 12 feet tall… I will have to get out with a ladder and give him more room, I guess.
Although a few thousand years ago Wang Wei couldn’t have had me in mind, he wrote a poem I love.
A View of the Han River Wang Wei
With its three Hsiang branches it reaches Ch’u border And with nine streams touches the gateway of Ching: This river runs beyond heaven and earth, Where the color of mountains both is and is not. The dwellings of men seem floating along On ripples of the distant sky… O Hsiang-yang, how your beautiful days Make drunken my old mountain heart.
In other positive gardening news, the pumpkin sex in which I participated a few days ago has been successful and we have the beginnings of a beautiful Australian pumpkin.
After a slowish start, stuff in the garden is beginning to get its groove on, and I’m glad as were on the cusp of late July and, if last year’s weather was a prevision of things to come and not just complete random insanity, it could snow in September. Pearl Buck has sent out her first tiny bean and the others are not far behind. Tu Fu, one of the other beans to have survived spring’s two lateish frosts, is now easily winding his vine 8 or 9 feet high. I’ve put cross pieces for them to wind on, but they want to go up, not over and out.
For the last little while (a couple of weeks? longer?) I’ve observed three baby ladybugs eating aphids and whiteflies on an unwelcome lilac. I had no idea that lilacs are actually weeds that want to create a lilac forest around my house, but that’s the truth. Summer, among other annoying tasks, is the season of beating back the invasion. My first summer here, in my naïveté, I had the big hedge to the east of my yard cut back. THAT, ladies and gents, is the BEST WAY to encourage the invasion. In any case, there was this ladybug nursery. I’ve checked on them daily since I noticed them and it’s taken a surprisingly (to me) long time for them to make their transformation. Yesterday I saw that one had finished and was a full-on ladybug. “See, Martha? Change doesn’t happen overnight!” they yelled from the depths of the nature metaphor I had no way of NOT reading.