On Hoeing By Moonlight: First Green Bean Harvest
This morning, I harvested our first green beans . . . and continued my reading of the poet Cesare Pavese. Together, they arrested the gravitational pull of high-summer heat. We sometimes feel claustrophobic when the summer heat reaches its upper registers, but how much more easily we close ourselves in. How easily we fall into dejection when circumstances aren’t perfectly favorable. With the poet, we say:
Mist clogs the sunshine,
smoky dwarf houses
Hem me round everywhere;
A vague dejection
Weighs down my soul. – Matthew Arnold, Consolation.
These beans delight me. Though we tend to take them for granted, they are small wonders. There is deep satisfaction in hunting for them far down in the bushes, pinching them off with thumb and forefinger, dropping them in the basket, carrying them to the house, cooking them well, and eating them one at a time.
We can discover the magic of life in these seemingly ordinary beans. Conventional mind sets them down as of no account, but conventional mind has never found itself in the position of Pavese’s peasants, ‘hoeing by moonlight’:
Day or night they wander where they like.
They aren’t afraid of hoeing by moonlight, or making a bonfire
of weeds and brush in the dark. And that’s why the ground
is so beautifully green, and the plowed fields at dawn
are the color of sunburned faces. They harvest the grapes,
they eat and sing. They husk the corn, they dance and drink.
–Cesare Pavese, exerpt from The Goat God, found in ‘Hard-Labor.’
How to cook the beans:
Steam them for 4 minutes, drop them into ice water for a minute or two to stop the cooking, shake off the water, place them in a hot, cast iron skillet that has been lightly brushed with olive oil. Stir them constantly for only 1 minute, until they are dry and just beginning to blister, not turning brown. Remove them immediately. Add salt if you wish, butter if you must. Try not to eat them before you get to the table.
Then, go out and do a little hoeing by moonlight.