Monday, October 2, 2006

The garden looks different now that Fall is truly upon us. The leafy greens have taken on a darker hue; the reds are more bronzey. And the texture of the garden has become more homogenous. The tall corn stalks have been chopped, errant weeds have been mowed, and even the bushy tomoato vines now lie in a tangle on the ground, pulled from their supports by the weight of plump tomatoes. All the crops are lower, closer to the ground; and as we make the final harvests, the bare earth prepares to be tucked away, to rest and restore until the growing season returns.

And we are on our last bean patch. Now I have written about beans before. And Tom gave me a hard time for saying I was tired of picking them four times in one Frog Log. Okay, maybe that was a little excessive, but then we pick an excessive amount of beans! We start picking in mid-July, right around the Art Fair, when everyone on the market has beans. But when most other farmers go on to tomatoes and corn, we don't stop planting (and picking) those beans. We head down the bean rows three times a week until frost, and I must admit our customers do appreciate the regular arrival of fresh-picked beans.

But beans aren't easy to pick. There's no getting around bending over, and staying bent over, for hours at a time. And once you have been in that position for so long, straightening up is the hard part! Tom seems to stop by often when we are picking, so he is familiar with the "picking beans greeting". When I asked him to describe it, he sort of stammered and blushed. Okay, I don't crawl when I pick; I stand up and bend over. But when my spine has been bent for so long, all I can do is sort of crane my neck slightly, as I turn my head and grunt Hi. You can figure out what part of me remains pointing North.

No matter if you crawl, or stand and bend to pick, there is the same slow and aching return to vertical once the last bean has been picked. If we were characters in a cartoon, the sound effects guy would add one of those creaking door sounds as we all slowly straighten. And I have noticed that some farmers don't seem to accomplish those last few degrees of vertical return, after years of bending toward the earth. When we first started on the market, the stalls across from us were rented by Mr. and Mrs. Van Hoy. Folks called Mr. Van Hoy, "Pappy", but Mrs. Van Hoy, despite being less than five feet tall, was far too formidable to merit a nickname. She ruled the stall (and Pappy) as she dispensed fruit, perennial plants, and undisputed opinions to her loyal customers. And she might have been a little taller if she could have straightened up completely. At that stage in her life, it was no longer an option. A child of the Depression, Mrs. Van Hoy worked hard for that bend in her spine. But it did make it difficult for her to look up.

I want to keep looking up, so I do yoga, and balance the physical work with different sorts of activity. And we don't pick beans 24/7. It might seem like it sometimes, but we grow a diversity of crops, and aren't stuck in one sort of activity day after day. So as we wind up the bean picking, to steal a line from one of my son Billy's songs, "I'm not sorry, but I'm a little bit sad." For when the last bean is picked, the warm weather crops will all be gone; frost will be whistling down our necks, and Summer 2006 will be history. And in the long run, I'm grateful for the bounty of beans, for my strong back to pick them, and for our appreciative customers who have, without exception, snapped up every last basket of green and yellow goodness.

And now I'm off to stretch!


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