Thoreau was determined to know beans well. Over the past several days I, too, have come to know beans well, black beans that is.
We harvested our first black bean crop last week, hung the plants in the barn to finish up the drying process (too much rain to leave them in the ground), and are now popping the hard black beans out of their pods and into glass jars for storage.
It is a lengthy process, so we do a few batches at a time. To some it would seem rather monotonous. Not to me. Gives me free rein to think. Having something to do that requires little thought actually gives birth to a great deal of thought.
As I pop out beans or, as I did yesterday afternoon, pull apples down with my very long metal apple picker, thoughts, invited and uninvited, swim into consciousness. In retrospect, I suspect it is the brain’s way of suggesting further cogitation.
There was one recurring thought, both while picking apples and while working the beans yesterday morning. And that is the way we have come to see this nation not as one country sharing a belief in common principles that unite us, but as a divide characterized by two colors: red and blue. The language that we use to speak about ourselves matters. It has bothered me for some time that we spend more time cultivating our differences than we do finding the common ground that binds us, our ideological and political inclinations aside. One of these days we might just cut the crap and accept that there will always be differences among us.
There is no practical or moral reason for nurturing the toxic warfare that is as debilitatingly infectious to our body politics as the pandemic has been to our bodies. Although our bodies would be less in jeopardy if more people would accept that getting those shots is part and parcel of what it takes to be a citizen concerned with the general health and well-being of us all. History teaches us there has always been ample selfishness and greed and ignorance to go around.
At any rate, while doing the beans yesterday, I recalled Thoreau’s description of what has become known as “the battle of the ants.” In Walden, he writes that, “It was the only battle which I have ever witnessed, the only battle-field I ever trod while the battle was raging; internecine warfare; the red republicans on the one hand, and the black imperialists on the other. On every side they were engaged in deadly combat, yet without any noise that I could hear, and human soldiers never fought so resolutely. …
Neither manifested the least disposition to retreat.” Sound familiar?
Later on, Thoreau writes he “never learned which party was victorious, not the cause of the war; but I felt for the rest of the day as if I had my feelings excited and harrowed by witnessing the struggle; the ferocity and carnage of a human battle beyond my door.” Not terribly daunting to think back to the carnage of Jan. 6 to see the connection. There seems to be no let up to the internecine warfare we are embroiled in. It even appears some relish the battle. The savagery exhibited by both sides gets a bit scary at times. If my aging memory is serving me well as I write, we would all be served well by taking to hear what the philosopher Seneca said: Savagery is the last recourse of the weak and cowardly.
Thoreau wonders what principles might have precipitated such ferocity. Good question. Certainly not a ferocity aimed at finding common ground or shedding one’s ideological blinders, if only for a moment.
It would behoove us to stop identifying ourselves according to our differences. Why not take some time to reflect on what principles we share. There are quite a few we have in common. Starting with our common humanity might be a good place. The trouble is too many people think freedom allows one an unfettered ride through life. It is a view of freedom that ignores the realities and obligations of communal life. We may be 50 states. Red and blue are only colors. Given what we have in common, we should all be color blind. A democracy requires give and take, honest dissent, and respect for the other.
We had best get going before our inner rot, of the type that felled Rome, spells doom for us all.
Were Gabby with me she would look at me with those fathomless sable eyes and say, “back to the beans, boy.”