Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Beans of Scarborough Maine

"The Beans of Egypt Maine" is a book by Carolyn Chute about poverty. It sets a scene in rural rundown Maine: trailers, broken down junk cars, and plastic toys littering the yards of large families. It's a classic book (recommended by many), and as such it has become a phrase of its own in our family, a shorthand expression for an unkempt yard. Generally speaking it is an aesthetic state one works to avoid. And it does, especially on a farm, take quite a bit of work. This is the time of year when the phrase is most commonly on our lips. Usually the snow is just melting, revealing what we didn't manage to pick up off the ground before the first snow storm buried it- like a bale of fencing wire, or a warped chunk of plywood. Or the offending object could have hit the ground mid winter, like a swath of vinyl siding the winter wind whipped off the barn. Or the snow plow might have delivered a gift of crushed cans, cigarette wrappers, and Styrofoam coffee cups, all lined up in what was the wake of a snowstorm. Even a cover-cropped field that five months ago was smooth and apparently without stones, can look chock-full of rocks after the early spring rains wash all the soil away.
The past two wind storms did a number on one of our hoop houses. It was never properly tucked away before winter, and though there was opportunity to do it ... I never got to finishing it off.Yet another un-pleasantry from the '09 - '10 winter (one that warrants explanation) is a scattering of bones from one of our last beef cows-- knuckles, shanks, and marrow through which Stella the dog has been steadily working. All of these seasonal sights around the farm shame and embarrass us. (We are, after all, in suburbia-- and commuters drive by the farm with daily interest in what goes on at the farm.) But perhaps this struggle is an opportunity to connect with solidarity to those families Carolyn Chute writes about. Maybe we can offer explanation of some kind, if not an excuse. It takes work to live and make a living on the land, and there often isn't quite enough hours in the day-- especially in the fall before the snow comes-- to get everything where it belongs. It sometimes feels like 99% of our time is spent trying to keep the chaos of life organized. The 1% is actual progress!
Well, the spring does offer hope among the shrapnel and carnage of past winter storms. With new focus and attention we can get things put away; pick it all up before the grass of summer grows tall around it and hides it again.
Blessings on the meal.

(Rhubarb slowly emerging)

1 comment:

  1. I have to laugh, because I know the book (it was one of the first I read after I was "transplanted" to Maine by my native-born husband), and unfortunately, I'd guess that my nanofarm (a quarter acre suburban lot) is probably much closer to looking like a Bean house than your lovely farm ;).