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Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Living History

No, this is not a post about American politics, as historic as this day might be. It's about Aussie back yards.

When I was as young as my son is now - four years old - I lived in a tiny little outback town called Jericho, west of Rockhampton. We were only there for two and a half years but that experience of country life had a big influence on me.

I have some very clear memories of that time, like getting my first bike and the first day I rode it without training wheels. I recall going for a day out in the bush, catching yabbies (crayfish) from the creek and cooking them up for lunch. I remember visiting a property where two huge bulldozers were dragging an enormous chain between them, making one hell of a mess as they tore down the eucalypt forest, clearing it to become grazing land.

Just down the street from us lived another family whose children were too old for me to play with, but Mrs Bonham and my mother became good friends and I spent quite a bit of time playing around the Bonham house and yard. The yard had one particularly distinguishing feature: a thriving green bean vine growing on a free-standing trellis. This so impressed my younger brother and I that we came to gigglingly refer to Mum's friend as "Mrs Bean-Bonham". (Gosh four-year-olds think they're funny.)

We were free to pick and eat the beans as we wished. Sometimes we'd be given big bags of them to take home. Formed in my earliest years, that simple memory epitomises the notion of a bountiful garden. In the past 18 months of mucking about in my own back yard I haven't really come close to recreating that ideal.

But just recently, something special has happened.

The friendship my mother formed has been a lasting one, and from time to time she and Mrs Bonham will exchange a phone call or find an opportunity to meet if travel plans are favourable. In one of their recent conversations, Mum happened to mention that I've been playing about with veges and the like. And this past weekend, Mum handed me a padded envelope which was postmarked in Jericho.

Mrs Bonham's beans have been growing in her garden for nearly 30 years since I used to pick them as a boy. Inside the envelope was a paper-thin, dried out husk of a bean, its green flesh now turned creamy pale, itself acting as a natural envelope for the seeds contained within. Six seeds: richly dark, almost black, except for a bright white protruding ridge running about half way around the centre line.

Joshua (4), Caitlin (7) and the neighbour's boy (7) helped me to plant them. Each pressed two seeds into the moist potting mix and I put the covered tray outside where it will catch the morning sun. Three days later, a living piece of my own childhood is forming roots and shoots which - if I don't manage to kill 'em - will bring that remembered bounty back into reality for me and my kids to enjoy.

Yes, I'm getting all sentimental about bloody beans. I've talked for ages about growing some beans in the back yard. But it's just so special to me that these aren't something which came in a packet from a shop. These beans are living connections for me, to community, to my own history, and to the natural providence of the Earth independent from modern industrial society.

Mrs Bean-Bonham, thank you so much for your gift. Wish me luck as I try to grow these seeds and get the vines scaling up the side of the chicken coup. I'll keep you posted.


Michelle B said...

Aw honey you're cute :D

Julie said...

I *love* how your beans have "history". Way cool :-)

Cheers, Julie

TB said...

So far so good - six sprouts from six seeds. Gotta get some advice on how to successfully transfer them from the seedling tray into the ground and protect them from being attacked.