I’ve been reading from a collection of Henry David Thoreau’s writing, principally Walden, an account of his time in a cabin in the New England woods, and his acclaimed thoughts on nature that have become associated with Walden Pond over the many years since he wrote them down. I’ll continue to publish excerpts from time to time, when they touch, even remotely, on the subject of gardening.
Here, in an excerpt from a chapter entitled ‘The Beanfield’ from Walden, he discusses his attempt at agriculture and, being a philosopher above all, philosophizes about weeds, woodchucks and the paucity of agricultural philosophy.
All of Thoreau’s books are available online in easy to read chapters at The Thoreau Reader.
THE BEANFIELD, Henry David Thoreau
It was a singular experience that long acquaintance which I cultivated with beans, what with planting, and hoeing, and harvesting, and threshing, and picking over and selling them, – the last was the hardest of all, – I might add eating, for I did taste. I was determined to know beans. When they were growing, I used to hoe from five o’clock in the morning till noon, and commonly spent the rest of the day about other affairs. Consider the intimate and curious acquaintance one makes with various kinds of weeds, – it will bear some iteration in the account, for there was no little iteration in the labor, – disturbing their delicate organizations so ruthlessly, and making such invidious distinctions with his hoe, levelling whole ranks of one species, and sedulously cultivating another. That ‘s Roman wormwood, – that’s pigweed, – that ‘s sorrel, – that ‘s piper-grass, – have at him, chop him up, turn his roots upward to the sun, don’t let him have a fibre in the shade, if you do he’ll turn himself t’other side up and be as green as a leek in two days. A long war, not with cranes, but with weeds, those Trojans who had sun and rain and dews on their side. Daily the beans saw me come to their rescue armed with a hoe, and thin the ranks of their enemies, filling up the trenches with weedy dead. Many a lusty crest-waving Hector, that towered a whole foot above his crowding comrades, fell before my weapon and rolled in the dust.