I’m sitting here planning a bean lesson for a group of our school garden kids tomorrow and all I can think about is the day I got to geek out and meet Mary Oliver in Atlanta four years ago.
I came across my first Mary Oliver book my freshman year of college at a small bookstore/coffee shop in Decatur, GA. The book was Red Bird. Having meant to just peruse a page or two, I found myself twenty minutes later sitting on the floor and reading the whole thing front to back. Five poems in is a poem called “Self-portrait” where she exclaims, “I wish I was twenty and in love with life and still full of beans. Onward, old legs!”
Flash forward four years and countless books and poems later I had the wild privilege of meeting Mary Oliver at Emory just a few weeks before I began my venture into farming. Her poem “Beans” was one of my very favorites and that cold January day I got to hear her read it out loud to a crowd full of uncomfortably-dressed people as she unselfconsciously stood and talked and recited in jeans, tennis shoes and a simple sweater, announcing before she began the poem, “I like humble titles.”
I am twenty seven. And hopefully I am still full with just enough beans to get me through this lesson with all of our crazy, wonderful, distracted and eager, soon-to-be-bean-loving students tomorrow. Onward, old legs! If Mary Olive is over seventy and still in love with life and still full of beans then can’t we all be too if we just pay attention?
by Mary Oliver
They’re not like peaches or squash.
Plumpness isn’t for them.
being lean, as if for the narrow
path. The beans themselves sit qui-
etly inside their green pods. In-
stinctively one picks with care,
never tearing down the fine vine,
never not noticing their crisp bod-
ies, or feeling their willingness for
the pot, for the fire.
I have thought sometimes that
something―I can’t name it―
watches as I walk the rows, accept-
ing the gift of their lives to assist
I know what you think: this is fool-
ishness. They’re only vegetables.
Even the blossoms with which they
begin are small and pale, hardly sig-
nificant. Our hands, or minds, our
feet hold more intelligence. With
this I have no quarrel.
But, what about virtue?