With the stop-and-start re-opening and seeing friends and neighbors in person for the first time in a year, I feel like we are in a bittersweet period. So sweet to see and hug folks again. But so bitter to hear of hardship and loss, sickness and death experienced by those same folks during the pandemic. As we enter “the new normal,” I find myself searching for the right action and appropriate response to the uncertain and quickly changing circumstances that we encounter every day. Or as one philosopher noted, to know your mind, “pay attention to what you are paying attention to.”
Here’s what I noticed on my trip home from the grocery store the other day:
- The dry beans are sprouting! What a miracle to see these beauties up out of the red dirt in a time of exceptional drought. I am elated that the farmers took the risk to plant and the beans found the moisture to sprout.
- There is a new flag waving over our neighbor’s gate: “F–k Biden.” Feels like a gut punch.
- I notice the canal is empty in spots as it is at the end of the irrigation season, usually in October. This year it is mid-June. I feel fear of the unknown future and the depth and length of this drought. Are we going to just dry up and blow away?
- A doe leaps in front of my car and I brake and look behind her to see twin spotted fawns. A sign of a fecund spring and hopeful future for my wild neighbors.
My mind and heart are experiencing emotional whiplash from elation to fear and loathing with what I see within a mile of my home. How to find solace and hope in these bittersweet moments?
I suggest looking to the wisdom of the bean. (Perhaps a new bumpersticker – Be the bean?) With its compact, durable, and beautiful shape and color, the bean holds the potential for future life and bounty. Beans have been grown in my neighborhood for centuries. They hold simple and deep knowledge on how to respond to dry and uncertain times if we just stop and listen. Here’s what I think the bean would say to us:
- Focus on the present. Work with the resources you have now and thrive where you are planted. Reach out to the moisture below you and the sun above you to create a new hope and life. Don’t worry about the future or regret the past. There is nothing you can do about them now. You can only enjoy the present of the present. Unwrap it slowly and joyfully.
- Embrace new ways of growing. Things have changed because of the pandemic – even in small-town America. I still grumble when I have to call ahead for an appointment for services when I used to walk in and get immediate satisfaction. I try to be respectful of the employees and other patrons all operating under the new rules of social distancing and public health priorities. Even the farmers’ market has changed; some of my favorite vendors have opted out this year.
But that doesn’t mean I have to give up on quality local food. I must embrace a new way of purchasing it. Most of my favorite vendors are selling their produce through the Southwest Farm Fresh Cooperative (https://southwestfarmfresh.localfoodmarketplace.com/Inde). Each week, a huge variety of local food products are available at their on-line market. Then I can pick up my purchases Wednesday or Thursday at one of the locations near my home. While I miss the instant gratification of a farmers’ market purchase, the variety is greater at the SWFF market, and prices and quality are the same as always. I didn’t know I could buy local mushrooms, duck pastrami, and sushi. I can even buy beans at reasonable prices without fear of “sold out” signs if I am late getting to the farmers’ market.
- Live in beauty. The key to finding hope is to look for the beauty in all things, people, places, and circumstances. The Navajo tradition of “Walking in Beauty” is a local example of this practice. For me, living in beauty is about finding balance in all that I do. Fear is not beautiful. So, when I find myself caught in a cycle of worry and panic, I intentionally stop and smell the roses. Literally, smell the amazing roses growing outside my door or even the restaurant patio. Who knew that a dry spell brought out their fragrance in such a sweet way?
The bean’s wisdom is not offered here to be trite or demeaning of the hardships and difficulties we all are facing in these dry and uncertain times. Rather, it is offered as a compass to find a direction for hope and trust as we lurch into “the new normal,” whatever that means. It is going to take a long time to rebuild community trust after the divisive and troubling times we are experiencing with the twin challenges of exceptional drought and pandemic. Past communities have survived and thrived through the same challenges with the wisdom and bounty of the dryland bean. I believe we can too.
Carolyn Dunmire is an award-winning writer who lives, gardens, and cooks in Cahone, Colo.