“M. Varro assures us that beans are very good for the voice.”


When I swam in mist this morning, the water felt sweet, soft. Turning, turning, my body at home in the deep quiet lake, I wanted to stay forever. There was no one on the sand, no one bringing loads of gear for a day at the beach. It felt like the place I have known and loved for more than 40 years. In the spring of our first year together, John brought me here, set up a small pup tent on a grassy area under trees. We slept to the sound of loons, the scent of warm canvas. On the sand this morning, raccoon tracks. A single feather.

Returning home, I went out to pick beans in a light rain. We’ll eat them tonight, steamed briefly and dressed with walnut oil, some tarragon. We’ll eat pesto made with basil from the pots on the upper deck and a whole head of this year’s garlic, drying in the woodshed. When the Edmonton grandchildren were here, we had pasta with pesto to celebrate a birthday (the birthday girl’s choice) and then when their parents went to Powell River for a few days on their own, I asked the children what they’d like for dinner. Could we have that pesto again, they wondered. They helped me cut enough basil and chose pappardelle to spoon the green sauce over. They each ate two bowls of it, followed by Grandpa’s raspberries. More grandchildren are coming on Friday and these ones will have their own requests. I saved this year’s fig and apple prunings for the barbecue and who knows what we’ll cook on the fragrant coals.

Late in the night I came to my desk and found myself reading Pliny. As many times as I’ve read The Natural History, I always discover more. (The older I get, the more I feel like him — opinionated, a little cranky, dismissive.) I wondered what he had to say about beans and here he is, in full mettle.

Beans, too, furnish us with some remedies. Parched whole, and thrown hot into strong vinegar, they are a cure for grip- ings of the bowels. Bruised, and boiled with garlic, they are taken with the daily food for inveterate coughs, and for suppurations of the chest. Chewed by a person fasting, they are applied topically to ripen boils, or to disperse them; and, boiled in wine, they are employed for swellings of the testes and diseases of the genitals. Bean-meal, boiled in vinegar, ripens tumours and breaks them, and heals contusions and burns. M. Varro assures us that beans are very good for the voice. The ashes of bean stalks and shells, with stale hogs’- lard, are good for sciatica and inveterate pains of the sinews. The husks, too, boiled down, by themselves, to one-third, arrest looseness of the bowels.
          –(translated by John Bostock, M.D., F.R.S. H.T. Riley, Esq., B.A.)

Thank goodness that beans taste so good because given this information, who would eat them for simple pleasure, tossed with walnut oil, a grinding of pepper, a snipping of tarragon and chives?

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