In Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education (1991), Michael Pollan mentions that Henry David Thoreau makes his beanfield “a foil” for the battlefields of the Mexican War (1846-48). This reference sent me to the pages of Walden, or Life in the Woods (1854) to learn more about Thoreau’s wartime garden.
On July 4, 1845, Thoreau moved into a house he built for himself on the shore of Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts. For the next two years, two months, and two days (with some interruptions), he sought “to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life.” Much of his time, and much of Walden, is given over to raising and foraging food.
In his chapter on “The Beanfield,” Thoreau mused on his larger agricultural experiment. As he tended his rows of white bush beans–seven miles in total–he could hear the local militia conducting drills and bands playing. Thoreau sarcastically suggested that the sound of trumpets could inspire even him to bayonet a Mexican soldier and he “looked round for a woodchuck or a skunk to exercise my chivalry upon.” He extended the analogy to his war on weeds: “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.”
In July 1846, Thoreau went to Concord and was thrown in jail for non-payment of taxes. He did not want his tax money to support slavery and the Mexican War. In his famous essay, “Resistance to Civil Government” (later titled “Civil Disobedience”), Thoreau explained how government activity often failed the will of the people: “Witness the present Mexican war, the work of comparatively a few individuals using the standing government as their tool; for, in the outset, the people would not have consented to this measure.” Sound familiar? The next day, his aunt settled the tax bill, and Thoreau was free to return to his pen, paper, and beanfield.
At Green Zone, scarlet runner beans (phaseolus coccineus) mingle with morning glories and gourds along the fence. Though I didn’t know it when I planted the beans in the spring, these bright red flowers, twisting vines, and long bean pods recall Henry David Thoreau and his wartime garden at Walden Pond.
Entry filed under: Civil Disobedience, food, gardens, Green Zone Garden, Mexican War, Thoreau, wartime gardens. Tags: Civil Disobedience, gardens, Green Zone Garden, Mexican War, Michael Pollan, scarlet runner bean, Thoreau, vegetables, Walden, wartime gardens.