Final Beans

I waited too long. That’s how it is sometimes, and the flat beans started to dry out on the vine. Kissed by near frost, their moisture shivered away, leaving occasional brown spots, or darkened lines along the edges. I was holding on too tightly before the harvest. It was my first garden here in Portland, and that itself was a celebration. We love and miss our Cleveland home and Cleveland friends, but we never were successful at growing non-ornamentals. The deer ate our apple saplings, stripping the bark off like fruit leather. The tomatoes never prospered. Gardens can be fickle. Wildlife can be hungry.

Here, the long summer and fall has been generous to a first year garden. The red romaine looked poised for flight at times, broad shiny leaves proudly extended. The broccoli still stands firm against the creeping cold even as we watch the thermometer. The carrots, turnips and beets? Well, they’ve tucked themselves in a blanket of earth anyway. But the beans were done.

So why didn’t I call their harvest earlier? I’m an autumn baby, and autumn speaks of transitions, of holding a place between the celebration of summer, and the long, thoughtful nights of winter. Maybe I wanted that mixture of seasons to last a bit longer.

And then there’s Thanksgiving. Our American ancestors, modeling themselves after Sukkot according to some historians, gave thanks for their final and life sustaining harvest. I wanted green beans on Thanksgiving. Fresh ones from our garden–a gift of sun and soil and our Northwest rain. There’s the work of hands, mulched by a bit of divine wonder, snaking up the trellis like Jack’s magic beans. I wanted them on the table. Although they won’t be fresh plucked, I’ve wrapped them up, and we will dine from our little patch of Americana.

On Thursday, if all goes well, we’ll pull the beets too, roast them and douse them with pecan oil and  a pinch of sea salt.

And there is enough Torah, enough of a lesson in all that for me. There are things we hold on too long, aren’t there? Sometimes there’s a good reason we know. Sometimes mysterious forces are working their way through us, unresolved life having its way. Quite often it’s both.

The Pilgrims suffered tremendous loss of life in those early years. You might imagine they lost hope, and some records report their despair, just as Abraham and Isaac fled to Egypt during times of famine. We don’t get all the blessings we want, and life has its twists and turns.

But then there was the communal Thanksgiving, a way of stating collective gratitude in appreciation for the blessings we did receive. I am grateful for my spotted beans, for my patch of land here in Portland–the Kosaks’ new homestead. I am grateful for my family, their presence and health. I am grateful to the Neveh Shalom community for the invitation you gave my family and me and for the new Jewish life we are building here together. I am grateful to my Portland rabbinic colleagues, who have graciously welcomed me from all sides, learning Torah with me, drinking tea or coffee together, all of us trying to strengthen our larger community in this Willamette valley we all call home.

On this great national day of collective Thanksgiving, I hope you too will take stock and reflect on your gifts. My grandfather used to say, “Tzuros (trouble) chases us, we have to chase the simchas (the happy occasions).” It’s that way with gratitude too.

Happy Thanksgiving,

Rav D