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					8           CHICAGO TRIBUNE          S E C T I O N 13   C                                                          Q                                                                                S U N D AY        SEPTEMBER 24, 2006

A field of beans is ripe for musing on the meaning of life
  If you’re hungry for a morsel         Haricots verts are masters of       with those that have more than             from every six inches of row.              etition takes over, the efficient              much longer than one human
of delicious farm writing, sit        disguise. Unlike the yellow wax       a touch of rust, or more than              You do the math, and feel the              pathways establishing them-                    life.
back and savor this from Terra        or royal burgundy beans, they         one or two nibbles by a bean               chill air slip down the hillside           selves in your brain and down                     Standing on the earth, you
Brockman.                             are nearly indistinguishable—         beetle.                                    and around your ankles. Pre-               your arm to your fingertips.                   know that you are a part of the
                                      in color, size and shape—from           All these less-than-perfect              ferring a warm bed to midnight               Time slips by and then Matt,                 same something that every-
                                      the stems of the bean plant.          beans get tossed into the neigh-           bean-picking, you start pluck-             who seemed an eternity away                    thing came from, and to which
Farm Notes: Bean by Bean              They also tend to hide down           boring bed, recently tilled un-            ing smarter.                               at the other end of the row, is                you and everything will return,
  Henry has a number of dif-          near the base of the plant, hug-      der and seeded with cover                     You concentrate on the way              suddenly within talking dis-                   and from which you can never
ferent bean patches in the field      ging the stem and the earth, re-      crops, on its way already to a             the beans arrange themselves,              tance, and then touching dis-                  be separated.
(to confound insects and deer,        sisting the searching hand and        long winter’s rest. The good               and the way your fingers can               tance.                                            You take up a handful of soil
and to take advantage of micro-       the easy pluck from plant to          beans go into the half-bushel              grab the greatest number in                  You slowly unbend your                       and hold a miracle—the possi-
climates). I was in the far           basket.                               basket that you move, half-foot            one motion from bush to bas-               body—ankles, knees, verte-                     bility of life, the product of
patch, near Walnut Creek, and           Which was just as well, be-         by lurching half-foot, down the            ket. You listen to the evening             brae, neck, head. Bipedal once                 death. You balance the bushel
took one end of the daunting          cause after this wet week, some       row.                                       calls of the birds, the beginning          again, you notice the perfect                  basket of beans on your head
200-foot row of haricots verts,       beans near the soil were start-         A dozen or so feet into the              of the insects chorus, muted by            half-moon halfway up sky. The                  and walk—half-weary, half tri-
while farmhand Matt took the          ing to soften. Every once in a        row, you realize there are 400             coolness, and you notice the               evening softens, deepens,                      umphant—to the end of the
other end and we began the            while you see the white cotton        half-feet in a 200-foot row, and           first goose-bumps rise up on               brings perspective. You are a                  row where the pickup is wait-
slow crawl to meet in the mid-        fuzz of mold beginning. Those         that you are spending maybe 5              your arms.                                 dot on the horizon, a small part               ing. A job well-done. Bean by
dle.                                  beans you toss aside, along           minutes picking the beans                     At some point, the Zen of rep-          of something much bigger,                      bean.

FARM:                                                                                                                                                             On the Internet                                house and your apartment and
                                                                                                                                                                                                                 your car and your sidewalk and
                                                                                                                                                                  For more photos of Terra Brockman              your cubicle, it’s all hard and

Poetry and                                                                                                                                                        and the Brockman farm, go to
                                                                                                                                                                                                                 cold and impenetrable and un-
                                                                                                                                                                                                                 yielding,” she began. “It’s gone
                                                                                                                                                                                                                 so far in that direction, but I

prosaic mix                                                                                                                                                       vice aplenty, albeit wisdom of
                                                                                                                                                                  the 8th Century B.C., and is con-
                                                                                                                                                                                                                 think people still have some-
                                                                                                                                                                                                                 thing deep inside them, because
                                                                                                                                                                                                                 we’re all animals; it’s some-
                                                                                                                                                                  sidered an essential of classical              thing primordial inside. They
in writings                                                                                                                                                       studies.
                                                                                                                                                                     “That’s really where it all be-
                                                                                                                                                                                                                 still remember blue skies and
                                                                                                                                                                                                                 tall trees.
CONTINUED FROM PAGE 1                                                                                                                                             gins, the idea that the yeoman                   “So I bring them back. When I
                                                                                                                                                                  life is the good life, and that it be-         write about that field, it’s all soft
the Evanston Farmers Market                                                                                                                                       gets ideas, thought, contempla-                and mushy and changeable.
to e-mail about five years ago.                                                                                                                                   tion,” Jack said recently from                 They’re sitting in their cubicle
“I’m thinking I’ve got this stock                                                                                                                                 his family’s 500-acre, corn-and-               and they open my e-mail, they
that’s blowing up, and she lulls                                                                                                                                  soybean farm just outside Me-                  breathe in a little bit of country
me with her poetry and stories                                                                                                                                    chanicsville, Iowa. He drew a                  air. I bring them soft light and
from the farm.”                                                                                                                                                   straight line from Hesiod to Jef-              fresh air and bright stars. They
   Indeed, Terra Brockman is                                                                                                                                      ferson to poet and essayist Wen-               look forward to that. They tell
not just spitting out a grocery                                                                                                                                   dell Berry to the farmer writers               me every Saturday morning.”
list of what’s coming to the Sat-                                                                                                                                 he unearthed for his book. He is                 That’s when the city and sub-
urday morning market; she is                                                                                                                                      not surprised by the resurgence                urban folk troop into Henry’s
by turns farm writer, poet, phi-                                                                                                                                  in writings from the farm, nor                 six green tents on the asphalt lot
losopher and darned good cook.                                                                                                                                    by the clamoring of city folk for              that otherwise serves as a car
When she’s not typing Farm                                                                                                                                        a deep drink of farm tales.                    park for a chain hotel in down-
Notes into the night, she works                                                                                                                                                                                  town Evanston.
the farm, writes for Oxford Uni-                                                                                                                                  Agrarian longings                                Because they’ve inhaled the
versity Press among others, and                                                                                                                                     “Most of us are not more than                late-night dispatch of Food &
is executive director of The                                                                                     Tribune photo by John Dziekan                    two or three generations re-                   Farm Notes, they rush in like
Land Connection, an education- Terra Brockman and intern Michelle Huynh (left) bag fresh lettuce at the farm.                                                     moved from the farm life,” he                  family and old friends. There is
al not-for-profit that is saving                                                                                                                                  said. “I think in our heart’s deep             a hug for Terra. Questions posed
farmland, training new farmers reminding her of a feathered ban folk alike, crank up their the collected reflections of 30                                        core we long for the rhythms of                to Henry. Is his finger healed?
and linking local farm foods to Ophelia floating away in a little BlackBerries, their laptops and contemporary farmer-writer-                                     that life. It’s almost like an occu-           You know a Kotex is not a sterile
the folks hungry to eat them.       River Styx. And, lyrically, she their PCs, and take in one deep, teachers, Jack unfurled a mini-                              pational ghost that haunts                     bandage, one stern nurse repri-
   “I certainly don’t sit down to writes of the sex life of corn.   long breath of Brockman’s lecture on the great American                                       many families, particularly in                 mands.
write a sermon,” said Brock-                                        country air.                     tradition of farm writing.                                   the Midwest because they grew                    And because Henry’s big sis-
man, 47, one of six children who E.B. White and geotropism            Liz Sarnik of Rogers Park        It is a lineage that begins even                           up spending weekends on their                  ter can harvest one mean
grew up on her family farm,           She peppers her writing with saves Food & Farm Notes for before Thomas Jefferson, the                                       grandparents’ farm or hearing                  swatch of poetry and prose, wis-
with her genetics-professor fa- literary references to Pablo Ne- Friday night when she’s finally farmer-philosopher-president                                     stories.”                                      dom and pure delight, the farm
ther and her nurse mother, just ruda, John Milton and E.B. home from work. “I look for- and one of a handful of founding                                            Smearing a glob of goat                      in Congerville doesn’t seem 158
across the creek from where her White, to name but three. Ever ward to it coming every week. I fathers who claimed farming as                                     cheese on a chunk of peasant                   miles away. More like just a
younger brother, Henry, now the scientist’s daughter, she lac- print it out, I sit down with my his occupational passion.                                         sourdough ripped from the loaf,                ways up the road.
farms.                              es her prose with biogenetics dinner. I can’t wait to just sit     In fact, farm writing goes                                 Brockman chews heartily on             
   “There’s a lot of wisdom in the and thermodynamics, and un- with it and read it. It’s pure plea- back to ancient Greece and                                    why her farm notes—and the
land. I feel like it’s not me writ- spools lucid explanations of sure. It’s the simpleness of na- Rome, with Hesiod, Virgil and                                   notes of farmers typing and till-                Subscriptions to Food & Farm
ing. I almost feel like I’m just how something called geotro- ture, really.”                         Pliny the Elder all weighing in                              ing all across the country—                    Notes are free via e-mail. Contact
trying to speak for something pism accounts for the fact that         Zachary Michael Jack is a on organic matters. Hesiod the                                    mean so much to so many.                       Terra Brockman at info@
that doesn’t have a chance to roots are hellbent on heading fourth-generation farmer’s son, Greek’s great poem “Works and                                           “When your life is surround-        or call
speak for itself.”                  straight down.                  a writer and a scholar who has Days” doles out agricultural ad-                               ed by manmade things, your                     847-570-0701.
   She writes of Henry nearly         She leaves you jaw-dropped spent his lifetime pondering
chopping off a finger whacking with a sentence such as this, in a why the farm resonates so deep-
the stem from a head of broccoli discourse on the lack of rain: ly in our souls, and why it is
but carrying on with the har- “You have to at some level be- such fertile turf for great writ-
vesting, the afflicted digit come a good Buddhist and ac- ing.
wrapped, makeshift, in a Kotex cept the suffering with equa-          Now an assistant professor of
pad, the only bandage their sis- nimity.” And then she moves on English at North Central Col-
ter, Beth, a veterinarian, hap- merrily to a recipe for onion, lege in Naperville, and the edi-
pened to have in the glove com- raisin and garlic compote.          tor of “Black Earth and Ivory
partment of her truck.                Come Friday morning, some Tower” (University of South
   She writes of a hen that dies, 150 miles away, city and subur- Carolina Press, $24.95 paper),

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