Attack of the purple ‘bean trees’

We’d had wisteria for years before we were struck by this odd attribute. 

Toby Melville/Reuters/FILE
A man works on a wisteria-draped home in London.

You think life has no surprises left for you, and then something zings by your ear and smacks you right in the Toyota.

One of the things we liked the best when we bought our house 40 years ago was the big wisteria vine clambering all over the front porch, the very promise of romance. It was past its bloom when we moved in, but we looked forward, the next spring, to having Louis Tiffany-worthy pendulous flower clusters bursting across what would then, surely, be termed a veranda.

We would sit in a wicker swing and sip sarsaparillas and call everybody “darlin’.” My sister celebrated our new house with a needlepoint rendition of it and threw in a profusion of purple blossoms free of charge.

The next spring the vine leafed out solidly and there, somewhere in the foliage, hung one thin straggle of purple flowers. The next year the plucky purple clump returned. It perished of loneliness. A decade went by without another flower. We repainted the house. My sister soldiered forth with another needlepoint, in the new colors, with a bushy yet barren wisteria in the front.

What the vine lacked in beauty it made up for in sheer malicious vigor. My little snips at it were insufficient. Turn your back on it for a couple weeks, and it’s up under the roof shingles, twining around the neighbor’s cat, and sizing up the meter reader. My husband, Dave, declared me unworthy of the task and tackled it himself. He called it a “good pruning,” but it was closer to murder.

The next spring we had dozens of blooms. The next, dozens more yet. Before long, we had a perfectly creditable spring display – not really prizeworthy since it wasn’t a stellar variety of wisteria, but fragrant and uplifting nonetheless. We sat on the porch steps and called each other “darlin’.”

When the wisteria finishes blooming, it produces long fuzzy beans that are decorative in themselves, and they remain until the next spring. These are the “bean trees” of Barbara King-
solver’s imagination. 

One afternoon in March a few years back, I sat out on the front steps to enjoy an unusually warm day. Zzzing! BAM! It sounded like a gunshot. I couldn’t tell where it was coming from, but it nailed my car. Zzzing! WHACK! I took cover behind the garbage can.

Birds buttoned up mid-chirp. War veterans reflexively hit the dirt. The bean tree was exploding. A few seeds made it all the way across the street and hammered on the neighbor’s truck. The next peppered a passing Pomeranian at 30 paces. By evening, an empty half-helix was all that remained of every bean on the vine. And we’d never noticed it before because they all went off at once. If you aren’t there that day, you miss the whole show. It’s a lot safer that way.

Next unusually warm day in March, bring your hard hat and come on over. I recommend parking around the corner.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.