Sunday, I tried and failed to ride to the store for bananas and milk.
The odd drops I spied and ignored on the way out weren't, it turned out, a passing tease, but prologue to a torrent. I made it two blocks, then hightailed it for home, and car keys, and transportation with a roof. But those few short minutes were worth the wet. Because halfway through my journey, which is to say at the end of our street, I saw something which made me re-see everything just a little.
It was only a large black Hefty bag, at first, blown out into the middle of the road. Fair enough, seeing as Sunday's trash night. As I rode closer, I observed it was one of those bags with the built-in red plastic tie. A few more rotations, and I noticed the red tie bobbing, no doubt due to the picking-up winds. The rhythm of the bobbing was impressively steady. Almost more like pecking. Really, really almost.
So almost that as I closed in on the stop sign and my mind tried to make heads or tails of a pecking trash bag, I realized the bag had a head and tail. And was no bag at all, but a bird. A big bird. Big as a Lawn and Leaf Hefty, half-full. With a bright red, bobbing, pecking red head. A turkey. A turkey, thirty yards from my door.
A turkey made approximately no sense.
I stopped, one foot on the pedal, one on the pavement, maybe four feet from this ginormous bag-bird, staring. The drops on my helmet louder, faster. The bag-bird stared back.
No one blinked.
We sat there like that for a week, or twelve seconds, immobile save for the odd snack. Somehow, he managed without ever breaking my gaze to peck a few times the meal at his feet, a morsel formerly known as squirrel. Somehow, I managed to sort out that he was not in fact a dinner prospect, come Thanksgiving, but instead a turkey vulture. The carrion was a clue. Also, the lack of wattle. Also, my son's native bird study last spring, and the subsequent house abuzz for months with vulture facts. None of which addressed the immediate question, namely: their attitudes toward meat in helmets.
Anyway, I won. The staring contest, and de facto the squirrel snack, though I declined to partake of the latter. He never blinked, but he did fly off suddenly, which I decided disqualified him and made me victor. I also decided, watching the arc of his flight, up and over the neighbor's house and into the tree just behind, that on the subject of what lurks overhead, I know way, way less than beans.
I stood there and studied that tree for some time, looking for some sign, any sign, of his whereabouts. You'd think the red head would be a giveaway, but no. Or sheer size. Nada. Some sound, rustling. Nothing. I knew he was there, had seen him land, had not seen him alight again. I knew I'd see him if he did. A six-foot wingspan's hard to miss. I knew this because I'd stood under its shadow, felt its wind on my face, not four minutes earlier. I knew one example was not evidence enough to prove, beyond a doubt, helmets weren't to his liking. I knew I wanted to know where he was.
But I couldn't. Up there? He was invisible.
And while I don't want to say I'm now spooked by the trees, I will say I don't see them quite the same way. They hold secrets. Unnumbered mysteries. Thrills, beyond a sweet robin's spring nest. I feel now about trees the way I long have about lake swimming, a little on edge, very alert. Like I know not the company I keep.
(It probably doesn't help that three possums and two racoons have been caught on our neighbor's roof, these past two weeks. Which begged over breakfast this question: just where do they sleep during the day? Which begged this answer: in the hollows of trees. I can count every tree on our dense urban block on my hands and feet, with digits left over. We haven't even talked bats. These trees are teeming.)
More than anything, I think I like it, this unknowing, for the way it reminds me just how small my mind. For the way that our eyes, and with them our minds, are subject to change, like prices, like lives. For the way you think you know what's what, then you don't, you lucky fool. For the way some small insignificant something can boom! twist the lens, re-calibrate reality, show you familiar for the first time, again.
The way a strip of plastic pegs can, presto, turn rubber bands into bracelets and endless hours of entertainment. The way the flip of a page makes September into October and summer into fall and outside into absolutely lovely. The way two sheets of ordinary old construction paper plus one eight year old boy become cool beans. The way a can of paint and a brush and a week take a tired room and spiffy it up. The way plain old lemons and onions and leaves and a smudge of cheese make green beans brand new, all over.
I thought I knew green beans. I really did. I've stir-fried them with pork and tossed them with fresh figs and tuna and spuds and braised them, solo and roasted them similarly, and with friends. So I wasn't thinking game-change or anything when I tossed some steamed beans with herbs and feta, last week. I was thinking dinner. And crisper drawer clearing. And final green things from the garden leveraging. All that happened. And then some.
What happens when you toss tender green beans with minced onion macerated in lemon is that they twinkle. The citrus mellows the allium, just so, and turns the pink nubs into bright crunchy bits, which strew themselves through the beans like stars and sparkle and flicker and maybe flame just a little. What happens when to that you add cheese, just a small throw, but a sheepy sharp throw, creamy and salty and soft foil to that crunch, is that things start to get interesting. What happens when on top of that you add herbs, and more, a mix, is just excellent. Basil for sass, and mint for unexpected cool, and anonymous parsley, for its kick in the pants. You could substitute oregano, or chives, or both, or possibly add them all. The joy's in the regular fresh flicks of green, and the dialogue between them, and with the beans below. It's a heady conversation, and one hard to quit. Really, I have no intention of trying.
I intend to have this same talk with carrots, sliced thickly and rolled in olive oil and roasted. Cauliflower, too. Also, with asparagus, come spring. And when they roll around again, fresh tomatos, cut into fat wedges. I already did with the last of the zucchini, steamed to just-tender, dressed in the same guise. We've been eating zucchini nearly daily for months and still there I was, all Hello, zucchini! So nice to meet you. Do stick around? Like vultures in trees, this particular treatment. I mean that in the best possible way.
Sparkling Green Beans with Feta and Herbs
adapted from The Glorious Vegetables of Italy, by Domenica Marchetti
Marchetti's original recipe called for wax beans, and for roasting, and for garlic in place of onion. Excellent, I'm sure, all. But I made and inhaled mine as follows.
1 pound romano, green or wax beans, topped and tailed
2 tablespoons olive oil
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt + more for water
2 small lemons, zested and juiced (to yield 1/4 cup juice)
1/4 red or sweet onion, minced (about 1/3 cup)
1/4 cup fresh herbs, chopped (basil, parsley, mint and/or oregano)
2 ounces feta cheese, crumbled (1/3 cup)
Place minced onion and salt in a lidded jar. Add zest and juice of lemons. Set aside.
Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. While it is heating slice topped and tailed beans into 1" (bite-size) lengths. When water's at the boil, add beans. While the beans are cooking, crumble your feta and chop your herbs; set aside. Cook beans 7-10 minutes (timing will vary depending on bean type, age, and size), until beans are tender, but before flop sets in. Drain.
Add olive oil to your pickled onions, replace lid, and shake well to combine. Return green beans to (now empty and dry) pan, pour dressing over all, and toss well to combine. Set aside 15-20 minutes to cool slightly; we don't wish to melt the feta. When beans are tepid, add 2/3 of herbs and feta, and toss gently. Plate your beans, and garnish with remaining feta and herbs. Enjoy at room temperature.