Thursday, August 16, 2007

A Beautiful and Deadly Harvest

Who can explain why something deadly is also so beautiful?

The castor bean plant popped its pods, so to speak, in the last few days, but I couldn't see any of the beans on the floor of the deck where I'd moved it to keep it away from children and passersby. My gardening friend Michael and I had been watching this volunteer plant for weeks and neither of us could resist letting it grow, out of curiosity and respect, even after we figured out it was a castor bean plant, producer of ricin, one of the most toxic substances known.

Yesterday when he came by and we looked at it, he said he thought the beans were still inside, and in the interest of safety we should probably remove all the pods and see what we could find. We did and they were. We harvested 28 beans. As we had learned from reading W.P. Armstrong's website, we could see that the design on every bean is unique, like snowflakes. We also read that while it was not dangerous to handle the beans, as few as three of them, if ingested, could kill a child, and eight of them could kill an adult human. We handled them delicately. I washed my hands thoroughly afterwards, but later, when I lined them up on the kitchen counter to take a mug shot of the lethal little beauties, fat with poison and dead ringers for the bloated ticks they're named for, I could swear my fingers itched.

While we were pulling out the beans, one fell off the deck and onto the driveway below. Michael immediately went downstairs and was gone a long time. When he came back, he had the errant bean in his hand, and, relieved, I slipped it into the white envelope I'd pulled from my husband's desk.

I can't explain exactly how I felt looking at these beans. They are beautiful to me -- partly because of their idiosyncrasy, and partly because of their potential. I need to destroy them, but before I do, I'm inclined to offer a tribute to this powerful survivor, an intimidating and formidable harvest from Mother Earth.

Now there's another volunteer plant in a pot out front. Michael says it's a passion flower, a copious vine, and we've decided to place it where it can climb up a big old evergreen trunk in the corner of the porch, without anything to stop it.

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