Caught by the River

A Handful of Beans

6th March 2021

An extract from Anna Koska’s ‘From Field & Forest: An artist’s year in paint and pen’, newly published by Pavilion Books.

A Handful of Beans
(Written in October 2017, before we took apart the veg garden) 

The dawn of a new day, and October has slipped in through the open door, riding on the seemingly endless tide of windswept leaves. The ritual and rhythm of a walk through the field is calling. 

There’s the added boon of a new pup, Billie, to enjoy this time with me. She’s all legs, oversized feet and a mass of brindled fluff, and she reminds me of the joy of just being in this sea of green, which can be easily overlooked. 

The field is beginning to hunker and huddle for winter’s approach, and much rain has tramped down even the sturdiest and most stalwart of grassy outcrops. 

The acrobatic grasshoppers have left the stage, but in their place many spiders have been busy weaving huge trampolines between the hollowed husks of the once blowsy petticoats of mallow. Their silken skeins are taut with the anticipation of a meal – the master builders waiting at the edge, one foot poised to feel the slightest ripple of the foolish and fallen. 

Billie is completely oblivious to these small but definitive set changes; her head is down, and her nose is full to brimming with the unruly and chaotic torrent of new scents that clamber for her attention as she snorkels through the dewy grass. There’s rabbit (so many), deer and fox (the serial killer that meticulously slaughtered all of our chickens) and also the freshly dug, blackberry-blue of a badger latrine. As a youngster she hasn’t quite mastered the skill of self-application, but I can tell that to her it’s like raiding the shelves of a perfume counter… Penhaligon’s-for-pups. Her eyes are slightly crazed and showing a lot of white. 

Onwards to the veg patch. It’s not looking its best, but even in this state of semi-decay there are elements that never fail to make my heart happy. The empty hulls of forgotten and spent marrows lie stranded in their earthy bed like washed-up shipwrecks unceremoniously dumped by the careless hand of a storm. The overwintering broccoli are wearing peppered leafy overcoats. Morse-coded with tell-tale dots and dashes… ‘the coast is clear stop come dine here stop’: evidence of a successful assault by the late army of cabbage whites that I’ve been batting away. A futile pursuit. But with any luck the temperatures will continue to plummet and so these regular raids will peter out.

And then there are the glamorous, slow-nodding pompoms of overgrown leeks. With a good friend’s encouragement, I decided to leave them and so they’re now approaching their third year. I’m dearly hoping for a huge crop of scapes to roast and roll in a thick balsamic vinegar; they go so well with a soft and creamy goat’s cheese. But even if this dreamy promise doesn’t come to fruition, their evolution has been a visual feast, like watching fireworks in very slow motion. 

I make a visit to the greenhouse, to pick some of the late tomatoes that are beginning to glow among the turning leaves. They have an air of Christmas-come-early that makes me smile, but also wince a little; local shops have already started putting out the appropriate cards and walls of family-sized biscuit tins and boxes of chocolates. It’s only October, for goodness sake. 

Then I spy the drying borlotti pods. Once the plump and dazzling eye candy of the bean bed, they’ve now become sunken forms; their parched skin no longer fits, like the bagging skin that cloaks the arthritic knuckles of ancient hands. Gathering up a pod, a whispering chatter-rattle escapes from the jostling passengers inside. Without thinking, my thumb happily takes charge and slides down the crisp and gaping hinge point to reveal the perfectly preserved little worlds within. 


‘From Field & Forest’ is out now and available here, priced £14.99.

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