Crikey! Jack and the Beanstalk in Me Very Own Gardenby Logical Lizard on May. 24, 2010, under Desert Flora, Humor, Sonoran Wildlife, Technology
As a child, my favorite fairy tale was Jack and the Beanstalk, more commonly referred to as Jack the Giant Killer, here in the USA. Well, it was my favorite along with Three Billy Goats Gruff. First published in 1807, it follows the exploits of Jack, a young man who acquires some magic seeds that—overnight—produce a beanstalk of gigantic proportions. For a reason not clearly explained in the story, Jack feels the need to immediately climb the stalk, a task which eventually carries him above the clouds and into the dominion of a giant, who (along with his castle) is somehow lighter-than-air, or at least immune to the tedious effects of gravity.
I always felt a bit bad for the old giant. He was minding his own business when Jack showed up and proceeded to do a little breaking and entering in the castle. Naturally enough, the giant wanted to grind up Jack and make bread out of his bones. It’s the sort of thing giants are expected to do, and he came up with the highly memorable: “Fee, fi, fo, fum. I smell the blood of an Englishman!”—something I heard endlessly during childhood visits to the States from dear old London. So, Jack goes on to carry out repeated black ops missions up the beanstalk, stealing first the giant’s bag of gold coins, then his favorite hen that could lay golden eggs, and finally a magic harp (why the giant had all this swag is not made clear, and how would a giant play a magic harp anyway? The harp was regular person-sized). In the end, not feeling that he’s done enough damage, Jack kills the giant, and goes off to marry the daughter of some boring old count, and live happily ever after as a wealthy man. What a thieving wretch he was! Who took care of the giant’s wife after Jack did in her sweetie? I used to worry about these things when I was a kid.
I was discussing the ethics of Jack and the Beanstalk just the other day with my friend Libby, and declared to her that I habitually take an anti-Jack stance. “And remember, he traded the family’s last cow for the magic beans,” she pointed out. “What a completely irresponsible thing to do! He was a jackass.” So, there you have it.
I moved into my house in Tucson about six years ago, and one of the things that sold me on the place was the literally enormous Agave americana sitting magnificently next to the back patio. More commonly known as the Century Plant, or blue agave, this monster had been neglected for years and was surrounded by its multiplying progeny, known as pups. One of the youngsters was so big it took me half a day to dig out and replant just the one pup.
So, imagine my delight when—a couple of weeks ago—the big agave miraculously produced a Jack and the Beanstalk-sized appendage right here in me very own domicile! The stalk grew, seemingly, a foot or two each day—not quite as quickly as in the fairy tale, but almost—and now towers over the house and surrounding saguaros. In fact, it is now so tall that it will soon start posing a threat to those low-flying police helicopters that swoop over the night-shrouded city blasting the ground with spotlights, much like a scene from Blade Runner.
I decided not to try climbing the beanstalk, because mine has all kinds of nasty sharp spines around it, and a fall would probably land me squarely on top of one of the saguaros. Also, even if I could make it up past the clouds, I just wouldn’t have the heart to steal someone’s special golden egg-laying chicken. That’s just mean, and anyway I’m a vegetarian.
In the meantime, the gargantuan stalk is very popular with my gila woodpecker family, who are enjoying using it as yet another elevated platform from which they can squawk obscenities at me. They are excruciatingly noisy birds, and for sure do not lay golden eggs.
Photographs © by Geoffrey Notkin. All rights reserved. No reproduction without written permission.
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