Digging Potatoes is not a Matter of Life and Death

My aunt finished carving her 58 pumpkins for the approaching holiday. I was inspired on an uncommonly warm day to take care of the two from our garden that were my own to design. The pumpkin entrails gushed around my fingers and the seeds that could have been half baby almonds slipped out of my grasp no matter how deftly I tried to pick out each one. I had never sliced anything open that would expose innards other than seeds, until a few hours earlier.

I posted a series of blogs entries in the summer that detailed my own learning process in the garden. Somehow all the harvesting flew by each piece of produce in its own moment or series of moments. Broccoli and peas passed so quickly that I barely recall eating more than a handful on salads. Other produce, like kale and tomatoes, lingered long past my own cravings. Their diverse applications in meal after meal became more a mental exercise than gastrointestinal appreciation.

The potatoes were my first and last challenge in the garden this year. My dad and I harvested over three bushels. That was not what struck me most today, after my shovel struck through another type of flesh. Months ago, the potatoes had been my learning salvation. They were big, easy to see, strong plants that I couldn’t wreck. Their seeds, only halves or thirds of large potatoes cut apart, were my first step into simple unknowns. The three types of potatoes were my first glimpse at how little I knew and how much repetition it took to remember the onslaught of content. The plants laughed at me when I forgot to look for bugs, because once I did, they didn’t have any at all. Their hills were my first opportunity to practice my father’s integral technique and also the little bits of him, Irish, Methodist, and forgiving that I also sought to learn about while in the garden.

“We need to dig potatoes,” he reminded in September, and then dug a bag on his own for house use.

“My friend said she’d take a bag,” I said a couple of weeks later, and he hauled the heavy load in himself.

“Are we digging the rest after the game?” I wondered last week.

“We’ll dig them. Don’t worry.”

Finally, today we did, what was left anyway, after his impatience and independence had run their course. The first job he gave me, wiping off dirt into my gloves, appeared an exercise in futility, and I paid more attention to my dog lounging under umbrellas too many to count created by raspberry leaves.

“Here. You can dig. Be careful, Go around. Gently. But eventually you’ll have to take a chance,” and he walked off to wash the harvested potatoes in his plastic bucket. Sure to show off how I deserved such responsibility, I didn’t rest. I dug hill after hill, first three across and then two. He walked bag and forth with buckets to wash. For a few spare moments while he checked my work, I stared off across the horizon realizing how certain pigments that had taken on form really were my favorites, and I hadn’t realized I had reached moment where I felt happy.

On the second to the last hill, I drew blood. Upon removing the blade of the shovel, I was horrified to see blood between the metal and a large potato. My eyes swerved to the pink flushed out from dark black fur as a border around exposed white innards. My insides shook. The worm halves sprinkled between clumps of dark earth had been bad enough. I abandoned the hill. I covered the potato and I buried the mole. When I turned I saw my dog’s eyes, not because he smelled my kill. He heard my cry. Had I been rushing or just unlucky? Did it really matter? What did? That at least it was a swift, clean death.

I spent the last year rushing, stressed and sad that nothing I did mattered nor reflected my skill to anyone much less myself. The only thought that popped into my head after I confessed my crime to my father was, “it’s not a matter of life and death.” Caught by the dry snicker of leaves above, I was forced to admit that all my gut wrenching worry I called transition hadn’t been worth it. I knew what luck I had to stand in the grass border and gaze across a hundred shade of brown field. Nothing was a matter of life and death, not even the mole’s hurried funeral. It was a cycle. Time, not even when measured by days, months and a little over a year, wasn’t linear. I went in the house and sautéed potatoes, while giving myself permission to throw the last tomato away, let a worm weave its stomach through the still standing kale, mourn the mole, and move on.

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