It was a cool morning, the sun slow to crest over the hill. A quick harvest of zucchini, summer squash, cucumbers, and beans left my hands chilled from the cold dew. Sitting with our dog Mica on the rocks outside our door, I began thinking through the various tasks I wanted to complete that morning. Most pressing on my garden list was harvesting potatoes. Most pressing of my “other” to-dos was writing this column.
I often joke with friends and neighbors that at some point I’ll run out of things to say. What will I write about? Every few months I seem to run into a hiccup of sorts: what could I possibly turn into an article this week? Certainly there’s no shortage of activity here at the homestead. Projects abound, and the seasons reliably keep things changing week to week. Still, not every passing detail can become pleasant reading.
So this morning I jotted down ideas, recent observations, and the latest homestead tasks. Trying to weave the story I knew must be there, the paper before me remained more blank than full. My best strategy in these moments, though, has always been: to work. Work, and the words will come. So I got out my buckets and garden fork and set about harvesting our red-skinned Pontiac potatoes.
For some weeks now I’d been pulling handfuls of potatoes out of the ground for dinner, just from the edges of the rows, where they were easy to access without exposing other tubers. Those had been decent in size, but nothing to brag about. I was ready to accept a mediocre harvest.
It was much to my surprise, therefore, when this morning I began pulling out jumbo ‘taters, so large I could easily balance no more than two or three in my hand at a time. The crop was looking to be good after all.
I weeded as I dug, turning the soil as my fingers searched subterraneously for the bright-red, almost pink, tubers. I pulled out deep tree roots, the remnants of the trees that were the prior inhabitants of this clearing. Worms abounded, as did broken bricks and small stones, somehow working their way towards the surface over the course of the summer. How did I miss them when I weeded this bed into existence this past spring?
I found more hardware as well: hinges, nails, bolts, piece of twisted metal I have no name for. These, too, tell of prior inhabitants the last time this clearing was a clearing. Nearing the end of one row, shards of glazed pottery and white quartz found their way into my searching hands. Even as fragments, the ceramic suggests beauty, white on one face and hues of blues on the reverse. I wonder, will our glass and plastic be the treasure of some future resident’s efforts? Could such seemingly mundane materials possibly connote similar sentiments of quaint-ness, historical romanticism, aesthetics?
My thoughts run on, as my hands continue through the dirt. By mid-morning the sun is hot and my task complete - the late-season potatoes can stay in the ground a few more weeks. I smooth out the bed and scatter a cover crop of oats. I quickly cut clover by hand to use as mulch, putting the bed “to bed.”
I put my tools away, make a mild effort at washing my hands, and step inside the cabin. I have something to write.
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