Saturday, November 18, 2017

The pleasure of feeling

A reminder for me....

Backyard basil in September

November crept in on us again, as it will. The shadows lengthen as the daylight dwindles. We talk about the cold and the rain, but we rarely dark of the darkness. Many of us don't see it, our eyes fed by the steady glow of pixels.

Those who see shadow, feel it deep in our bones, have learned not to talk of it. Among the dying it feels rude to talk about death.

Gardeners know.

Countertop sweet potatoes last week

I had a small patch of sand in back, tossed in compost and manure last June, and threw in a few slips of sweet potatoes, bought cheap because bought late, just to see what would happen.

Sweet potato leaves are lovely to look at and almost as lovely to nibble on, and sweet potatoes need about as much care a a patch of dandelions (also lovely to look at and nibble on).

Summer rolled into fall, the sweet potatoes sprawled out of their patch, even flowered at one point. I left them alone, occasionally watering them, more out of habit than out of need. 

I pulled a "test" plant out late October, found no tubers. I set the roots in a bottle, and it sits on my sill for winter now. The first hard frost was coming a weeks later, so I left the rest alone.

Windowsill sweet potato this morning

Last Friday, with the hard frost coming on in before the next sunrise, I went out to my tiny tater patch, not particularly hopeful, but I had already gotten more than I earned. The air was chilly, but the ground still warm and welcoming. 

I pulled up a plant--scraggly roots, no tubers. Oh, well.

The warmth invited my fingers to dawdle in the dirt. I was already on my knees, in no hurry to get up, and digging in dirt with the sun warming my back was what I wanted to do at that moment.

So I did.

And there it was--an inch or two deeper than I expected, the unexpected flesh. I tried to pull it out. It held its ground much as a clam does, snug in its world, not resistance its only defense.

I wiggled it out and ran to get Leslie, and a minute later two happy and excited humans rooted through the dirt, finding tuber after tuber, joyfully sharing our finds with each other.

Fresh dug sweet potatoes

I grew up hearing the Aesop's tale of the dutiful ant and the lazy grasshopper. The ant worked and worked all summer, the grasshopper played. The shadows lengthened, the days grew chilly, the grasshopper knew it was in trouble.
"Making music, were you?" the ants cried. "Very well; now dance!" And they turned their backs on the Grasshopper and went on with their work.

The moral? "There's a time for work and a time for play." It's an awful parable because of its awful message, and it took me decades to throw off its chains. 

There is no need to distinguish work from play or play from work. Turns out the things in life that bring me the most joy mingle  together, and fingers feeling the earth need no justification.

But we will enjoy feasting on the sweet potatoes just the same....


Shannon (@shauser) said...

I had to laugh when I read this post because I had a very similar sweet potato experience this growing season. I too had purchased them discount and planted them late, not finding much in October. I wish I had known the leaves were edible. I pulled mine up earlier this week and was delighted to find the scraggliest looking sweet potatoes.
So name many gardening blogs and forums talk about how cost ineffective it is to grow your own potatoes. How come no one talks about the joy of digging them up? It seems like magic to me ("hey, who buried these potatoes here??"). I think I'll continue to pick joy over efficiency.

doyle said...

Dear Shannon,

Your last line sums it up well--culturally we keep picking efficiency. Maybe good for the economy, whatever that means. Not so good for humans.

Thanks for your words!


Barbara B. said...

Never did Sweet Potatoes, but I clearly remember the joy of peanuts!!! It was like Christmas. How many would be found in each package!! So I can see you both happily rummaging through the earth's wrapping to find your treasures. Thanks for the smile. Enjoy the sweets.

doyle said...

Dear Barbara,

Peanuts in New Jersey? Tell me more--see you soon!


Barbara B. said...

Never in New Jersey, but twice in Staten Island. I'll tell you the story when I see you. No one told me I couldn't , heheh.