A Moment of Marvel

On this first day of November
it is cold as a cave,
the sky the color
of neutral third parties.
I am cutting carrots
for the chicken soup.
Knife against carrot
again and again
sends a plop of pennies
into the pan.
These cents,
when held to the gray light,
hold no noble president,
only stills
of some kaleidoscope
caught being pensive…
and beautiful,
in the eye of this beholder,
who did not expect
this moment of marvel
while making an early supper
for the hungry children.

~Cindy Gregg, “Monday” from Suddenly Autumn.

I wasn’t prepared for November to begin on this chilly Monday morning.

Throwing on my barn coat and boots, I pulled up some of the last carrots from the garden, cut them up, added some already harvested beans, peas and corn from the freezer, threw in some baby potatoes to make a crockpot of beef bone soup.

When we return home hungry from our community work tonight, we will be tired but well fed.

There is a moment of marvel in preparing a meal from one’s own garden bounty, remembering the small seeds put in the ground 6 months ago, and now washed and cut and simmering in a pot in our kitchen.

The start of November isn’t so chilly after all. We are warmed by the work done through the spring and summer, the sun and rain that grew these vegetables, and the Creator God who provides, even in the cold and dark months of the year.

We’ll make it through this first Monday of November, anticipating the marvels to come.

A book of beauty in words and photography, available to order here:

The Redeemed World

You get down on your knees in the dark earth—alone
for hours in hot sun, yanking weed roots, staking trellises,
burning your shoulders, swatting gnats; you strain your muscled
midwestern neck and back, callous your pianist’s hands.

You cut roses back so they won’t fruit, rip out and replace
spent annuals. You fill your garden dense with roots and vines.
And when a humble sprout climbs like a worm up out of death,
you are there to bless it, in your green patch, all spring and summer long,

hose like a scepter, a reliquary vessel; you hum
through the dreamy wilderness—no one to judge, absolve,
or be absolved—purified by labor, confessed by its whisperings, connected to its innocence.

So when you heft a woody, brushy tangle, or stumble
inside grimy, spent by earth, I see all the sacraments in place—
and the redeemed world never smelled so sweet.

~Ken Weisner, “The Gardener” from Anything on Earth.

We are in full-garden produce preservation mode right now on the farm – these are the days when we pick the fruits of Dan’s labors – all the hours he spent this spring preparing the soil with rich compost, meticulously pulling out weeds by the roots, rototilling and cultivating, then staking/stringing/sowing the rows, then standing back to watch the sun and rain coax the seeds from the dark.

All this happens in a mere few weeks – we never tire of this illustration of redemption and renewal we’re shown year after year – how a mess of weeds and dirt can be cleared, refined and cleansed to once again become productive and fruitful, feeding those who hunger – both now and deep into winter and next spring.

It gives me hope; even when I myself am feeling full of weeds and despairingly dirty and overwhelmed, I can be renewed. It takes a persistent Gardener who is willing and eager to prune away what is useless, and sow anew what is needed for me to thrive and produce – His hands and knees are covered with my grime.

And the fruit that results! – so very sweet…

If you enjoy Barnstorming posts like this, you’ll enjoy this new book from Barnstorming, available to order here:

To Scatter New Potatoes

Between my finger and my thumb   
The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.

Under my window, a clean rasping sound   
When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:   
My father, digging. I look down

Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds   
Bends low, comes up twenty years away   
Stooping in rhythm through potato drills   
Where he was digging.

The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft   
Against the inside knee was levered firmly.
He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep
To scatter new potatoes that we picked,
Loving their cool hardness in our hands.

By God, the old man could handle a spade.   
Just like his old man.

My grandfather cut more turf in a day
Than any other man on Toner’s bog.
Once I carried him milk in a bottle
Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up
To drink it, then fell to right away
Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods
Over his shoulder, going down and down
For the good turf. Digging.

The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head.
But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it.

~Seamus Heaney, “Digging” from Death of a Naturalist

Van Gogh Painting, Oil on Canvas on Panel Nuenen:
August, 1885 Kröller-Müller Museum Otterlo, The Netherlands
Digging Potatoes by Martin Driscoll http://www.martindriscoll.com

Digging potatoes is one of the most satisfying tasks for a farmer. Often the dead above-ground vines have melted into the ground, blending in with the weeds and encroaching sprawl of squash vines. Finding the treasure underneath the topsoil is an act of faith. You set the shovel or fork boldly into the dirt to loosen up the top eight inches. Then you submerge your hand into the dirt and come up with a fistful of potato gold nuggets, each smooth cool tuber rolling into fresh air like so many newly discovered hidden Easter eggs.

A daily dig for words to write isn’t nearly as easy as finding potatoes in the soil; the bounty under the surface often remains hidden away from my view and elusive. I have to keep searching and sifting and sorting. Some that I end up with are rotten. Some are overexposed, too green and toxic. Some are scabby and look ugly, but are still useable and hopefully tasty.

Yet I get out my virtual spade and dig into the dirt of life every day, hoping, just hoping, to come up with words in my hands that are not only beautiful, colorful, smooth and palatable, but a sheer delight for the digger/reader to discover along with me.

The Cathedral to Memory

 

transparents

 

appledylan

 

I planted an apple tree in memory
of my mother, who is not gone,
 
but whose memory has become
so transparent that she remembers
 
slicing apples with her grandmother
(yellow apples; blue bowl) better than
 
the fruit that I hand her today. Still,
she polishes the surface with her thumb,
 
holds it to the light and says with no
hesitation, Oh, Yellow Transparent . . .

they’re so fragile, you can almost see
to the core. She no longer remembers how
 
to roll the crust, sweeten the sauce, but
her desire is clear—it is pie that she wants.
 
And so, I slice as close as I dare to the core—
to that little cathedral to memory—where
 
the seeds remember everything they need
to know to become yellow and transparent.
~Catherine Essinger “Summer Apples”  from What I Know About Innocence

 

appleseeds

 

A seed hidden in the heart of an apple is an orchard invisible. 
~Welsh Proverb

 

applesauce

 

It is at late summer and harvest time when I most clearly remember my mother – she is standing for hours at the kitchen sink peeling yellow transparent apples, readying them for sauce, and always a pie.

The apples were only part of her daily work:  she canned quarts and quarts of green beans, peeled the peaches and pears for canning, sauced the plums, pickled the cucumbers, jammed the strawberries and raspberries, syruped the blackberries, froze the blueberries, cut the kernels off the corn cobs, baked up the zucchini into breads and cakes, dried the filberts, dug and stored the potatoes,  dehydrated the tomatoes.

Over the years I’ve stood by the sink and the stove and have done what my mother used to do, usually not as well but with the same mission of preserving what I can for another day.  We have been fed from our summer labors.

I know well these trees and vines from which the fruit grows.  I plant the seeds which somehow know to produce when tended and nurtured.  I stand and peel and wash and boil and stir as this is what generations of my family’s women did before me.

May it ever be.

 

applesauce

 

rainytransparent2

And the Eyes Have It

cellardoor

Nothing would sleep in that cellar, dank as a ditch,
Bulbs broke out of boxes hunting for chinks in the dark,
Shoots dangled and drooped,
Lolling obscenely from mildewed crates,
Hung down long yellow evil necks, like tropical snakes.
And what a congress of stinks!
Roots ripe as old bait,
Pulpy stems, rank, silo-rich,
Leaf-mold, manure, lime, piled against slippery planks.
Nothing would give up life:
Even the dirt kept breathing a small breath.
~Theodore Roethke “Root Cellar”

rootcellarsteps

pears9614

rootcellarjars

I tug on the handle of the heavy root cellar cover to lift it to one side in order to descend the steps to the underground room that serves as a year round natural refrigerator on our farm.  At the bottom of the stairs, I open the thick sealed door to permit a shaft of sunlight to illuminate the inner darkness–there is always a moment of wondering what I might find on the other side in such a mysterious place.  A rush of cool earthen air blows back at me as if displaced by the light that has rushed in.  Until I snap on the lights, it is as secret as a womb harboring its precious cargo.  This place smells of dirt and moisture–the lifeblood of the fruits and roots that tarry here until it is finally their turn to be brought up into the light.  Potatoes, onions, apples, pears, nuts all resting and waiting, as if suspended in time.

It has been awhile since my last visit.  As the lights blink on, I blink too in unbelief.  There had been a startling transformation, as time no longer stands still as it had through the winter.  Long white arms, almost waving with enthusiasm, were reaching out from the potato bin in a desperate searching plunge through the blackness.   In this dark place, their blind eyes must sense a better place and have set out on a mission to get there.  The naked shoots are so entangled one with the other, it feels voyeuristic, as if I were witnessing something private and personal.

I gather them up,  apologetic for causing them a moment’s doubt about their destiny.  A trench must be dug, so they are placed gently at the base with shoots pointed toward the sky, and the dirt swept over them in a burial that is more commencement than coda.

And so the eyes have it, having reached for a light not seen but sensed.

…even the dirt kept breathing a small breath…

Was blind, but now can see.

rootcellarjars2

IMG_1113

Caught and Stoppered

photo by Josh Scholten
photo by Josh Scholten

“Dandelion wine.
The words were summer on the tongue.
The wine was summer caught and stoppered…
sealed away for opening on a January day
with snow falling fast and the sun unseen for weeks…”
~Ray Bradbury from Dandelion Wine

Now is mid-January:

Summer is found in our dark root cellar–
in rows of canned fruit and
a pile of potatoes

Summer is found in our freezer–
containers of berries and dehydrated pears
alongside bags of pea pods, corn and beans.

Summer is found in our barn–
piles of hay bales to be opened
to release the smell, the sun, the sweat of a midsummer evening’s harvest.

 

Hollowheart

The largest potato I harvested from our garden this fall was the size of a small grapefruit–a yellow fleshed variety with a smooth surface, a rather irregular shape but nevertheless impressive in sheer bulk. It had been waiting on the shelf in the root cellar for just the right dinner this winter and tonight was the night.

I peeled it and to help it steam faster, started to halve and quarter it. I could tell as the knife went through it that something wasn’t quite right. And it wasn’t.

This beautiful spud was hollow with brown fleshy mush in the center–not rotten–no odor whatsoever, but internally a defective mess. Gorgeous outside, a shambles inside. There wasn’t really enough good potato to even steam up to eat. It was beauty only skin deep, with no substance within.

Potato hollowheart is an abnormality that occurs when a potato grows too quickly with uneven climate conditions–too much rain, too much fertilizer too quickly. I’m not sure why this potato suffered when the rest of my crop were regular size and all exposed to the same garden soil and weather. I don’t fertilize at all so this was a potato that simply went awry for reasons of its own.

It is a reminder that the best of the crop are the ones that tend to blend in with the rest–sometimes with scabs that need to be smoothed or peeled off, or a rough surface that requires extra cleaning, or too many eyes, or just a bit on the small side. But once they are cleaned and steamed and prepared, they are sweet and fleshy and buttery without butter. They are nearly perfect despite their plain outward appearance.

I don’t ever want to be discovered to have a hollow heart. Give me scabs and scars and wrinkles and puckers. But make my heart full, overflowing and sweet, with joy revealed inside a plain and rough outer skin, and all my grimy spots scrubbed clean.

Digging Potatoes

Digging Potatoes by Martin Driscoll http://www.martindriscoll.com

Recent rains have melted the potato vines flat to the ground, nearly indistinguishable from the dirt where they lie strung out and dead spider-like. It is time to dig before there is no trace left of where the potato harvest can be found. Weeds still thrive in the cooler autumn weather, green and strong, but the potato vines had given up several weeks ago, dying back as summer waned.

Armed with basket and pitchfork, I go to work, sinking the tines into the soil to loosen it, then lifting up gently to see what I might find underneath. From a waterfall of dirt tumbles smooth egg-size ovals of red and yellow and white. I pan the dirt with my fingers, sifting through the clumps to discover nuggets to brush off and set aside in the basket to take to storage in the root cellar.

Within each unearthed hill of potatoes rests the old mother “seed” potato, so fertile and firm, eagerly sprouting when planted only 4 months ago. I stumble upon her, noticing her vigorous nurture of multiple offspring, sometimes as many as twenty coming from one original planting. Occasionally I find her shrunken to only a dry floppy skin, her flesh spent and dispersed. More often she is still recognizable, though spongy and softened, wrinkled and withered by her immense effort to propagate. Most poignant are the hills where there is nothing left but residual gooeyness in the center. It adheres sticky to my palms as I unexpectedly grasp her glutinous remains, and it gums up deep under my fingernails.

The seed gives all of herself. As she must.

The new potatoes are spread on the drying shelves, color coded into gold, red and white, waiting in the dark root cellar to become a feast of dreams born of sun, rain and soil. I return to the kitchen to wash their dirt off my hands, scrubbing to remove what still clings to my skin. Even so, my fingernails stay hopelessly stained and brown, and I don’t mind.

Within my hands I will carry the memory of the mothers.

Van Gogh Painting, Oil on Canvas on Panel Nuenen: August, 1885 Kröller-Müller Museum Otterlo, The Netherlands, Europe F: 97, JH: 876

The Eyes Have It

I tugged on the handle of the heavy root cellar cover to lift it to one side in order to descend the steps to the underground room that serves as a year round natural refrigerator on our farm.  At the bottom of the stairs, I opened the thick sealed door to permit a shaft of sunlight to illuminate the inner darkness–there is always a moment of wondering what I might find on the other side in such a mysterious place.  A rush of cool earthen air blew back at me as if displaced by the light that had rushed in.  Until I snapped on the lights, it was as secret as a womb harboring its precious cargo.  This place smells of dirt and moisture–the lifeblood of the fruits and roots that tarry here until it is finally their turn to be brought up into the light.  Potatoes, onions, apples, pears, nuts all resting and waiting, as if suspended in time.

It had been awhile since my last visit.  As the lights blinked on, I blinked too in unbelief.  There had been a startling transformation, as time no longer was standing still as it had through the winter.  Long white arms, almost waving with enthusiasm, were reaching out from the potato bin in a desperate searching plunge through the blackness.   In this dark place, their blind eyes must sense a better place and set out on a mission to get there.  The naked shoots were so entangled one with the other, it felt voyeuristic, as if I was witnessing something private and personal.

I gathered them up,  apologetic for causing them a moment’s doubt about their destiny.  A trench was dug,  they were placed gently at the base with shoots pointed toward the sky, and the dirt swept over them in a burial that was more commencement than coda.

The eyes have it, having reached for a light not seen but sensed.

Was blind, but now can see.