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