Finding life in the dirt

Finding life in the dirt

There are few activities as rewarding as digging potatoes.

I love the smell of dirt, the surprise and the memories. There’s not much I grow well, but I’ve got potatoes down, especially now that gardener friends told me to cut the vines and let them harden in the ground for a couple of weeks before digging. Who knew?

So I dug them up recently. I pull the last of the plant up to find the potatoes clinging still to the root and then I dig into the dirt with my hands to find the remainder. It’s messy, but I love the warmth in the top layer of soil and chill beneath; I love feeling around to discover a beautiful potato hiding.

I sift the dirt pretty well with my hands before I pull out the shovel. I’m not fond of this part because I always end up slicing up some potatoes I missed in the first go, but that just means we have to eat them for dinner that night, which we did with ginger pancakes and cardamom peach sauce.

Finally, I let the chickens have a go. They are all excited about the opportunity to scratch and normally turn up a few more potatoes I missed. It’s surprise beneath surprise.

And memories.

Digging potatoes was one of the few activities I did with my grandpa. I don’t remember him talking much, he laughed and he grunted, I don’t remember many other vocal effects. But digging potatoes doesn’t need much talking and it was lovely to be near him where the scent of dirt, Old Spice and Bengay mingled.

He wasn’t necessarily a kind man, but I loved him for his grit, his humor and for making bacon every morning. My grandpa was a farmer, an alcoholic, drove the gas truck and worked at the cemetery.

My favorite part of the resurrection story is where Mary mistakes Jesus for the cemetery gardener. He must have looked rough because that has never been a fancy-shmancy job.

I automatically assume the risen Lord looked like my grandpa with bibs, flannel and a John Deere hat slightly off kilter. That’s a man who’s seen hell and claims life and love in spite of it. I imagine the risen lord smelling a bit like dirt, Old Spice and Bengay trying to do the best he can with what he has. I picture him tired, without too many words, but some laughter and grunts, a name spoken with love, a presence that simultaneously brings fear and joy.

I’m not saying my grandpa was like Jesus, but digging potatoes made me think of the surprise of grace, finding life in the dirt, seeing love when you expected nothing.


• Tari Stage-Harvey is pastor of Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church. “Living & Growing” is a weekly column written by different authors and submitted by local clergy and spiritual leaders.


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