Wednesday, October 01, 2008


Confessions of a Spud Harvest Drama Queen

Since my new home in Oregon is farm-ville USA, its been fun to drive home beside tractors and farmers motoring through fields and watch sweet dust rising from the ground, lit-up by the early morning light. I love the smell of hay fields freshly cut and I love how a field of winter squash looks after the rain. I have an affection for farming and farmers- there's something about this time of year that brings back memories of growing up in Idaho surrounded by farm fields.

Every year Idaho school kids get out of class for two weeks to help in the potato harvest. It was and is a messy, dirty job that had me up to my elbows in soil all day. I wore ski goggles to keep dirt out of my eyes and often came home looking like an earthworm, blowing black snot out of my nose and feeling machine-lag after riding on the the digger out in the fields all day (a digger is a machine that pulls the potatoes from the soil and typically they put the high-schoolers on the digger.) That thing jiggled me around all day till I couldn't hear myself from the buzz of the machinery that still buzzed in my ears when I jumped off the digger and headed home in my dirty-as-hell clothes, my damp, soil-black work gloves from the farm supply store and with my goggles off and I looking raccoon-like with my face dirty except where the goggles had been. Sometimes friends and I would prop a potato onto a hot part of the machinery during the day and in a few hours, take off our gloves and dig into the white steamy flesh of the thing and each take a bite. Yum!

When dusk came, we were exhausted and couldn't tell which was a potato or a dirt clod that rolled along in front of us on the conveyor belt. How can I possibly romanticize that experience? It was miserable, truly. But we were young, so we tried to make it fun. My friends and I sang vigorously, substituting in the word potatoes for love in the cheesiest love songs. Try it, it's fun.

One year I was the only girl on the potato digging crew and believe you me, that was a tough year. Try working beside all your little brother's friends- in all their junior-high-school glory. These boys had two subjects of conversation: sex and farts. The first they knew very little about the later they were well-versed in, but they spoke about both as though they had written THE definitive guides on each subject. I remember one ill-fated day sorting potatoes from clods while massive amounts of soil flung itself upon my innocent body and I was a complete failure at deflecting the dirty jokes of my zitty, adolescent coworkers. Well, I became FED-up with my brother's little "perverted" friends and decided I was going to walk home early from work. I jumped off the digger and trudged across the trenched, soily field with a view of my house a few miles away. (Before I continue on, I need to insert a note that I was a DRAMA queen in high school... I was actually "Actress of the Year" and used to flit around the halls at Sugar-Salem belting Broadway songs with my friend Suzette and mortifying my big sister the "jock" (who was a STAR discus-thrower in track and who had bigger biceps than her boyfriend, the state champion wrestler). . . anyways, back to the story: I made it halfway across the field and decided spontaneously to throw myself at the mercy of the nematodes and other critters in the soil food web and did the most perfect Nestea plunge right in the middle of the field. I was crying hysterically, the tears making perfect miniature Ganges rivers down my cheeks. I just lay there and looked up at the clouds and breathed a little, then got back up a few minutes later and walked the rest of the way home where my mother guided me into the laundry room helping me unpeel the soil-blackened clothes from my weary body while she tried to remind me that all boys are perverts at THAT age and I just needed to take a shower and relax a bit.

But even amidst all that drama, I still recall potato harvest with fondness.

I don't really get it, but I said it, it's the truth that there's something sweet about it. What was it? Was it just working so hard and clean. How often do you get to exhaust yourself in a physical job like that? Office jobs sometimes seem to suck the life out of me. There's always either the deadline push, which makes me anxious or the downtime which makes me bored and feeling guilty about not being MORE productive. Working outside all day, we learned to tell the time on where the sun was in the sky overhead (I got pretty good at it.) We were gardeners- actually more more like peons paid to do a dirty job that not a lot of people liked to do.

But it's something I'll never regret- in fact, I hope when I have kids of my own, I can send them to work in the potato harvest too.


FlavoursofItaly said...

We love your blog! What magazines do you write for? Perhaps we could collaborate in some way in the future?

Jen said...

I write for Sunset, Fodors Travel guides, Dining Out, USAToday and others. I've got a contact at Outside mag I need to work. I'd love to collaborate.