Black as in Iowa soil, that is — its first couple inches just touched with frost, covering golden potatoes underneath.
The cold came at last, the day after Thanksgiving in this unusually warm fall. Time to harvest everything that was left in the garden — carrots, potatoes, collards, beets — before the ground freezes for good. The top two inches or so had already hardened into a crust that resisted the shovel — what a specific texture and sensation, so premonitory — but once I dug down further the soil was still soft, even a degree or two warmer. I left off my glove to grabble for potatoes, even as my hand cramped into a cold red claw. It seemed right, and still pleasurable, to take your food out of your own ground by touch. The potatoes, gold and blue, were round and perfectly smooth, clustered near the surface; it was a dry summer this year.
Collards had begun to stiffen in the cold but were still in good shape. Carrots and beets slid out of the ground at a twist of the shovel, with frost still clinging to them in patches. If you know carrots, you know about the humanoid shapes they can make — this one looked like the back end of some little creature in a Bosch painting, disappearing in alarm down a hole:
I spent the rest of that afternoon cleaning and storing the basket full of vegetables that had come out of what looked like a winter-dead garden and making six quarts of chicken stock out of the carcass from Thanksgiving dinner, collard ribs, mushroom stems, and the wilted but still usable greens of the beets I’d just brought inside. The smell was heavenly. Frozen, it’ll feed me for a long time.
There is a thankfulness that goes deeper than words at receiving food from the ground, at seeing the results of your summer’s work in the days when failing light and rising cold activate that mammalian panic deep in your brain: what will I eat? There is a deep satisfaction at storing your carrots and beets and potatoes and turning scraps into golden-green stock and stacking the bags in your freezer, without spending a dime. There’s pleasure even in cold soil on your hands, the pale purple flash of a potato accidentally cut in half. And pleasure in the quiet of this work, as the world of big-box stores and “doorbuster” sales seems very, very far away.