Carrots and Potatoes
Perhaps because I am—and I believe rightfully---keto diet-phobic, I have been thinking about potatoes a lot these days.
I like potatoes. I like them mashed with buttermilk. I like them in a nice green curry, ringed round with skinny green beans in salade niçoise. I like them in the many toothsome chowders. I like them roasted, split and topped with whatever is your fancy: chives, sour cream, cheap caviar. A potato is a tabula rasa and a sublime tribute to the earthiness of earth.
Which is why I am not wading into the Potato Head madcap. In my salad days, the potato of that game was an actual one and my mother was parsimonious in handing them out.
Also—I won’t wax nostalgic about a friend who once who sang me “You’re My Little Potato” which is a song for kids—actually babies--but it was a truly sweet gesture.
But I am going to stick with the song. It’s a good song, sung by MetaMora, an obscure band that recorded on the Windham Hills label which is itself, now obscure. Or at least out of business.
I sang “Little Potato” to my little daughters--when it was already a long unknown oldie-but-goodie. Its repeated line is “They dug you up, You come from underground.”
Now--I have never planted potatoes. But last summer I planted carrots for the first time. And I expected nothing. Truly, nothing. I’m no gardener. Plus, you can’t see what’s going on with root vegetables. A few friends who happened by indicated that my soil was too rocky, my plantings spaced far too close.
But when I cut down the last of the rainbow chard, I just gave a little tug—okay, I used a hand spade—on a carrot. And up came a carrot! And as I spaded more, a bunch of carrots came loose, gnarled and stunted in their lovely (natural, not dyed) orange-ness. I filled a basket. I loved these unexpected, misshapen, creviced and dirt-filled wonders. If I had not chanced to dig, I thought, they would have withered with winter and become pale skeletons dug up next spring.
Reader, you are smart and you know that this is a metaphor. And since I didn’t plant potatoes, I had to talk about carrots. But you get the point: the discovery is in the digging.
That is nowhere more true than in our intellectual lives. And yep, we all have intellect which, like abs, can grow flaccid, making us more prone to consume unquestioning acceptance than abs are to absorb ice cream.
If there is one thing I wanted to teach my little potatoes as children was the love of inquiry. If there is one thing I struggle to do when I lead the congregation I serve is to spark curiosity. If there is any companionship to be had between people, mine must be marked by a ranging wonder about the world and not the stultified certainties that are simply shackles disguised as wisdom.
Wonder goes farther. The truisms about “cancel culture” and “triggers” aren’t without merit. We must, with humility, understand that we don’t know what it is like to tread ground in others’ shoes. And hopefully learn new things.
And corollary to that—we don’t know all that there is to know, and never will. But brazen wonder and a “thirst like a taste for salt,” to quote the poet Robert Hass, are trusty guides as we try to dig deep in what is unknown, unseen and dark and fertile.