Digging for Gold In My Own Backyard

Since I’m traveling today, I thought you might enjoy a blog I wrote last fall for Suzanne Beecher who runs “Dear Reader” book clubs online.  Suzanne’s book clubs are a great way to have book excerpts sent directly to you each weekday, in a genre you choose.

For the record, and a year later, I did NOT plant potatoes this growing season.  But next year?  Who knows?


I’ll confess I’m enchanted by thoughts of buried treasure. Novelists are a romantic lot. My practical friends see tumbledown houses and vacant lots, and they think about septic fields and new construction. I see stories buried in the rubble. Beside that spindly willow? A chest with great-grandmother’s pearls and a photo of the man she lost, protected against the ages in a heart-shaped locket. Under those decaying steps? Letters from a long dead president, explaining why he did or didn’t go to war, and how the decision haunted him.

With that in mind, with thoughts of a hundred possibilities, today I dug in my own front yard. Not for gold coins. Not gold jewelry. Yukon gold potatoes. Buried last spring where sensible people would have planted shrubs. Buried with hope and ceremony and tender, loving care.

Many years ago, during my first sojourn here in Virginia, I grew potatoes. I planted them on St. Patrick’s day and thought of my Irish ancestors, wondering proudly what they would think of my green thumb. Unfortunately, nostalgia and pride do not a garden make. In keeping with the theme, my yield mimicked the Great Famine. Had I depended on my harvest, I would have been the last of my line.

This year I was determined to succeed. Again on St. Patrick’s day, I dug holes and placed my starchy hopes at the bottom. And as the plants sprouted and grew, I covered them with soil and mulch and optimism. I calculated when to dig my buried treasure and imagined the dishes I would cook.

My result? Nine potatoes. Not a one as large as a dainty lady’s fist. Some just a smidgen larger than my thumb.

Treasure is like that. Sometimes the long awaited prize is far different from what we anticipated when we began the hunt. Writing can be that way, too. Sometimes a completed novel is not what we envisioned. A book, like a potato patch, takes on a life of its own and becomes a fat family saga, or a slimmer, more intimate volume. The result might be potato salad instead of potatoes au gratin, a simpler story, earthier, perhaps even tastier.

This year, despite my best efforts, my potato patch was only a short story. But what a succulent bowl of potato salad those nine potatoes will make. At month’s end, as I launch into my latest book, I’ll remember them and proudly smack my lips. Once again I’ll be immersed in anticipation and possibilities. And when the last word is written, I’ll be proud of the result and delighted my imagination and hard work carried me to that place.


  1. Merry Lu on November 4, 2010 at 5:33 pm

    Thank you for sharing your potato story, there’s nothing like harvesting your treasure after a season of gardening. I hope you’re having a safe and fun trip.

Leave a Comment