Saturday, September 7, 2013


By Nathan Hoover

This September morning I finally got around to digging up the potatoes we sowed back in March, a job I'd been meaning to finish before the fall rains come down in earnest.  As I started carefully scraping away layers of dirt, I suddenly imagined myself as an archeologist, and my focus shifted to the history hidden under all that soil.

We’ve made our backyard into an urban farm, but it wasn't always thus.  Turning up the occasional artifact--a glass shard or shiny wrapper--evidences prior residents who used the dirt as a personal landfill. Then there was a time not long ago when this neighborhood was just fields and orchards.  Of course, the soil itself was carried here tens of thousands of years ago on catastrophic floodwaters; the rocks I dug up were boulders once, winnowed down by the giant rock tumbler of the Missoula floods and settling out of the torrent right here in the now potato bed.

As I went deeper, one foot, then two feet, I imagined myself a jail-breaker.  Digging my way not out of a prison, but out of the city itself.  Out of a broken food system, out of the urban heat sink, out of the pavement and pesticides that have been built up around us.  Walls behind which we will all waste away if we don't get out soon.

Moments later I was a coyote, digging by my nose, unearthing a body.  It was the buried body of my former coyote-god self as it was before the mythic transformer arrived and made the mountains hold still, took the everyday language from the salmon, made humankind.  I had my head to the ground and my hands in the dirt not as an animal, but as a worshiper.

Then I was the old pioneer sea captain who, guided by the north star, shaped his corner of Portland to keep that star always in sight.  Or better yet, I was a pirate, driven by my own moral code and my own understanding of freedom, digging up real treasure and holding the chunks of gold up to a grey Portland sky, grinning.

And then suddenly all those faces came together in me with a flash of realization.   As an urban farmer, I am each of those things.  And that, I decided while dusting myself off from all the digging, was the real root of the matter.

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