Panning for Gold

I’ve visited the site in Skagway where my family home was, of course: the house has been significantly remodeled to nearly unrecognizable; the surrounding wild woods built upon; the side street widened to include more than a third of the former property, much of what was once our productive vegetable garden. I stood on the asphalt, remembering my young child and teenaged hands in the soil—its natural sandiness amended and richened with many cubic yards, from our own animals, of chicken and pig manure, which I had helped shovel—as I followed then the strings of roots down in the dark leading to another nub or boulder of a potato, until every plant had been harvested of its subterranean treasure, 300 pounds in a season from our two in-town lots. We ate new potatoes at the beginning of the summer and, at the end of spring, old potatoes; as the chant goes, we “boiled them, mashed them, put them in a stew.” We ate cream of potato soup and crispy hash browns. We ate potato pancakes and potato doughnuts; my mom experimented with the concoctions—exotic for a home cook with rudimentary equipment—of French fries and potato chips. I never got tired of the tubers.

This week, as I walked the aisles of the grocery store the day after the ferry delivered its supplies to town for the week—waiting overnight to allow the stockers to fill the shelves but not so long that other shoppers would empty the shelves before I showed up—I gathered the things I could imagine needing and wanting to sustain myself for the week ahead at the residency cabin in Dyea. With great resolve (that I regret at some point every day), I passed by the chocolate, despite the store’s having purchased a few bags from Costco of my favorite dark chocolate nuggets around a berry center, but once I start eating those—. I was happy to find almonds and plain yogurt; I branched out from leafy greens to include broccoli (not the head-sized crowns we had harvested along with our potatoes all those years ago, but a Lower-48-sized one, reasonable and compact). And then I thought, you know, when it’s cold outside and the chill has made its way inside you, and you’re hungry all the way to where that cold is, whether it’s temperature or longing, and you want to find your strength and keep going, there’s nothing like potatoes, maybe boiled, at the ready for sautéing, money in the bank. Yukon. Gold.