This year, we planted sweet potatoes. In early June, we placed the five small slips in a raised bed. The small plants seemed dwarfed by the sea of mulch around them. I began to wonder if we should plant more, but soon, the green vines covered the space and had to be trained to not overflow the bed. As soon as the vines covered the space, I was ready to harvest, but this was the time for the unseen growth, for the development and maturing of the potatoes underground and hidden from view. I watched those vines and dreamed of the harvest. It was sure to be spectacular. Like Forest and Bubba, I was dreaming of sweet potato pie, fried sweet potatoes, sweet potato casserole, and so on.
Finally, 147 days after planting, it was time to harvest. Since sweet potatoes require additional time drying to truly sweeten, we found three stackable strawberry boxes in which to dry our harvest. I wondered if it would be enough.
The clay soil under the mulch didn’t yield to a gentle tug on the base of the first vine. The garden trowel failed to find a potato. Finally, one sweet potato and several stunted pods emerged with a shovel. Discouragement loomed. The list began of what might have gone wrong. Fortunately, the remaining plants yielded slightly more. At the end of our harvest, one of the strawberry boxes was partially covered by well spaced sweet potatoes. My unmet and unrealistic expectations threatened to overwhelm my thankfulness and wonder at the produce of our garden.
I wonder how often my lifescape resembles these sweet potatoes in my garden. I start a project, relationship, or spiritual practice with great excitement. I wonder if I should throw more of myself into it. I become impatient and mistake the showy leaves for the true fruit. I neglect to appreciate the unseen growth of the true fruit. I begin to long for and dream about harvest. I set unrealistic expectations. When ultimately the fruit is revealed, my unmet expectations threaten to overwhelm my appreciation of the wonder that is present.
Perhaps the practice of thanksgiving is needed, thanksgiving for the ground and for the time in my schedule, thanksgiving for the growth both seen and unseen, thanksgiving for the harvest whatever it may hold, and thanksgiving for one sweet potato casserole.