On the flowering of potatoes, the crimes of tyrants, and your comforting voice


Rows of flowering potato plants, July 1, 2020. Those are staked tomato plants in the foreground.

The humble potato has its moment of floral glory.

Two types of well-sprouted tubers I planted around the first of May have overcome unseasonably cold temperatures through much of that month, then drought in June, and are now looking quite healthy thank you, despite current drought conditions.

Perhaps in defiance, both are showing pretty, blue flowers. Usually that’s a clue to the colour of the potatoes taking shape in the ground. But not in the case of the four rows on the left where a well-known, red-skinned potato with white flesh is growing.

The name of that variety is Chieftan. And, yes, I strongly suspect that was somebody’s idea of a joke to name it that when the variety was developed in the Midwest U.S. in 1957. If that’s the case, it’s a bad joke that one might think somebody at the Iowa State University Department of Horticulture might, even then, have had second thoughts about when it was ‘selected’ as a new variety.

Chieftan is now regarded as a ‘heritage variety;’ in which case that heritage is still tainted with an unpleasant whiff of racism. I thought momentarily that I might not even mention the name, so as to avoid repeating the racial offence. I took some time to look on the internet for any indication someone else, somewhere, might have raised some concerns. Apparently not, and yet it seems obvious to me; so I decided if I was going to mention ‘Chieftan’ at all, I was going to raise my concerns about the name.

So, there is it is: believe it’s a valid concern or not, but it’s time to rename one of the most popular red-skinned, white-fleshed potatoes planted annually by many thousands of gardeners and consumed by millions of people.

The name of the potato variety growing under similarly blue-flowering potato plants on the right also gave me pause.  The name, by the way, is Russian Blue. These days it seems all things Russian have become suspect.

A close reading of the Mueller Report leaves no room for doubt that the current Russian leadership interfered in the 2016 U.S. election in favor of Donald Trump. In his appearance before House of Representatives’ Judicial Committee last year to answer questions about his findings, Robert Mueller himself said it’s highly likely Russia is preparing again “as we speak” to interfere in the 2020 election. The latest news, which Trump is now calling “another hoax,” is the shocking allegation that Russia offered to pay a bounty on American and allied soldiers in Afghanistan. With each passing day since the New York Times first broke the story comes further credible confirmation.

Such is the world in which we live: two great nations that combined to defeat an utterly evil regime that murdered millions and would have murdered millions more on its way to dictatorial world domination, have themselves fallen into the hands of dictatorial, or would-be-dictatorial, in the case of Trump, tyrants.

Do I blame the American people, or the Russian people? Or, for that matter, do I blame myself, because after all I am human too; and to be human means to be tragically imperfect someday, somewhere under some fateful circumstances. We imperfect, ordinary people can be forgiven, for our failure to discern, yet again, right from wrong, truth from lies, and the lessons of history we fail to learn, or even consider. We will wake up one day, trembling in fear at the terrors of a terribly changing world, and ask, “why didn’t somebody tell us?” Though ‘they’ did, many times. Then in desperation we will fall to our knees begging to be saved from the awful calamity; or forgiven for our ignorance. And we will be, we are already, we poor fools.

But those who exploited our weaknesses for their own unprincipled, selfish purposes, for power, or wealth, or both — they will not be forgiven. And I would not for the life of me choose to be in their shoes when they come face to face with the eternal consequences of their crimes.

And so, I grow potatoes, and take comfort from their brief show of flowering glory. I water my plants by hand in the drought and feel good that I am helping them survive and flourish. I try to keep myself well-informed, knowing that otherwise I am not much use to a world in trouble, even as I struggle to understand what one little, fading voice can do to help.


Flowering peas of the edible pod type, Norli variety from the Netherlands.

Suddenly, I think of what John Milton said in his poem, On His Blindness: “They also serve who only stand and wait.” But you didn’t, John. You did more: You wrote a great poem. You brought comfort to the blind, and countless others in despair over their limitations and afflictions and in need of comforting.

Now is the time for each of us to follow that example, and comfort each other however we can – one or millions – in these troubled times.

As Dan the wise man from Luxembourg told us young fellows many years ago, “Boys, never doubt, you can change the world.”

Yes, we can. In big ways, and little ways, each in our own way, however humble.


Buttercrunch lettuce, a ‘survivor’ started indoors, transplanted near the garlic. It endured unseasonably cold weather in May, drought in June, and again now. I kept it and many other plants watered by hand. It’s not perfect as you can see. But it made a very, fresh, tasty salad.


6 thoughts on “On the flowering of potatoes, the crimes of tyrants, and your comforting voice

  1. nice to see your spuds flowering! Ours started this week here in Miller Lake and we didn’t get them planted until 1st of June. Will be excited to see how they do as this is a first time for me.

    Dan Carpenter


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