Thursday, August 17, 2006

Corn is Life

The truck pulled up on our gravel driveway and I heard doors open. Someone got out, but I paid no attention to who it was. I was intently focused on ridding our corn patch of moisture-sucking weeds and singing my personalized version of the Navajo farm song to the stunted stalks sprouting from the earth. My song was an attempt to bring about a growth spurt through reverse psychology.

Navajo Pictorial Basket
Navajo Pictorial Basket

In a cracked and off-key falsetto, I was letting our corn know that the plants of our neighbors to the north, in Wayne and Renee Palmer's garden, were at least a foot and a half taller and nearing fruition. This situation was unacceptable, because we had planted our seeds at nearly the same time. Being shown up by the superior gardening abilities of our friends frustrated me.

When we established our plot, I talked Laurie into planting the corn in small hillocks, much like the Navajo people do. The idea was to preserve moisture and eliminate our usual parallel rows. What we most often accomplished with rows were tall, stately, well watered plants on either end and short, stumpy, undernourished growth in the middle. Because the theme is so prevalent in Native American art, it was important for me to grow good corn. I feel an obligation to our artists to maintain a high standard when it comes to objects of associated interest.

Corn is of major significance to the Navajo people. One of their four sacred plants, it is a symbol of fertility and dedication to ceremonial activity. It is also deeply sacred to all Southwestern tribes, and is of major importance in many aspects of Native American life. To the Navajo, there is probably no rite or ceremony in which corn does not play a part. I once read that, "Corn is more than human; it is divine. It is connected with the highest ethical ideals." I figured if I practiced the well considered habits of centuries of Native gardeners, I might, in one fell swoop, overtake my neighbors in plant production.

It was getting dark as I rooted out the vermin of the plant world. As I worked, I struggled to portray some semblance of proper verse. I remembered the Navajo planting song had references to the earth, sky and moisture; all personifications of the female entity. Down on all fours, I was searching out weeds in the most remote corners of our garden. I could hear thunder off to the west, and recalled that Navajo culture implicates Sun as corn's father and Lightning as its mother. I once read a passage by Harry Walters, a Navajo medicine man, which explained that corn is a metaphor for human life. This is because both life forms go through similar stages of development. Corn and humans reach a time of fruition when they blossom; corn bursts forth with pollen, while humans achieve a peak of development associated with "hozho," a Navajo word describing harmony and balance.

I was so engrossed in helping our garden become all it can be that I did not notice my wife and daughters quietly observing my activities. I must admit I was startled when out of the dusky twilight came McKale's voice, "Dad you look like a stink bug crawling around in there!" My wife laughed and sarcastically said, "I think he's praying for forgiveness for being such a poor gardener." Alyssa burst out laughing, and after a great inner struggle finally got out her comment. "I was sure it was a Bad Moon Risin'," she said. I should have never introduced that child to the music of Creedence Clearwater Revival!

Marvin Jim Rattle Set
Navajo Folk Art Corn Rattles

Indignantly I rose up out of the corn stalks and informed my three would-be comedians that I was attempting to address our corn shortcomings, that the Palmers were showing us up, and that if they had any sense of competition or decency they would help out. "Speaking of decency," said my wife, "You might be a little less noticeable when you are pickin' and singin' in the garden. The neighbors may begin to question your sanity."

"Humph," I snorted, "What are we going to do to overcome this desperate corn situation." My wife then told me that the Palmers' success was really no secret. She had spoken with Wayne earlier in the day, and he informed her that they were using sheep manure to fertilize their crops. This additive was the reason for their bigger and better production. "No, . . . sh_t," I queried. Who would have guessed!

With warm regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.

Copyright 2006 Twin Rocks Trading Post

No comments: