Dedicated to our recently lost, but forever loved, friends Kim Acton, Brian Bayles and Eric Johnson.
Navajo Maize Rug by Eleanor Yazzie
It is fascinating to me how corn, which is among the most familiar of grains, continues to mystify contemporary society. A full three-quarters of the world’s production is fed to livestock; thereby transforming it into meat, milk, eggs and a variety of other products we consume daily. As such, it is the world’s most ubiquitous food plant. Archaeological studies indicate that corn has been grown in the Americas for more than 7,000 years, and that American Indians grew the plant extensively long before Europeans arrived on this continent.
The origin of corn, which is actually a grass, is however shrouded in mystery, and its exact lineage uncertain. Cultivated corn is known to have been imported into the American Southwest more than 3,000 years ago. It is only recently, however, that science has begun to unravel its genetic roots and explain its development.
It does not seem very long ago when, as a young man fully integrated into the Boy Scouts of America, I went scrambling in and out of the Ancient Puebloan villages scattered throughout southeastern Utah with my buddies from Troop 311, Blanding, Utah. In the dwellings we often found small, charred corn cobs which ignited our imaginations. These remnants were a connection to the past; an association with an extinct culture.
From our perches inside those long abandoned mud, stick and stone houses, we looked out through open doorways and imagined neatly tended fields growing along the base of the cliffs. Sitting among the ruins, we visualized granaries stocked with large ceramic vessels containing corn, beans and squash. On the gentle breeze, we heard the ancient ones as they moved about their daily routine.
Although I am a huge fan of corn on the cob, and can eat it until my face is blanketed in butter and my stomach in jeopardy of bursting, it is the impact the plant has had on civilization that most fires my interest. When a culture has a steady, reliable source of food, such as corn, it can stabilize and build permanent structures where many families live together in harmony. Under the right circumstances, out of that grouping of people grows division of labor, society, government and eventually art.
Maize Watercolor by Serena Supplee
Lately, I have begun to view my life in terms of an ear of corn; with each kernel representing a window into a particular episode. In the yellow morsels clinging to the rough cob, I see love that was, but never should have been; love that might have been, but wasn’t; and finally, love as it was meant to be. Also included is agony, ecstasy, tears of sorrow, tears of joy, fear, success, failure, happiness, pain and countless other reflections. Each bud describes a story; a fragment of my being woven into an overall portrait illustrating who I am and the reasons why.
Beginning at the base of the ear, I can see the years of my youth; running barefoot through the dirt streets of Bluff, scrambling up sheer sandstone cliffs; and quiet peaceful nights gazing at constellations, full moons and streaking meteors. The adolescent and teenage years are a little farther up the cob and the organization of the seeds more random, exciting. I have seemingly progressed to the center; an area where the kernels are firm, better developed, with more complete illustrations. It may be that these larger pieces represent a fuller understanding and acceptance of my universe.
Beyond the center, there is empty space; an open area which must be waiting for new growth and further development. Then there is the tassel; wavy, unruly, shimmering. All is enveloped, snugly, securely, in a green sheaf. The Navajo people believe corn depicts their presence in three different worlds; its roots represent the underworld from which they originated, the stalk is the present and the tassel illustrates the spirit world. To them, the plant is also a symbol of fertility, regeneration.
When I have progressed from center to tassel, and those left behind take time to review the fruit of my life, I hope they will find I added something significant to their lives, and to this world in general. After I cease to exist, a few of my seeds may carry on and plant more corn for future generations.
With warm regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.