Nine thousand years. Maybe ten. Maybe fifteen. Five hundred generations. Of humans that is. Nine thousand generations of this. Nine thousand years of fields green with three sisters. The gold of tassels, rust of pods, sun orange and berry red of squash. I feel the breath of my ancestors in these gardens, stirring leaves and leaving behind a harvest of memory. Nine thousand years.
Most of Luni’s ancestors still walked the hills alone. They say goats came first. Were the first to walk with the crazy humans, join up in this project of food regulation. Goats know a good deal when they see it. Churros are more goat than sheep, though they just won’t eat the weeds. So maybe goats with refined tastes. But fortunately not the ovis death wish. Churros are survivors. Wily. Resourceful. No round barns for churros.
Goats and grains. The weight of continuity, the flow of time, in this rhythm. Walk the lines. Reach and bend. Pull and twist. Check the ears now and then. Though the smell of this field proclaims the ripening. Reach and bend. Pull and twist. Like my mother. Like hers. But…
There was a hiatus of insanity. A time out of joint. Out of rhythm. Why we’re in this mess. The time of my grandmother’s mother there were no gardens. So they say. Or gardens were grown for leisure. Whatever that might mean. Can’t imagine there weren’t weeds to pull and bugs to squish. Strangely demanding leisure. But nobody grew food except the monster mechanized farms. Which didn’t merit that name in my opinion. It’s not farming if there is nothing to eat at the end of the day. I don’t understand those days, don’t pretend to.
A few decades of corn without her siblings. Growing lonely in vast fields. And nary a soul to speak to her. Monster machines to throw her to the ground and rape her treasures. No thanksgiving. Tossed to pigs and chickens or turned to oil and sugar. But maize is poison without her sisters. Were the old ones so lost that they lost this knowledge? How did their gnawing stomachs not remind them of what we all knew? For nine thousand years. Five hundred generations. And a few thought they were beyond matter, above the corn. A very few generations thought very little about food. Which is all that is worthy of thought.
How could they not know that?
Things of amazement: that there is anything left
There must have been some gardens. Fields of corn, bean and squash. Rows of chile and cucumber, tomato and tomatillo, cumin and sage and alliums. If it had all been industrial scale, I’d not be here in this dance. Reach and bend. Pull and twist. We would have lost ourselves along with the memory of maize.
But someone reached her hands back to the days before insanity. And she found us waiting in the gardens. Because we never left in spite of myths to the contrary. We live in the gardens. We live because of the gardens. The gardens are us. There is no humanity outside the garden gate. There is no soul without soil under the fingernails.
Which explains quite a lot about those times.
Even sheep will avoid the smell of poison.
Nine thousand years. Right here. In this place. On this soil. Shuffle step and toss the ears in the basket. Then shuffle and reach for the next ear. And sun beating on backs and hats. Brown skin and browning stalks. In August — before some man named this time for himself. Before these names existed. But the corn was tall, the beans winding through the stalks, the squash rambling at their feet. Because corn by any other name is still as sweet.
And this is a thing to be grateful for.
They had a harvest thanksgiving celebration in that time of insanity. Of course, it was in late November. And no offerings were made to the tutelary deities. No thanks were offered back to the despoiled land. It was not a notably grateful gathering. And there was no corn. Because it was November, of course. There was nothing of the fresh harvest. Except perhaps nuts. What were they celebrating? I suppose they didn’t even know.
And that is what comes from deeming yourself sufficiently knowledgeable to leave the garden. You lose what was gained in eating that apple. And so much more. The knowledge you don’t even know you don’t know. Only discover the gaping holes in your seamless world view when you fall in screaming. The future becomes a leering smile that you can never decipher. Only fear.
And oh how they tried to know! Read the cards. Watch the stars. Seek the answers in stones and sticks and old tea leaves. All to know if the harvest would come. And they didn’t even know what harvest they sought. They didn’t know it would come every one of those nine thousand years as long as the gardens were growing.
Mary, Mary, quite contrary… only it probably wasn’t Mary.
Because she was shuffling through the fields with a bushel basket in tow, hands calloused from serrated leaves, back aching from abundance. A dizzying splendor of work and dreaming, come together in tangible divination of full bellies. Of life for another season. Though at the cost of these thousands of green lives. Green and gold. Those drops of gold that never become lives before becoming food for other lives.
It’s a dance. All of it. You can’t see that outside the garden. Can’t feel the give and take. I live because this grain gives me her children. I live to plant her descendants. For nine thousand years. She gives me her seeds to carry on her seed and gives up her life so that I might give her family a future though my own future. She gives me her life. You are never grateful enough for your food. There is no harvest thanksgiving rite sufficient to the sacrifice she makes for me. And for her children.
I am grateful.
But perhaps not as daily as I ought to be. And I live in this garden. So I know those people in the insane time, the ones with no gardens to sustain them, those people could not have known the rushing flood of gratitude that comes from pulling an ear off the stalk. And then shuffle to the next. How could they feel their obligation if they’d never felt the silk of the corn tassels in their hands? How could they know their place if they’d never known their food? How could they sense the debt they owed if they’d never tasted the seeds they’d planted, the children of harvest past?
They could not and did not and so they became lost.
But not all. Because here I am in this garden. There is a barn filled with hot muttering sheep. Chickens are hiding from the face of the sun under the desert willow. I have a basket of golden treasure. There are beans drying in the shed and squash fill my belly every meal. So there were some that knew. Some that continued. Some that persevered.
What must that have been like? To be one in millions. Such loneliness. At least among your own kind. But even the companionship of the garden might have been poor reward. I suppose that’s why knowledge is cold. It may be bracing, but it is inadequate substitute for a warm hand on the shoulder in times of fear and doubt.
And no substitute at all for anything to a people mired in words and wealth.
I pity them every day. I am amazed that I exist. Because how did they endure it? How did they get through those times to get to me? Those in the ragged remnants of gardens with their small dreams beating up against monster machines. Those in the supermarkets who never felt at home. All those who lived in the insanity. My grandmother’s mother. My grandmother’s own mother.
They watched the stars when all they needed was to sink their feet into good soil. The stars carry no messages. They are ancient. What news they impart is old. The stars are beautiful echoes of deep and lost time. What hope for the future could that cold enlightenment bequeath? No. The future is underfoot. It is alive. It is teeming. It is now. Here is all the foreshadowing you need to know the harvest. Learn to read the fields and you’ll never want for wisdom. We’ve known this for nine thousand years. Though it has never been written — neither in stone nor stars.
I have no children of my own. But I will pass this dance on to those who follow in my footsteps. I know the rhythm. I know the gratitude. I know my place. My vow to the future is to never again allow the forgetting insanity to cloud our way. I will be the continuity and my gift to the future is this continuance. Shuffle step. Reach and bend. Pull and twist. Drop the ears in the basket. Shuffle step. Right down the line. Practicing the wisdom of the garden.
When I am rejoined with my Mother, others will carry on the wisdom. As it ever has been. For nine thousand years. Five hundred generations. Minus a few lost. After me, may there be nine thousand years, five hundred generations, further. Connected to the soil. Knowing the future. Grateful to the seeds.
And may there never be another generation of the lost.
©Elizabeth Anker 2021