Fall is in the air. The rustling of the dry corn stalks signals the time for harvest. The fall rain could come at any day, so we are busy pulling in all the drying seed harvests.
My favorite part of the corn harvest is braiding the corn for storage. As my hands strain to keep the tight tension on the husks, I get this overwhelming tender feeling that I am braiding Corn Mother’s hair.
Many times my hands have braided the hair of my daughter, and it is with this same loving care that I braid the ears of corn together. Just as my ancestors did.
This year, my children and I work together to put the harvest up. In times past, the village would come together to make light work of the corn harvest. As we pull the husks away from the ears, we still sing the ancient songs, our hands re-awaken to the old muscle memory of the braiding. I yearn for my grandmother and her mother in times like this. If only I could ask them their favorite techniques for making sure the handle of the braid will hold under the burden of dozens of ears of corn. These braids will hang in our house until dry; they are our form of prayer flags; blessings of life in tightly woven strands.
Here is a video of someone braiding corn in the Haudensaunee tradition;filmed up at Oneida Nation. I learned to braid from the wonderful late Norton Rickard from Tuscarora. I learned a slightly different way to start the braid, but this method shown here also works.
I am grateful that my children will have the memories of seeing their mother upholding this old tradition, and that when their hands grow strong enough to handle the husks, they too will teach others this skill. The harvest always brings smiles, and a bit of silliness too. As we collect the corn silk medicine, the children find ways to make me laugh:
Each ear we un-wrap is like a present…glistening gems of kernels finally seeing the sunlight after gestating inside the tight folds of the husks. The Six Nations Blue Corn has a depth of so many colors; slate blue, dark purple, dark magenta. All these colors layered together to create a beauty that often takes our breath away as we husk the corn.
You can still see the ridges where the husk was tightly wrapped against the growing kernels.
This rare blue corn is known to us as the “Six Nations Blue”. This specific seed came from Akwesasne, where my family is from. Here is Rick Hill from Tuscarora talking about the Blue Corn seed.
Our homeschool work is often outside these days. The children work on their handwriting, math and other studies next to me on the harvest blanket.
As we harvested the corn, they learn about why certain ears have little to no corn kernels ( not well pollinated!! ), and we talk about the importance of diversity in the field. We come into the shade to write about the morning’s work, and the old corn pollen shakes out onto the pages they are writing on. They are learning with all their senses. We sing the old seed songs, we tell the creation story with Corn Mother, we learn about how corn is important to people all over the world. We go into the kitchen and we cook with the corn. The blessing of the Corn Mother is with us in these cooler days of fall. She fills our table with her nutty richness, with her hearty sustaining kernels turning into bread, tortillas, tamales and soup. The children are learning in a way that brings wholeness and peace to their hearts.
We also have beans to harvest. Today at our homeschool circle, the children cracked dry bean pods to unveil these black and white seeds. Skunk beans are a rare pole bean from my Haudenosaunee ancestors. I received a small handful of them a few years ago, and we have dutifully grown them out. Perhaps next year we will have enough to actually feel comfortable enough to eat some. We have been focused on growing them for seed, since there are only a very few people on Earth who are growing these Skunk bean seeds anymore. We hope to continue to share these special beans with others who value their story and flavor.
Harvest time, in all is busyness, is always my most cherished season. This is the time when people come together to help each other, to bring in the bounty. It is the time of the year that I feel most alive in my body. The simple act of the harvest rekindles the spirit fire that reminds me of my human-ness. That life is precious, and that this abundance should not be taken for granted. I am hoping you are having an abundant season, with all that it has to teach you.
I leave you with this Corn Mother Blessing, from Cherokee poet, Marilou Awiakta:
What gift should I offer to my grandchildren?
What will help them to survive the teetering of the world?
Looking at my basket, I see what it should be—
Selu, the Corn Mother’s heart,
the sweet heart of the corn,
so fragile that it is cut out of store bought meal,
so good that meal is dross without it,
My grandchildren must have the whole corn—
the grain and its story.
They will be corn-fed,
just like all their mountain ancestors have been.
In the beginning, the Creator made our Mother Earth.
Then came Selu, Grandmother Corn.
Her children circled round her, like the kernels of her body—
red, black, white, yellow, brown,
round and round and round
no one first or last
all in harmony.
Each one different
each one good—just like you.
When the children did their part,
When they helped her and remembered their manners,
Selu fed them.
When the children forgot their part,
“when you take, always give back.”