The Present Witness

We live on the demarcation line of history. Our land is bordered by a road in the front and a camino (footpath) in the back. On the road side, the terrain flows into flatlands that tractors can access. Behind the camino, the fields scale back up the mountain, and can only be planted by hand.

The rain has made it clear it’s here to stay, and planting time is in full swing. In Iowa, my homeland, this means the vast, black sea of topsoil is laid bare, and gargantuan farm equipment roam the plains like imperial walkers, dwarfing all natural objects, their drone and growls replacing the cicada’s song and long gone predators. Here in Mexico on the other side of the road, the zero-till trackers crush the clay into brick, giving one pause if you consider the incredible strength of a seed, and how it manages to force it’s escape from the trampled earth. It’s a triumph of nature, they’re sung into the stream of existence by the sun’s siren song.

Behind the camino, the slish of a chuso (hand tool for planting) renting the soil, and the occasional chink as it bounces off stone can be heard in the still of the afternoon, followed by the tapping of a huarache on the newly planted mound. The one hold out in the flatlands, Don Bolillo, still plows his cacahuate (peanut) field with mules, but it is only because they do not yet have a peanut planter in the area.

From the hand planted fields we are often serenaded by campesinos singing their way through their labors. The ballads of Charros (cowboys) ring through the peaks, or sometimes the haunting sound of a grass harp. Across the road the radio phones blare durangense (popular music style) about drug deals, guns, and drinking Buchanan’s.

Everyone plants hybrid seed but us, though a few still plant small plots of maize criollo (indigenous corn) for making tortillas. The farmers make fun of Felipe for sticking with the old plants.

“They grow so tall,” they say, “they are in danger of the wind, and you cannot plant them close together so you are losing money” and various other reasons that supposedly the hybrids are superior.

No one is aware of the dangers that hybrids pose to the environment, and to their dwindling stock of native plants. Biodiversity is an unknown concept. Felipe quit trying to convert people long ago, they all think he’s crazy. ‘Lead by example’ is a tired mantra in our household.

Zea Mays is a petty tyrant, but during the growing season, I still delight in its accomplishments; when its knee-high (by the 4th of July in Iowa), when the pollen laden tassels seduce the bees and the silks loll under them to catch their golden fall; shades of Zeus and Persephone. Perseus could not have hoped for a greater conquests than corn has accomplished. And oh… the moment when the stalks have grown to the point that their rustle in the wind is exactly the sound of waves. I am always moved by its might and metaphor.

A plainswoman in the mountains of Mexico, a transplant, nourished by a companion plant.

Before me the future hums,
behind me the past whispers.
I, am the present witness.

© 2013 Abby Smith, Writer

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