The Seeds I Plant.
This year I chose to grow all heirloom seeds in my garden. Of course, some did well and others didn't.
I planted "Cherokee Trail of Tears Beans." They have this name because they were physically carried from the Cherokee homeland in the Southeastern United States on the Trail of Tears to
Vietnamese Buddhists and many Buddhists believe in a strong connection with ancestors. They believe that if they make a positive change in a harmful family pattern it will not only benefit the change maker, but his or her ancestors as well. I can't say if this is true. I would like to think that my better choices somehow benefit those who have gone before me.
On the other hand there was so much family violence going back generations that connection to my ancestors gives me the creeps. Also, I have no wish for them to inherit my mistakes.
But when I work in the garden, picking beans and corn, I have to say Thank You to the ones who kept these strains alive for me to grow, enjoy, and share.
I can't really imagine how those Cherokees, rounded up at gun point managed to grab their seed crops. A people's traditional food is as much a part of their culture as their language. Can you imagine the
tribes without blue corn or the Germans without sauerkraut or sausage? How about Italians with no pasta or the French with no wine and African Americans who grew up on it without sole, Soul food? Pueblo
Those Cherokees were held in stockades where they slept, ate, and deficated, some for months before the Trail even began. That is when the dying began. How did they manage to keep their seeds dry and not Eat them when the U.S. Army handed out bad rations? What did mothers tell their children who wanted "normal" food, while they sat on the ground nursing their babies?
They crossed rivers on overcrowded boats and some drowned in freezing water. They walked their feet bloody, leaving the wagons for the sick and injured or disabled. And when they got to
Oklahoma there was a Cherokee Civil War between those who had signed the treaty of New Echota, giving the their Entire Homeland and agreeing to go West, and the majority who Refused. United States
The word corn in Cherokee means "Our Life". It was the name of the woman who knew her children would kill her but still determined to benefit the people. From her body came corn, beans, and other healthy and good food. Her husband was the hunter who kept all game animals inside a mountain. Whenever food was needed he would go their, taking only enough life to support the people's health.
So the corn I grow (also a Cherokee variety of field corn) is "Our Life." And "Our Life" supports the most prolific bean plants I've ever grown. Once they reached the top of the corn they produced enough food each week for me to have a nice meal with them and to share.
A gardener's joy is having a circle of food traders around. My sister has cucumbers but no green beans and those are her favorites from the garden. The man who volunteered to work with me to move the entire garden to a better place had no early squash. I introduced another woman to Cherokee Purple Tomatoes, my personal favorites. We have all traded food, money, or work around this Summer.
A gardener's joy is also giving food to someone with diabetes and knowing that if they eat it this food will help them to stay as healthy as possible, maybe prolonging the quality and length of their life.
So when I have these pleasures, and the joy of picking healthy, organic food with no or little insect damage, I must whisper a prayer of thankfulness to those who preserved the seeds and flavors of what I love. There is beauty in the ripe, fresh food they saved for us. So many colors and shapes: purple tomatoes, red tomatoes, orange tomatoes, white corn, green beans, dried purple to almost black beans, tobasco peppers, banana peppers, jalepeno peppers, buttercup squash, ruffled kale, and long leafed collards. How many different groups of ancestors saved so much? I owe a debt of gratitude to Each! A garden gives the benefit of exercise and the joy of seeing what Earth and Sky and Seeds can make, and the health which comes from good food, this Is Our Life. Farmer's markets and community gardens are a Must for cities. I learned to eat beet greens and amaranth greens from the Asian American people at out farmer's market. Amaranth is a crop of the Incas and I'm not sure where beets originated. There is much to learn and taste at a Farmer's market or Community garden. We must guard the food heritage given us by ancestors who weren't forced to exist on over processed convenience foods or only the left over scraps of a master. We must guard the honey bees which make plants fertile.
The stories around a people's food are interwoven, in a tapestry of history and language and travel. I speak to the garden beings which are infused with so much history and struggle in thankfulness, knowing that they contain so much more than the word "plant" could Ever Convey.