I would grow corn in my garden every year, and I do, whether I ever get to eat any of it or not. Even the crows seem to know that something special is on the way because I hear them screaming about it as they swoop above my kneeling form sowing the hardy dried kernels, alerting their flock. When conditions are right; ample sunlight, healthy soil, enough but not too much rain- a great trick to pull off here in the northwest- the strong seedlings make their appearance in about a week. No skimpy seedlings these. They pop up big and sturdy from the start, a foreshadowing of their future majesty. Like the tomato, their aroma is present from the get go, too, and it puts you in the mind of butter and salt.
I grow heirloom corn because I am politically correct. No GMO me. A few years ago I traveled to New Mexico and while there climbed into the amazing Anasazi cave homes in the cliffs. The history of these Native American people goes back 7000 years that we know of, so when I learned that their maize seed was discovered in ancient storage bins and that the Territorial Seed Company had its descendent seed for sale, well, it wasn’t long before I was happily sowing the jewel-like kernels of crimson, black, purple, blue and yellow in the rich brown compost of my garden. Because it was a very mild winter last year, it was a very cold and wet spring this year. I waited longer than I usually do to plant it because I know that corn likes the heat and light.
Anasazi corn must be particularly sweet because this year for the first time, I understood why there is the need for such a thing as a Scarecrow. In all my years of growing corn, the earwigs have gotten to them, the squirrels have had their way with the young cobs, the weather has not cooperated to bring them to fruition, but the crows have never done their mythical damage. About one moon into the growth of these beauties, I woke up to find all my rows of them pulled from the ground and lying there like so many blades of mown grass. A few sassy and shameless crows were walking around in this maize mausoleum as if nothing at all was the matter. “Corn? Oh, right, this. That was fun, thanks!”
I think if the crows had eaten the corn seedlings, I’d have felt better. But all they did was pull them up and leave them there to languish in the morning dew, walking around in them like Kali in so much blood. I became a Scarecrow then, whooping and yelling as I ran outside all too late. But I had another half a bag of the jewels and I’m no quitter. Round two.
These took quickly, and I helped them along by covering them with gauze until their roots were strong and set and even the strongest crow could be no match for them. But summer was slow to come and they weren’t even knee high by Lughnassad, much less the 4th of July. But cobs or no cobs, I am happy just for the sight of its tall, verdant beauty towering over the circuitous squash and huge horseradish. Two weeks ago we finally had a few days of true summer, temps rising to the 90’s, and my corn shot up. Last week, it finally tasseled and hope sprang eternal in my foolish heart.
Now here it is, the last weekend in Aug. and I woke up this morning and found, to my great dismay, complete corn carnage. Was it the possum I’ve seen lumbering across my back yard tripping the motion light on after dark? Was it the raccoons that made their way into my magick circle last Beltane night after all the revelers had gone? I’ll never know exactly who took them down over the night but it was déjà vu all over again, and this time on a much larger scale. All my beautiful spirit filled stalks, my strong ancient time keepers, my late summer delight, ruined. It must have been some kind of a crazed corn caper celebration because I found tassels and leaves and bits of stalk all over the back yard. An organic orgy.
I spent the day in the garden today deadheading the daisies, weeding, picking ripened blackberries, and red cheeked pears. I didn’t have the heart to even touch the prone corn. All day I walked past them like they weren’t there, aware that I was in denial, living in the land of wishes where my corn still stood, their middles fattening with cobs about to become ears. And then finally, as the day drew to a close, I carefully collected them, breathing in their sweet scent, petting and mourning the silky and colorful tassels, running their leaves between my fingers. Apologizing to them for predators.
And I kept them. They are drying in my garage and on the Harvest Moon coming, I will situate them standing up behind a few early pumpkins to usher in the season. There is no waste in nature.