Vaguely, I remember a book in my father’s study, inside a black and white drawing of a maize-ear. Mother Corn was printed beneath the image.
If I remember well, it was a tome on the Hopi Indians, a Pueblo tribe in the North American deserts. For me, as a boy, it was immensely disappointing to read that the these ‘Indians’ were living in real houses, a kind of pre-modern stack flat apartments at that, so this likely before us White Men began to build them.
At the time, an Indian for me was a Tecumseh or a Sitting Bull. Every Indian was a chief and a man and one who lived in a teepee, in a pointed tent. The vague notion of a squaw played along, but not as a real Indian. For someone seven years old so much was clear: An Indian – a man on a horse, wearing a colorful, feathered head dress.
Many years later I understood what it was my anthropologist-father was interested in: The relationship between the sexes and especially the role of women in the rise of sedentary society. Woman marked the end of the nomads. ‘Civilization’ – cultivating crops, caring for ‘hearth and home’ and raising the kids.
For my sense of masculine self-esteem it was a good thing that, once in the USA, I found that meanwhile the Hopi have become the fire fighters of the United States. So real men, clearly!
The Law of Laws, or: The Chief’s Stick – corn symbol in the middle
While glancing at that picture of the corncob for the first time, though, there already floated a question mark over the couple ‘maize/desert’. Whence the water? That liquids are necessary for the cultivation of the crop, even though it is a ‘dry’ plant, I could sort of confirm today by way of two acts of theft.
In these Dog Days of the meteorologically speaking Olympic year 2016, a stray philosopher as well as an amateur agriculturalist, in retreat in La France Profonde, is likely to venture a hypothesis. If only as an alibi for his double crime.
While I was walking along the corn field just above the Maison Bourgeois of Baron d’Oiron, amazed as I was I stopped in my tracks. What fat cobs of maize, what generously shiny green leaves, grown so high – all this, after an unadulterated and ultra dry heat wave which started autumn already in early August!
Over a bone-dry ditch I sneakily jumped into the field, risking an explosion of my hernia. Though barely so, my arthritis claw managed to steal a cob.
Once below the Maison and past the beautiful château-farm Les Clous – both buildings in aristocratic and better times part of the same Château a little further on, where the Baron’s brother still waves his scepter – I passed my second cornfield. This one corresponded more or less to what I did expect in a canicule: Poorly grown, low stems, yellowish leaves and small cobs.
For entirely scientific reasons I stole my second cob of maize, not a shadow of the first one. At home I put them together in order to make two comparative pictures, my alibi in mind:
How is this possible? Within one hundred fifty meters the climate will never vary all too much. My suggestion of an answer: Water!
Both fields were never sprayed, something you see regularly happening on surrounding farms, done by those enormous and elegant nozzles with their antediluvian appearance of a dinosaur providing the thirsty maize with drink, sometimes day and night. Not so here.
Could it be that the Maison’s pond, located immediately above the first field, may be constantly watering the crop during dry periods? Field II is desolate, lying in the desert into which, year in year out, the Dog Days transform this part of my otherwise glorious Brenne. This harvest – forget it. Or maybe not, why else re-seed it each year?
There still remains this riddle to solve: Where do the desert-Hopi get their water? There will be surely magic dancing; they will make enchanting drawings with colored sand. All in honor of Mother Corn. But what then, might there be wells, as in African oases?
That those Indians consider the maize cone as The Mother of all Mothers is not surprising. La Source du Monde. In this case, however, curiously enough with rather an impressive phallus form.
Sierksma, La Roche, 31 August 2016