Corn Tastes Better on the
Robin Wall Kimmerer on the Emergence Magazine Podcast
Emergence Magazine is a quarterly online publication exploring the threads connecting ecology, culture, and spirituality. As we experience the desecration of our lands and waters, the extinguishing of species, and a loss of sacred connection to the Earth, we look to emerging stories. Each issue explores a theme through innovative digital media, as well as the written and spoken word. The Emergence Magazine podcast features exclusive interviews, narrated essays, stories, and more.
Robin Wall Kimmerer is a writer, scientist, and enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. She is author of the acclaimed book Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teaching of Plants. In this essay, Robin reflects on the ancient technology embedded in our relationship with maize, recalling that a grinding stone, an irrigation system, and an ear of corn are also technology.
From the episode:
I remember. How their songs drew us up through the warming earth just for the joy of hearing them. How we stretched in the sun and turned air into sugar, my sisters and I, leaves and roots entwined. It’s lonely without them. Grandfather Teosinte has been gone for so long; where is that gentle guidance when we need it most? And our good people—with toes and hoes in the soil, fulfilling the agreement made so long ago? What happened to the songs we knew? I remember how they celebrated my beautiful children with feasting and honor and passed them hand to hand in thanksgiving. I remember when they knew my name. The people have forgotten, but the seed remembers.
I hold in my hand the fruit of genius, a miniaturized product that powers itself by unfurling self-generated solar cells. Its sophisticated internal codes enable it to replicate itself ten thousandfold without need of a 3-D printer. Under its glassy surface, an intricate network of membranes harness whizzing electrical circuits to sequester atmospheric carbon, purify water, and produce breathable oxygen. And if these features are not enough, it is the most sophisticated food production technology ever devised. With multiple apps already installed, it can make tamales, bourbon, soda, muffins, and diesel fuel. This marvel of science comes to us, free of charge, not from the high-tech engineers of Silicon Valley, but from the high-TEK developers living in the Balsas River Valley of central Mexico more than nine thousand years ago. It comes to us not from Apple, but from Maize.
I hold in my hand four seeds in the colors of the medicine wheel: thundercloud black, solar yellow, pearly moonlight, and blood red. I hold in my hand the memory of my ancestors in the garden. The DNA in every cell carries the story of brown fingers poking these seeds into the earth, fingers just like mine, with dirt under their nails. These farmers nurtured not only food but extraordinary genetic diversity, with the capacity to adapt to changing climates and an always uncertain future. I could use some of that now. This is the fruit of sophisticated indigenous science: traditional ecological knowledge, known as TEK. The DNA beneath the shiny seed coat is the source of resourcefulness, the creativity of corn married to the nurture of the human. I hold in my hand the multicolored fruit of collective genius, an agreement between sun, soil, water, plant, and farmer. They have entered into a covenant of reciprocity: if the maize will take care of the people, the people will care for the maize.