Not-So-Perfect Corn

I left Nebraska 46 years ago.  Not yet eighteen, I spent the summer in Minnesota, then headed west to Colorado for my first year of college.  I couldn’t get out of my home town fast enough.  For most of my childhood, I knew my life was going to be very different from the one in which I grew up.  This time of year, as summer unfolds, I often think of that version of myself, eager to burst out into the vast world before me.  At the time, I rejected much of my childhood world, wanting a life that more clearly matched the person I thought I was.  It took decades to sift through that rejection to arrive at a place of being able to  embrace the life I’ve created for myself, and at the same time honor my roots. After many years, I’ve come to appreciate what my childhood on the Great Plains gave me.  I find evidence of those roots appearing quite often these days.

One such place is our garden.  While preparing to plant this spring, I rummaged through a collection of seeds.  I found a package of Hopi blue corn, purchased for the 2012 planting season from Native Seeds/SEARCH (  Although the seeds were a few years old, I decided to try growing them anyway, since corn has always been a staple in my life.  I carefully protected the seedlings from birds till they were ready to stand on their own.  I kept watering and was surprised by how they grew.  After two months, some are not more than two feet tall, while others are towering over my head.  Unlike the uniform rows of genetically modified corn I now see growing in Nebraska (and Arizona, too, for that matter), my little patch of not-so-perfect corn has variety and personality.  The tassels look like miniature trees, with pollen hanging off like dangling ornaments.  Most of the pollen is light yellow, with the exception of one with dark purple, almost black pollen.  Ears of corn are beginning to form and within the next few weeks, I’ll be able to measure the success of my small crop of corn.  Regardless, just knowing there is corn growing in our back yard makes me feel a deep connection to my roots.

Recently a friend sent me a beautiful book, New Prairie Kitchen by Summer Miller (, about the “good food” movement in the Great Plains.  Organized by seasons, it features recipes and stories of chefs, farmers and artisans, and their relationships to food, who are living in Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri and South Dakota.  Reading their stories takes me right back to my roots and helps me understand a bit more about myself.  Their stories and my random corn patch serve as a message that we must all stay connected to the earth.  It’s imperative that we keep teaching our children about the value of planetary stewardship.  And the single corn plant with darker pollen reminds us to keep honoring uniqueness, for that’s what keeps our minds from stagnation and our hearts open to possibility.