Sunday, October 08, 2023

Life in the Balance

In the heartland of Mexico, where azure skies stretch over vast, rolling fields, a way of life has been intricately woven with the golden threads of corn. Our village of San Pedro Ixtlahuaca is on the outskirts of a worldwide cultural capital: Oaxaca. Our home is surrounded by corn fields that are planted in the beginning of the wet season that lasts from June through September. For generations, small farmers have depended on planting their corn crops, nurturing them with dedication. These farmers, often with weathered hands and faces etched with stories of perseverance, understand the dance between the heavens and their fields. Their hopes, dreams, and sustenance spring from the corn they sow. Yet, if the rains prove unkind during the critical growing season, these dreams are shattered, leaving behind daunting uncertainty. 

This year all looked good and I could look out over the green rows of corn and breathe in the vibrancy. Two companions of corn are sown among the corn⏤pole beans and squash. 
Then in mid September the rains stopped prematurely. It did not take long for the stalks to begin to wither. Unfortunately, now there is not much to harvest, and most of the fields will be fed to cattle. 

The delicate balance upon which the lives of our neighbor farmers depend is fragile. The rhythm of their existence is dictated by the capriciousness of nature, specifically the rainfall during the growing season. If rains prove to be scant, the corn crops suffer. The once vibrant emerald green fields wither under the scorching sun, and the once-promising stalks stand stunted, bearing the weight of dashed hopes. In these moments, the very essence of life as they know it hangs in the balance. 

In rural landscapes of Mexico, small-scale agriculture is not merely a livelihood; it is a heritage passed down through generations. Families rise with the sun, hands calloused from tending the soil, planting the seeds of their hopes within the nurturing earth. Among these seeds, maíz holds a special place. It is not just a crop; it is a cultural icon, a symbol of resilience, and source of sustenance. In the fields, the very essence of Mexican identity is rooted.

Not long ago, before climate change, more fields existed. Now, with all the uncertainty, land is being sold in lots, called “lotes.” As Amy and I drive to town, we see a plenitude of signs vending lots for sale. Already numerous lots have been sold around us. 

Small farmers, with unwavering spirit and deep connection to the land, continue to plant their seeds, nurturing the fragile promise of a better tomorrow. But, perhaps new techniques are needed to continue production of the sacred maíz. Hope must be found, rising like a resilient sprout through the hardened cracks in the parched Tierra Madre, our mother, the Earth.

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