To Sprout With Spirit



José took me to his milpa near the oil test platform, on the road to Tenamitl, for one of his annual milestones: the sowing of the maize. We left the house at quarter to seven that morning; and José wheeled a barrow carrying half a gunnysack of maize and the several herbicidal, mechanical, and ritual implements to ensure a fruitful crop. José was using slash-and-burn farming, igniting the drying and weeding stalks of the previous crop to recycle nutrients and space for the soil. The milpa had undergone a holocaust, consuming even the small tree near the plot's center and spotting the earth with soot. The drizzle grew to a modest rain as José and I took the sowing supplies across the barbwire fence to the cleared field.

For his seeds to sprout, José sought spirit. He produced a pointed stick and pierced a short hole in the ground, into which he planted a small cross from two branch sections bound with kwahmekatl ribbon bark. Bright orange marigold blossoms adorned its front. The Nahua elder embedded and lit a beeswax candle into the ground in front of the cross. He then filled two disposable cups with soda and set these to flank the candle, and he placed a sweet, thin Maria cookie to soak in each cup. He took still another cookie and crumbled it, encircling its crumbs first around the cross and then around the sack of maize. And lastly, from a glass bottle he dashed consecrated water outward to the four directions beyond the space of the cross and the maize. He performed these rites as the cross, sacred symbol par excellence, would empower the earth to yield bountiful crop--after it was properly sown.

José's eight hires trickled into the milpa after eight. José scooped the kernels with his cupped hands from the sack and poured from four to seven such scoops into each peon's bag. He dashed milky herbicide from a two-liter soda bottle upon the kernels in each of the peon's bags, which they shook up to soak the formula throughout. They took metal-tipped dibbles and stood a meter apart in a row as they crossed the field, each in his file, to perforate the earth and sow four kernels in each hole, thereafter lightly closed up. And all the hour they were joking and gossiping in Nahuatl, often capped with a final, shrill exhalation.

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