Electric fan blowing ferocious breath, standing down wind of this smoking comal I am a dragon breathing fire. Nothing can touch this pungent aroma. Smoke cleanses me like cedar in the sweat lodge, creates tears and heat and builds strength in the hands and lungs of whoever handles it. In this mornings blessing, many chiles create the flavors of Mexico in my kitchen. When I close my eyes I forget where I am. And all day I smell like my memories of cooking fires.
In the mornings I wake up early before it’s hot. Before the children. I make tamales.
By mid morning my house feels like a sweat lodge. It’s ninety degrees outside, with the steaming pots my kitchen is hotter. Bare feet throbbing, aching back, swollen baby belly stained red from bumping into so much chile. This is what it feels like to want something so much you’re willing to work.
Seven days a week I feed the people who feed you. Leaving homes and families to work impossibly long hours in unforgiving heat until there is no more work. From my kitchen I am working the harvest too.
Clothes wet with sweat, tamales steaming, I escape the sweltering confines of my kitchen. I find water. Water to wash the clothes, water to wash the diapers, water to wash the dishes. Buckets of water. Baskets of wet things to hang on the line. Breaking ice chunks from frozen pots to fill the coolers later. Then back to my kitchen. More tamales.
Sitting in the passenger seat of my car I can feel the baby moving. Maybe the first time I’ve sat down all day, time is passing quickly now. “Tamales! Tamales!” he yells out the window as we slowly cruise the dirt road stirring up dust. “Salsa roja! Refresco!” Smiling, they wave and he stops. He passes my hot tamales from the buckets into berry stained hands. Then ice cold coca colas from the cooler. The money is good. Watching the people enjoy my food is better. Everyone laughs and smiles at our sticky kids eating popcicles in the back seat. This is as real as it gets.
We drive on until the buckets are empty and our pockets are full. Everyone feels good. The kids run up and down the rows of berries, kicking up clouds of dust, stopping every once in a while to eat a few berries. We sit on the back of the car drinking cold sodas watching them in the orange evening light. This is the life. This feeling.
Sunlight fading and tired from the long hot summer day, we drive home and do it all again.
For months Mexico has been on the back burner, barely simmering. Sometimes forgotten for weeks. When reality shifted and I realized we easily had another year here, I started to ground and put down roots again. I made our temporary (longer term) rental home cozy and reinvested in many of the things I had given away. In this land of over abundance, these things were easy to come by. In spring we cleared a small patch of land and planted a nice little organic garden with veggies, herbs and flowers. For months I’ve been weeding, watering and watching it grow. Finally my effort is beginning to pay off and for a few weeks I have been enjoying our first small harvests.
Summer solstice morning. Sun is shining strong, windows wide open, sitting down for breakfast with the kids. The breeze brings in a strange smell… A swimming pool, new plastic… What is that? V looks out the back window to the field just past our little garden and quickly closes it. Without saying a word, he moves around the house closing every window. I look out and see the crop sprayer. It is just on the other side of the little wood country fence. Fifteen feet away from my organic food, kids playground and grass we play in everyday.
Before I could think I found myself in the driveway, children underfoot, watching in horror as the tractor arms spread out and prepared to spray their poison. I picked up the largest rock I could find, raised it over my head and began roaring at the man in the drivers seat. He did not hear me. The mist began again. This was not a mountain lion or a hungry bear. I realized I must have looked crazy brandishing stones against this agricultural machine. I knew I could do nothing to stop it. Instead we got in the car and drove away.
I cried. For a long time. My garden was my solace, a compromise that made the extra time here ok. Now it was gone.
I researched the specific herbicide by name, read more than anyone ever should about such things and confirmed the extent of the damage done. This product is not meant to be sprayed on food or around humans. It destroys food crops, causes developmental delays, irreparable respiratory damage and hormone disruption among many other unthinkable things. Even when not sprayed directly, being innocently caught in the drift is enough. And it takes weeks to breakdown.
This problem is so much bigger than me and my yard and my kids. Industrial agriculture is an incomprehensibly huge disaster with so many pieces to its destructive puzzle.There is no escaping it.
Here. There is no escaping it here.
And so it goes my focus has shifted again. Mexico may be the sweet relief I have been searching for…
With all the drama this seeps and more, this feels like a personal attack. I am fearless in the face of danger. Every day, with every fiber of my being, every action I make creates and supports life and beauty. My children, my cooking, my planting, my art… It is all life. I create. I nurture. I heal. I am weaving the fabric of reality, strand by strand.
Now the universe is calling my bluff. Daring me to run head on into my dreams. Calling me out to walk the talk.
V’s parents have been saving their original seeds for generations. In those rural, rolling mountains the farming is still done the old way. Not because organic is better, but because the farmers are poor and cannot afford herbicides. They would sooner buy a tractor or a cow or shoes for their kids. The water is clean, you can drink it where it bubbles out of the rocks. The animals graze on grass free from fences. They have not adopted the industrial ways of living that are so ingrained here.
So here I am, at the peak of this years light, waiting again for the deepest darkness of the year, so that I can finally release and begin again.
Lately I have been overtaken with the insatiable desire to linger in the raw, unmatched beauty of wild nature. Few things in life invite me to lose myself so completely as the wind in the trees, sparkling sunlight on water or the warm sweet smell that fills the forest in spring time. The impossibly perfect imperfections, elaborate iterations mingling with the empty spaces. The wilds of nature are my sanctuary, my rejuvenation, my inner peace. It is where I know myself and remember why I am. When these holy places call to me I have no choice but to listen. Then I am free.
Where I am going the people still touch the earth. If I had not seen it myself, I would not believe that people still live and farm this way. They hold each seed in their hand, like their grandparents did. They plow the valley with their horses, listening to the birds and roosters and sheep sing. Your ancestors survived because they were proud keepers of this sacred maiz. And now so are you.
From the windows of our little brick house you can see the straight lines in the dirt. You can hear the men laughing as they sit beneath the shade trees enjoying their lunch. The horses stand and wait, drinking water. Children run through the dirt kicking over the tiny mountains of freshly plowed earth. The sun is shining. This is life.
Every man carries a bag of seeds. They walk down the rows dropping seeds, one by one, kicking the dirt over the top with their feet. The valley is enormous and it is all planted this way. Each seed saved over from the year before. Footprints moving along the rows, quietly replanting what has grown before… Your great grandparents held these same seeds. Their babies were nourished from the same sun and water still sleeping inside this corn. Passed down from their hands and into yours. To awaken with your heart beat, your breath.
This corn will feed many families. We do not have money, but we have all this corn. We are rich.
I remember how we all climbed into the old pick up truck last year and drove down into the valley to check the corn. It was nearly harvest time. They brought the fresh ears of blue corn to Abuelita and I watched her take the kernels off with her wrinkled fingers and tuck them into her apron pockets. We had blue corn tortillas for dinner that night.
The people here laugh and smile more and feel life in a way that somehow eludes most of us living in the western world. Maybe they are lucky. Or maybe they know that they are taking in all the love their grandfathers have for them, consuming their entire history, ancestry, pride, and continuing the cycle with love for their children each and every time they eat their fresh corn tortillas.