Catherine Webb

A letter to maize, beans, and squash

Dear Sisters, you are my younger Sisters. I was eighteen years older than you when you rose from the soil. Isn’t soil like blood? Living, moving, providing. Heart pumping, I was planting and praying without knowing. 

Dear Maize, 

You are the oldest Sister like me. Your head was green, and my hair was black when we were born, at different times. But all life ages, and my hair became light like my mother’s and you grew silky ears. Little maize in little mounds, you looked like weeds until you outgrew me, waving in the wind, feeling the wind like I do when I am sailing. 

Dear Beans,

Before I planted you around Sister Maize, I placed you in my mouth. My saliva broke down your defenses to prepare you for rebirth in Mother Earth. Silently saying: you will be a part of me again. Your abundant children nourish my body, just like you did for my ancestors. Trail of Tears bean, you remind me why I am here today. Blood to soil. Little black gift of life.

Dear Squash,

The vigorous youngest Sister, spreading low to the Earth body. Curling vines, sometimes trying to climb. Blossoming beautiful flowers, large protective leaves. Sometimes I wanted to climb under your fronds, so I could lay close to the Earth like you do. To feel the joy of our Sisters swaying and ascending and tilting towards Sun.

A letter to my Cherokee ancestors 

My plant Sisters introduced me to you, as I’m sure you knew would happen. Seven generations ago, you were praying for me. Praying without knowing that I wouldn’t know you for eighteen years. Sometimes I wonder– if you knew I was white, would you still have prayed for me?

But I came to be because you came before. Because you touched the Earth and carried Seed. My Sisters reminded me of this, and taught me to remember. Not for myself, but for the next seven generations. Resilience? Yes.  Justice? In time.

I am the Fourth Sister

I am the Fourth Sister. I am the Seedkeeper and I am a Two-Legged Seed who is also growing and giving and dying. Still water still runs in the blood, soil, and memory. 

Catherine Webb | catherine.webb@yale.edu