January 27, 2022

The Three Sisters

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In between sales for replacement windows and offers to buy my house, occasionally the mail yields something of interest. The past few weeks have brought the Rehoboth Town Calendar, and the announcement that we have grown to four precincts! What unprecedented times. The other piece of mail I found interesting was my seed catalog. I used to be an avid gardener until I moved to a place in the woods, a major sticking point between my husband and I. Now instead of growing my flowers I have towering oaks that provide fodder for the abundant amount of hairy woodpeckers that like to visit.

Planning a garden is usually a winter activity, you plot your garden and order your seeds. Basic gardening teaches us things like to plant marigolds next to tomatoes, or to avoid nightshades near certain plants. Some plants like foliar feeds while others like ground feeding, some plants don’t like wet leaves and are prone to sun scorch or burns. The rules go on and on, and it's been awhile so I can’t quite remember all of them.

At the same time, this New Years, I took a trip to the dump and unloaded boxes of papers my parents saved from my schoolwork. I asked my husband if he wanted anything, or if he thought the kids might, and he said “no, nobody wants paper”. It made me laugh to myself because my signature move in rock paper scissors is in fact paper. Everyone likes to use brute force, forgetting the simplest tactic is usually the best route.

So where am I going with this? I found some of my papers from elementary school where we received quite a thorough education on local tradition and culture. Especially with respect to Native Americans and Wampanoag Culture. When I first got involved in politics, a teacher pointed out how Annawan was spelled wrong on our seal in front of the Selectmen’s meetings. I carried that with me for a while until I came across an actual history book and realized it was just another test. Anawan is the Americanized version of Annawan. Everyone needs some humble pie once and awhile.

Anyway, back to gardening, coincidentally I found some early papers on the Three Sisters, the gift that the natives gave to the colonists and something that was spiritually very important in their culture. In case you didn’t know, three sisters is a form of planting that is called companion planting. Corn is planted and then squash and beans are allowed to trellis up the stalk of the corn, each reaching for the sun simultaneously. It’s the perfect symbiosis.

It's like a unit, or a squad, each plant having its own place in the situation, and duties and responsibilities to other members of the unit. The Natives also believed in circles, in terms of time, in terms of communication, and in times when we are trying to find our way. I’ve had a great deal of life experience that I don’t often share because sometimes it is uncomfortable, but I do share it when I feel like it is appropriate. I think people that struggle often have the tendency to cannibalize one another, and we could do better and accomplish more if we could support each other, much like the symbiosis of the Three Sisters. Each was an individual and respected for their own properties, and they could not succeed without one another.

So as you get your seed catalogs I urge you to think of the Three Sisters and perhaps consider it on your planting schedule. Since I cannot grow anything myself I rely on our local farms, and I am looking forward to stopping by the Corn Crib this summer. I am in the process of cooking my way through Ruth Handy’s recipe book which is delicious! Like an ode to Julia Child, but more local and less butter. Which is a good thing for me.

We are in hardiness zone 6b, so if you are starting your own plants keep this in mind. Simple shop lights, with a cool and warm bulb can mimic sunlight, though the plants get a little leggy, it's a cheap way to start seeds. And remember to harden off your plants. I recommended Mother Earth News for guidance. John Scheepers is my favorite seed catalog. How fortunate we are to live in a place where we can garden, and not have to pay for water to irrigate!

Happy Planting!

Laura Dias Samsel

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