Growing Food

Most of the women in the village are ready to plant corn for the summer harvest, but the oldest woman in the clan, the Old Heron, fears it's too early. If they plant too soon the entire crop could he destroyed by frost and the village would face a cruel winter with too little to eat.

Click through the gallery below to see images of plants featured in the book Enemy Arrows by Will O’Hara

Excerpt from the book

Each morning for the next few days Old Heron went to the distant fields with other old women to see when they would be ready for planting. They could be seen poking sticks into the ground and squeezing the soil in their fingers. When the sun was high Old Heron wandered by herself into the woods beyond the cornfields, looking for the first flowers of spring. As the days passed the snow melted and warm breezes carried earthy smells into the village. At night the oldest women gathered by an open fire.

“We’ll be planting on the day following the full moon,” said a withered old woman from the Turtle Clan.

“So will we,” said several of the other elderly women.

“The full moon is only three nights away,” said Old Heron in an anxious voice. “It is much too early to plant.”

“The fields are ready,” said an old woman from the Wolf Clan.

“They’re still too wet,” replied Old Heron. She looked around at her friends for support, but found none.

“If you wait too long, you will miss the season,” warned a woman from the Beaver Clan.

“If you plant in three days, the frost will kill your corn,” answered Old Heron. The others were not persuaded.

“I’ve already picked my best seeds,” said the old woman. “I have them soaking near the fire. In a few days they will be sprouting.”

“The dog-tooth violets are still blooming in the woods,” said Old Heron. “We don’t usually plant until after the marsh marigolds are out.”

“There are a few by the river. There’s no more danger of frost.”

“I’m going to wait,” said Old Heron. “I only have enough seeds to plant once.”

Three nights later the full moon rose in the east above the trees on a cold still night, and a thin skin of ice formed in the bottom of footprints in the wet soil. Old Heron stood with Old Chief gazing up at the moon. Every mark of its face was visible. It seemed close enough to touch.

“The other clans are planting tomorrow,” she said.

“Tomorrow?” asked Old Chief. He stared silently at the moon, but his fingers moved against his chest. “The time is right for planting,” he said. “This is the fifth full moon past the day when the Great Turtle moved.”

“We could still have frost,” said Old Heron.

“I am sure they know what they are doing,” said Old Chief. He turned to Old Heron and saw the weathered old face of the woman he had known all his life. She had been a close friend of his wife, who had died many years earlier. After a lifetime beside Thunder River there was nothing about the land, the plants and the animals she didn’t know. She had been a superb archer and she was one of the most respected elders in the village. Old Chief could not imagine her being wrong.

“Will you plant tomorrow?” he asked quietly.

“No, I will only plant once.”