Corn Mother and Huitlacoche Sing Over the Silo
Corn Mother in her basket atop a decommissioned Titan II Missile site.
At the height of the Oppenheimer movie buzz, I asked Corn Mother:
“Do you want to plan a trip to Los Alamos and White Sands?”
She didn’t say no, but she didn’t say yes.
“Later,” she seemed to say. “I’ll tell you when. For now start with home.”
Then I remembered.
When I was 16 or 17, in the early 1990s, my physics class took a field trip up I-19, off the Duval Mine exit near Green Valley, AZ. Tucked away, completely undetectable from the highway, was the Titan Missile Museum. With hardly any visible structures aboveground, our tour guide led us on a descent beneath the surface of the desert landscape and into a network of underground tunnels and chambers. We eventually came to the threshold of a massive silo where we were face-to-face with a decommissioned Titan II Missile. Its scale was staggering. It no longer harbored its nuclear payload, which was 600 times more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. When it was armed, the Titan II could be launched in one minute and could travel over 9,000 miles. We visited the control room, with all the buttons and lights, including the three buttons that read Target 1, Target 2, Target 3. We were told that the humans staffing the control center would never know which location was signified by the targets, lest they hesitate in carrying out any order that might come through. The Titan II missiles remained active through much of the Cold War, from 1963 until 1987.
Now, over three decades later, the memory came flooding back. I Googled and researched and then felt my body go into a complete chill when I saw that the reality was much worse than the one site off Duval Mine Rd. What I must’ve learned, but completely suppressed, was the bigger picture. Tucked into the contours of the desert valleys all around Tucson—in every cardinal direction—were 17 other silos dug deep into Earth’s body, each housing a Titan II missile with the power to obliterate worlds multiple times over. During the Cold War, Tucson had been surrounded by warheads that added up to 10,800 times the nuclear power of the first atomic bomb. There’s no way to even begin to comprehend it.
Scattered all around the Tucson Basin there are giant cement circles where the missile silos have been sealed off. There is only one Titan Missile Museum, but some of the other sites are now on private property. Some are historical landmarks. Indeed, one is now off the parking lot of a church.
I knew what Corn Mother meant when she said we would start with home.
Okay, I told Corn Mother, I guess I know where we are going. But when? And where do we start?
As usual, Corn Mother caught me quite spontaneously, so I wouldn’t have time to concoct any extensive ritual or a complicated agenda. My sister was treating me to a spa day (oh what a treat!), and the night before, Corn Mother tells me, “look at your map.” And indeed, our spa excursion was literally less than 8 minutes away from one of the missile sites.
The morning of our spa day, I pack up Corn Mother wondering what my sister will think of our companion who is now orchestrating more than I ever suspected.
At the end of the day, as we prepare to return home, I break the news to my sister.
“So how about on our way home we stop by one of the Titan missile sites?”
My sister looks at me the way only she can. She’s heard it all from me over the course of 45 years. She looks at me incredulously.
“Really?” she asks indicating the storm that’s clearly about to drop. “We need to get home.”
Rain starts to fall, the clouds are dark and engorged, their monsoon bellies rumbling.
“It’s literally on our way…” I offer, trailing off.
Just at that moment, an image pops into my mind. At the end of our spa day, my sister and I had done an oracle card reading. Among the messengers who had shown up was Sacred Fool. I laugh aloud.
“This is it! The Sacred Fool is calling to us! We just have to do it!”
My sister groans and laughs, “Fine!”
“Thank you thank you thank you!”
She follows my directions and we pull onto a road that goes straight into the desert, the Santa Catalina Mountains towering behind us. A quarter mile down the road, we reach a church and its sprawling parking lot. Not a person in sight.
“It’s somewhere off the western edge of the parking lot,” I tell her.
My sister drives the perimeter, but we can’t find anything. She makes another circle. Nothing. I begin to question whether we are at the right place.
“There it is!” my sister spots it, pointing straight ahead. Directly toward the West, a large cement circle is tucked under the mesquite trees. An impressive agave stakes her ground right at the boundary of the circle.
The rain is gentle now. I leap out of the car, uncover Corn Mother’s basket and place her basket on the cement. There’s no time to think. Just do it, I feel Corn Mother say.
I pull out the offerings: corn meal I’d ground the night before, tobacco, and dried flowers from my friend Beth’s beloved garden in Texas.
I recite the song of the Corn Mothers that I’d learned a year ago when I’d asked my great grandmother’s people for help in connecting to the Corn Mothers of our family’s ancestry.
“Oh for a heart as pure as pollen on the corn blossoms
And for a life as sweet as honey gathered from the flowers.
May I do good as corn has done good for my people.
Through all the days that were,
Until my task is done and evening falls.
Oh Mighty Spirit, hear my grinding song.”
My sister and I make the offerings.
The rain continues to fall, sweetly, softly on the desert ground.
A bird joins us in song.
Just as we are pulling out of the church parking lot, someone arrives. They are probably wondering what we are doing there, but we are done.
The three of us return home.
Thank you to my sister, Angela Castillo, for making this stop on the pilgrimage with me. I don’t know how many of the sites I will be able to visit around Tucson. I will leave the planning of that to Corn Mother.
After I write this experience and post for others to read, my friend Erin listens to the bird whose song is heard in the video below. Her husband, Brandt, has a deep connection to birds and their songs. He recognizes this one immediately: Curve-Billed Thrasher. Erin dives into researching the story of this bird who came to sing with Corn Mother. She finds that Curve-Billed Thrasher was beloved among the Mexica and this connection was even documented in The Florentine Codex. This bird was called Huitlacoche by the Mexica because elements of the song seemed to speak the word "huitlacoche." Of course, huitlacoche is that incredible fungal body that nestles right up against Corn Mother's own body. I feel such gratitude and awe of the medicine of this song, this Huitlacoche bird, the Corn Mothers across time.
Somewhere in the world
Selu is always singing.*
*From Selu: Seeking the Corn-Mother’s Wisdom by Marilou Awiakta
Wikicommons image of map of Titan II Missile Complexes surrounding Tucson, AZ