The Three Sisters
Inside all of us is a desire to connect. This could be a desire to connect with others or with nature but deep within us it lives and we can feel it nudging us every now and then, building a craving that pushes us towards something new.
I’ve known this feeling for as long as I can remember. Nights growing up when my parents had guests over and I would listen to them laugh and talk into the night. Teenage years with an open door policy allowing friends to stop by whenever they needed, no appointment necessary. But recently, I felt the call to connect not only with my community but with nature too.
It started by creating a new relationship with food. It moved through my obsession with herbs and their healing powers. And now as I plan a garden for next year and finish cleaning up the leaves in our yard from this year, my desire to connect feeds into everything I do. This is where the idea of our Three Sisters dinner party came from–connecting nature with community.
In Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmer writes a chapter on The Three Sisters. Also known as Corn, Squash, and Beans, these three plants have a relationship of reciprocity that speaks beauty into what it means to serve your neighbor. Each plant is grown next to the other to help the other grow to its fullest.
Corn starts first, with shallow roots it takes only the amount of water it needs leaving the rest for the squash and beans. As it grows, it shoots toward the sky creating a stairwell for the beans to travel up as they come of age. The beans, if grown too early, can smother the corn. However, when cultivated right, they’ll lean on the corn, stretching their vines up its stem and around its leaves to get closer to the sun. Meanwhile, back on the ground squash will grow its leaves to protect the roots of these other two sisters ensuring that all three will survive until harvest.
The relationship between squash, corn, and beans is a reminder that when we work together and serve each other, we all prosper. But their story goes even deeper than that.
The Story of the Three Sisters
As told by Robin Wall Kimmer, “Native people speak of this gardening style (growing all three plants together) as the Three sisters. There are many stories of how they came to be, but they all share the understanding of these plants as women, sisters. Some stories tell of a long winter when the people were dropping from hunger. The beautiful women came to their dwellings on a snowy night. One was a tall woman dressed all in yellow, with long flowing hair. The second wore green, and the third was robed in orange. The three came inside to shelter by the fire. Food was scarce but the visiting strangers were fed generously, sharing in the little that the people had left. In gratitude for their generosity, the three sisters revealed their true identities–corn, beans, and squash–and gave themselves to the people in a bundle of seeds so that they might never go hungry again.”
What Kimmer later explains is that there is one more sister, one not mentioned. Us. We as the farmers harvesting these three sisters complete the relationship and allow all four sisters to prosper.
The Three Sisters Dinner Party
So on a fall night in the warmth of our home surrounded by friends we celebrated the three sisters. Dishes were made containing at least one of the three sisters and together we shared a meal giving ourselves over to connection. A connection to high-quality foods that were made with love and thought, and to connecting with new and old friends. In the dim light of a dining room, we witnessed firsthand the reciprocity that happens in nature and were reminded just what connection looks and feels like–being present, moving slow, sharing, and of course, laughter.