This is the time of year we here in the South treasure, harvest time, with the earthy woodsy scent of new cotton, green corn, and the dusty aura of trucks and tractors leaving the fields with their tended treasures. In the busy export of these crops to the River and grain bins, cars respectfully pull over and ride the shoulder some to let them get by.
It’s changed much since I came her 34 years ago; back then we still tromped trailers from dawn till dusk, gathered up the escaping fluffs from the ground so as not to waste anything. We pulled weeds by hand, hoed rows and set out metal pipes to irrigate in the humid dry days of summer.
From Northern Bell ~ Journal of a Yankee Girl in a Southern Rural Town by Laura Botsford
“A truck came by with field hands riding in the back; their water coolers already dusty, their eyes resigned to another long hot day of running pickers and tromping cotton down in old iron trailers until the final rays of a hot August sun melted into the orange sweat of night. Crop dusters fly overhead circling like large mosquitoes reading themselves into a dive bomb as they shower defoliant on the unsuspecting leaves. Those that grew up here say, “I love the smell of defoliant in the morning!”
The first time I came here was in harvest time. The first thing I smelled was defoliant. I held my breath certain I would be gassed an irreparably damaged. “Won’t we all be poisoned?” I asked Leo. “Oh baby, now that’s the just the perfume of a season coming to a close, he said.” “It is really strong I hope it doesn’t asphyxiate us.” I covered my nose and mouth hoping somehow the scent of my jasmine hand lotion would filter it out. Ah, no.
I decided I would be more objective and really explore this new scent upon my olfactory. Underneath it, in a layer all its own, is a musky woody smell. The white earthen carpet is a field of its own kind of Oz poppies that lulls me into a meditative response as incense does. The once leaves of green are crackling into brown, dropping off leaving only stalks, as more and more pods of cotton pop fluffing out the air imbued with a mushroom smell that’s organic and clean, the original cotton of our lives.
For a little town there is a lot of activity so early in the day. By sunrise an entire town was hustling to get their crops out. By noon they will have already worked six hours. By sunset they will have clocked in 14 hours. City people have no idea what goes into farming, its seven days a week no holidays, no weekend barbeques; no time to just hang out. Life has to fit in here somewhere the best it can amid the clamoring of making a living and literally putting shirts on the backs of the world.
There are clumps of cotton alongside the roads edge gathered like snow in summer where they have flown out of the trailers on their way to the gins. The air is thick with a musky hemp scent as gin trash burns in a haze of morning fog and smoke. I am still afraid to breathe. To them it smells like home and the end of another season. What we welcome around here, is the cycle of seasons, ever turning into one year after another, measures by good crops, bad crops, births and deaths that we all share in. There is nothing like the community of a small town that cares about each other, nowhere else on earth does it feel like this. It’s as if time stopped and everyone just stayed at the supper table.
Leo’s Aunt Betty has a gift/clothes store called, the Grab Bag, a watering hole mostly for us farmer wives. She always has a jar full of Nabs and a frig full of little cokes for twenty five cents. I don’t know what we would do without it, the nearest mall is 40 miles away and I have two baby gifts to get and a wedding present. The ladies, young and old all gather there at different times throughout the day, exchanging gossip and recipes all in the same breath. I don’t leave there without a snack, a gift, and an earful.
There are chores left to do before the men come home, supper to fix and baths to give the children. Their father will only have a little time to be with them until its time for bed. They fall asleep to the humming of the cotton gins that run all night overdubbed by Lullabies from Dreamland. The moon rises up like a golden biscuit right out of the oven. Underneath the house is a scurry and a few howls as some stray cats have set up for the night in their adopted bunk house. Tomorrow it will all begin again, and there is much comfort in knowing that another year has provided for us.