Harvest Mornings from Northern Bell 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 showered defoliant on the unsuspecting leaves. Those that grew up here are 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 and fluff out the air is imbued with a mushroom smell, 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 the 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. It’s seven days a week no holidays, no weekend summer barbeques; no time to just hang out, at least not for us. 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 America.
There are clumps of cotton alongside the roads edge gathered like snowdrifts 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 was afraid to breathe. To them it smells lie home and the end of another season.
For once in my life I wasn’t busy. It is such an enviable status for a woman like me. I had always worked two jobs or more; struggled to pay rent, fought to stay free even in my darkest of economic resources. But now that I was in Portland, I had time, time to finally do all the things that I had ever wanted; time to write, time to read, and time to compose all those songs that had been piling up like unfolded clothes. It’s funny how when the chance finally came to do these things I was dumb struck by the droning quiet; it’s true, silence is deafening. The rhythms of my previous life were still motivating me like a push pull toy that clacked restlessly across a wooden floor. I had no one to do anything with, nowhere to go with and no one to do anything with. I was stuck here probably for forever and I better find some way to get use to it.
Meanwhile life goes on in a swift momentum of getting the crops out before it rains. I am impressed with the devotion and care that these farmers give to their crops. It is truly a blessing to us all.