In the American South of the 1920’s the expression, “he’s in high cotton”, came into widespread usage. That meant the farmer’s cotton crop had grown exceptionally well and he stood to make a good income at harvest time. It also meant the cotton had grown during the season with such vigor and to such height that the farmer and his fieldhands wouldn’t have to stoop way over in backbreaking agony to pry the fluff from their hard, prickly pods. So the expression really meant the farmer was in good overall shape for that year.
I can well remember my maternal grandfather’s cotton fields across the road from his modest farmhouse. White as snow they were with row after row of cotton blazing in the withering Alabama sun. I also recall wearing a “towsack”, which was a very, very long and narrow cloth bag which the womenfolk usually sewed together from leftover fabric scraps, and into which the freshly picked cotton was placed. The towsack had a very long cloth strap which you threw across your chest so you could reach back and deposit the cotton bolls in its opening. You can just imagine (and I only remember doing it a couple of times) how difficult it eventually became to drag the towsack behind you as it got heavier and heavier.
But slow down! You have to pick the cotton carefully and cleanly, pulling out every bit or Granddaddy would get mad at you if the cotton had anything in it but the cotton seed. He didn’t want any of that hard, brown pod or dirt in his harvest or so much left over and still clinging to the plants in the field that it looked only half-picked. Not only didn’t that look good visually, it was also the equivalent of leaving money in the field. And so the process was slow and your hands would be bleeding and stinging as you tried to gently coax all the fibers from their hulls while you were wiping the sweat from your sunburned face.
I also remember looking down the unending rows of cotton and with the perspiration seeping from every pore, only being able to dream about a dip in the pond and a gallon of sweet iced tea. But once I had that dip and drink, I also remember riding way up on top of all that cotton which was dumped towsack after towsack into high-panelled trucks for a trip to the cotton gin. That was really “high cotton”, sitting up there with the wind whipping through your hair amid the indescribably fresh aroma of newly picked cotton. Although I was riding up there for fun, I was really there to weigh the loose cotton down so it didn’t blow over the sides or top of the truck on our way to the gin. Any cotton in the fields that wasn’t picked (and there wasn’t supposed to be much) could be gleaned later and hand-cleaned for use in stuffing homemade quilts.
Well, those are the memories of a young kid many years ago and although I don’t have “high cotton” in either the figurative or literal sense, I do have “high hay” growing in our fields and the farmer who cuts and bales it, as he has done to these fields for more than 40 years now, has a bumper crop for his horses and cattle this year.
Comprised mostly of alfalfa, timothy grass and broam, the first cutting of the hay (he will get at least two cuttings this year, possibly three) will probably be baled into the 1000+ pound-5-foot-diameter round bales generally meant for cattle. The smaller, rectangular bales are usually reserved for horses. I do hope he does the big round bales this year and leaves them in situ for a while. It’s a fascinating process to watch as the fields of billowing and bowing hay are transformed within just a few hours into a Rustic Chic sculpture garden.
Photos by Susan North