Oct 22, 2008

Dethroned Cotton

A stray field of cotton. It looked like it was lost.

It looked like something forgotten from when it was important, symbolic, a source of strength. It was growing in a rolling field down a back road, behind the race track. The pavement ends and turns to gravel -- gray rocks too thick for traction in the middle, rutted troughs of mud on the sides -- and the road comes down a ditch, goes up through some trees, and opens up onto the cotton.

I'm not sure why it's there. There's probably enough to harvest and pay for the seed and the time, but not when you compare it to the cost of the land.

There's still more than a million acres of cotton grown in Georgia and each acre, on average, produces 800 pounds of white puffballs, after the extraction of lint, oil and seeds. More than a million acres, but not around here.

Old people have told me the cotton crops left here when the machines made big flat fields better than small curvy ones. The farmland left here when there was more money to be made in working at the airport, or the ford plant, and farms were offered up to developments. The people who remember people who used to farm, they left like a decade ago.

What's weird, though, isn't that it's just there. What's weird is the way cotton means something, but actually doesn't any more, the way symbols gone through a gin and been cleaned of all it’s weight, leaving it real but insubstantial.

The cotton calls up slogans and songs, ad campaigns and short hand descriptions of a region, a culture, a way of life. King Cotton, cotton balls get rotten, look away Dixie land. When cotton's king and men are chattel, Eli Whitney, ante bellum, down South/back home, George Washington Carver could've beaten the boll weevil, but didn't even try ... But I bounced around on a rut-riven road, thinking I should of turned the other way but anyway wanting to see what's here, and the cotton field is just a field of short plants, with these little blossoming balls of dirty white puffs.

They're just puffballs. Absorbing sun. Not really signifying nothing.