Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Harvest Time

       Jesus said, "Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look on the fields, that they are white for harvest."  John 4:35  NAS

It is cotton harvest time in north central Texas. It is still probably early for west Texas cotton, although the harvest time varies from year to year. The cotton harvest can occur from September to December depending on the region, climate, rainfall, and heat of the summer. For most people these days, the cotton harvest is not noticed. Oh, they know they have underwear, a shirt and jeans and these came from cotton but the process is not noted by folks unless they live in rural areas and see it. Or unless you lived it as a kid.

I lived it. My dad and mom were cotton farmers as were their parents and their parents. Cotton was king in Texas for a time and my people served the king for generations.

Christmas was not the most important time of the year on the farm, neither was New Year's, back to school or any sale or season. Life was about the harvest. Yes, life had its other important parts, but none like the harvest. The ground was prepared in the winter, seeded in the spring. The new plants were "chopped" for weeds and sprayed for insects in the summer. It was hard work but so much of farming success was out of your hands. This country in the blackland prairie is dry-land cotton, no irrigation but by rainfall. So rain, heat, flood, drought and bug infestations could not be predicted very well and only the insects could be mitigated somewhat with costly chemicals. Some say farming is a big gamble, truth is it was more of an investment that paid off some years, and not so much in others. Everything done was done in anticipation of the harvest. Every year it was pretty much make or break. And although it was never stated, you just knew that harvest time was what everything done from January on was all about. It was only as important as eating, electricity, clothes, gasoline and hope that you could do it again next year.

Activity and anticipation would pick up as the cotton bolls opened and revealed the fluffy white fiber. All the hoeing, spraying, cultivating was done. My dad busied himself preparing the tractors, cotton stripper, and other equipment for the two or three weeks of hard labor it was about to endure. Weather forecasts were monitored early morning, noon, at six and ten PM watching for unwanted rain and moisture even from gulf hurricanes. (Not that you could do anything about it, but if the forecast was clear that was one less stressor.) Trailers were readied to transport the cotton to the gin. The markets were watched with worried eyes if you had contracted the crop early hoping you made a good deal. They were watched even more carefully if you weren't under contract in hopes the current price was right. It was harvest time, that said much on many levels.

On the way home from visiting my parents recently, I saw the "fields white unto the harvest" and stopped to snap a couple of pics. The harvesting process is different now, different equipment, but the same cotton. One big difference I noticed was the smell. In mom and dad's day, at least until the last ten years or so, the cotton around their area was "stripped" off the plant and the bolls and fibers were separated in the ginning. In order to make the stripper (harvester) work efficiently , the large, green leaves of the plant had to be killed with a defoliant. The defoliant had a very pungent smell. It was an acrid, acid-ey smell. Imagine farm after farm, dozens of farms all defoliating cotton and the smell that arose. It hung in the air for what seemed like a week or two. With farmhouses located next to or in the middle of cotton fields there was no escaping the smell of defoliant. (think Robert Duvall in Apocalypse Now) But you knew for certain the harvest was soon, very soon.  The leaves of the cotton would die and crumble, the cotton bolls exposed and ready to harvest. The plant would die but the economy would live as would the Cosby's for another season.

The pace of harvesting was grueling for my parents and other farm families during harvest. Rising early to tend the equipment, greasing, gasing, adjusting and positioning trailers. Early runs to the gin to fetch the now empty trailers from last evening's haul to the gin. Then, about mid-morning when the dew was gone, it began. The old John Deere tractor with it's two-row stripper lumbered into the field pulling a two bale trailer. It had the feel of a conquering Roman general marching through the battlefield. The cotton was gathered in by the paddles and rollers, carried up a chute and blown into the trailer behind and "stacked" by a hired hand with a pitchfork. Hour after hour, through the day with a thirty or forty-five minute break for lunch and refueling the harvesting progressed. At the end of the day it was impossible to tell the black laborer in the trailer from my  father on the tractor such was the dust, dirt, and grime of the harvest. All were exhausted, shaken, sore, stiff,  and wheezing with lungs choked from the harvest. And all would do it again in a few more hours.

Then it was over. Ten days, two weeks, depending on how good the crop was and how big the farm, it was finished. The bales ginned. The seeds extracted. The dirt settled. The air clear again. The harvest was over. The farmer could breathe. The farmer could pay his bills. The wife could shop a little. The farmer could rest--for a day or two anyway.

I know that many in the Kingdom of God are tired. There is much work done and more to be done for Christ. It is exhausting. It can be frightening. There is much sin, meanness, hatred, fear, and death being faced in our world right now.  Keep up the good fight.  Can you sense the anticipation, the harvest is coming. The Eternal Farmer knows when the time is right. The harvest is plentiful. Join Him in the harvest. So many are unaware that the harvest is coming. Pray for more workers in the fields.  Yes, you will be shaken, sore, stiff, breathless, and oh, so tired. But the harvest is worth it.  It means life.  Soon, as the Farmer measures time, the harvest will be over, then comes the rest, then comes the rest, but now the harvest.