Driving through the Carolinas on back country roads in harvest season, you’re struck by the endless miles of ripe cotton greeting you. With many crops, you look at it and wonder what it might be when you’re flying by at 50 MPH. Not so cotton. You know immediately what this crop is. You’ve been wearing it all your life. Ripe cotton waves back at you like a stadium full of home run hankies or laundry lines strung with tighty whities.
Cotton fields echo. Deep down you know the labor history of this crop, know the historical advancement in picking the stuff from slavery to machinery and all it meant in between. Cotton and tobacco share similar echoes, but cotton reverberates a bit louder. As I understand it the crop was more labor intensive to pick, but also grew exponentially in demand. Cotton was one of the first commercial crops grown by European settlers in America. They grew it in both Florida and at Jamestown, Virginia in the first wave of settlements. The value of cotton in human lives demanded attention, and fueled generations of economic prosperity and more than a little oppression too.
Driving through field-after-field of cotton you begin to feel the weight of it all, this essential crop for so much of what we wear and use in our daily lives. I wanted to shout to stop the car so I could walk through the fields, feeling the cotton plants (Gossypium) in my own hands. But we kept rolling through, and those endless fields soon felt like clouds rolling by your plane window. And I began to feel like we were flying through history.