I was on my way home from a long road trip and a northern wool festival. While driving through the cotton fields of the southeast Virginia I decided I needed to get out and touch this splendid burst of fiber spewing from the plants. I found a field that was not surrounding someone's home. It had a nice sandy drive where I could pull in and turn around. I thought I might user this time to pee too, but cotton fields are flat and offer little cover. I best not push my luck.
I was waking through the plants, inspecting their cloved buds and how the cotton started in wedges before rupturing out into the air. I bent over and grasped a plant and gently pulled it by the base stalk. Hmmmm It was loose. So I tugged harder and pulled it out. I had a perfect cotton plant with stems, stalks, buds, and cotton spews. It was easy, so I bent over and pulled another.. As i held them in my grasped fist admiring them, I heard behind me, "What cha doing with my cotton?" I jumped a bit, froze a bit and turned to face the blackest man I had ever seen. I grew up in Alabama and was used to very black people, but as decades proceeded, most American blacks had become softer tans, lighter shades of black. Not this awesome man who now narrowed his brows, hands on hips in well worked -in coveralls, an even more faded t-shirt, a sweat bandana on his neck as he firmly asked, " What cha doing with my cotton?"
I found no words to answer. The thoughts in my head sounded lame and silly. He stepped closer relaxing his hands from his hips but eyebrows still pinched in the bridge of his nose which bore a tuft of cotton, , "You stealing my cotton?"
Oh, this is serious yet I remained speechless inspite of the rapid train of excuses gushing through my mind.
I was caught cotton-ball handed. Busted!
Finally I gave a sigh and replied, "I guess I am."
"Why you stealing my cotton?" he asked.
Oh my mind stayed flooded but my throat was like sand paper.
"I love it!" blurted out of my dry mouth.
"You see, I just came from a big sheep and wool festival in New York. So many goats, and sheep, and alpacas and llamas...So much fiber, so much wool... " I stopped and looked at him. He stood silent so I continued, " Now as I am driving home through these incredible fibers of the south, I realize I love cotton! I am originally from Alabama and have been in cotton fields before. I even had a little job of picking cotton once as a child. But I never looked at it from the fiber stand point. I never looked how miraculously it foams out of a rippened bud.. I never saw how beautiful it is in its natural state. The unfamiliar awareness of a very familiar plant was overwhelming. I am sorry I pulled your plants. Can I pay you for them? Pay for any damage I did to your field?"
He spoke no word, but bent and reached toward my ankle. I froze feeling that wave of fear spread through my body. Should I be running? But he did not grab my ankle. Instead
he reached to healthy plant just beside my foot, grasped it by the stalk and pulled it out of the ground. With the gentleness of a lover's bouquet he handed me the cotton plant in all it's glory. The green leaves thick against the stalk, the brown ripened buds spraying cotton, the immature buds hanging tightly to the plant and the roots streaming across his wrist.
"Here, have this nice one".
"Can I replant it?" I asked.
"Oh I doubt it will do much more, but give it a try. I loves cotton too. Done this all my life. Peanuts too and a few rows of corn and such. Nice to see someone like you come by. Most folks is nice, but you might be careful pulling into fields."
I agreed, thanked him. We chatted a bit then I walked over to my car. I dug a Mac Donalds coffee cup out of the cup holder, rinsed it with some bottled water and shoved my plants into the vessel. As I pulled away, I waved my arm. He was no where in sight. He miraculously vanished as quickly as he appeared. But hanging in his place was a black scarecrow wearing overalls, a
T- shirt, a bandana around his neck and a fluff of cotton stuck to his nose.