Sweetness

I awoke to the sound of rain on the roof and opened the door to smell it and record a bit of it for the slide show. By the light from the porch light, I could watch it splattering and running off the leaves of some enormous tropical plant. Each leaf is about 3’ by 2’ and bounces joyfully with the drops. It looked like something out of the movie Fantasia and I could almost hear the music. A bird of some kind joined in chirping to the beat, oblivious to or enjoying the dark and the rain. It might have been nice to sleep in a bit, but this body is far too accustomed to being out before sunrise to allow that. I am content.

Actually, I feel a bit naughty admitting it, but I am quite happy to have a day of rain. I am staying in “The Cottage” on the Houmas House Plantation in Darrow, Louisiana, between Baton Rouge and New Orleans.  It’s away from the main house and is truly lovely. Here’s what it looks like… 

The bed was like settling into a cloud; there’s a Jacuzzi and a fireplace log filled with tea candles. There’s a microwave for soup and plenty of “New Orleans Style Coffee with Chicory” – let it rain!  There is no internet, but by the time I bump into it again, I should have this ready for you!

A reader in Argentina posted a comment yesterday asking me to show what sugar cane looks like. I smiled a great BIG smile when I read that because just a few hours before, I had climbed down from a combine cutting sugar cane with a Louisiana farmer.  I knew it was harvest time and had seen some trucks loaded with the chopped pieces of cane, and although I had kept an eye out, I hadn’t yet seen anyone actually doing the harvesting.  Yesterday I did, so I found a place to pull over and walked back to get a few shots. 

When the combine stopped to allow the truck that had been filled to drive away to be emptied, I waved. I couldn’t actually see into the cab to know if anyone waved back, but I assumed so – farmers are generally a friendly lot. So, I tried walking toward them a bit. It was easier said than done because the ground was soft and lose and piled in high ridges and valleys. I don’t doubt they were chuckling at my less-than-graceful maneuvers, but once I got my technique down (walk in the valleys and avoid the ridges), things went better.  By the time I reached the combine, Randy Rivere was out on the little walkway beside the cab smiling down at me. 

Randy is the third generation in his family to farm sugar cane on this land in south Louisiana and he was happy to tell me about it.

The climate here is too moist for cotton, but just right for sugar cane. The plants they were cutting were at least 15’ tall and the combine platform seemed to be towering at least 20’ high. Harvest season began in late September and will continue until January. Randy said he will work ten hour days, seven days a week in all kinds of weather during that time, but then in the winter will sleep and relax! “It’s a good life”, he said, “and this is an especially good year. We’ve had great weather and the price of sugar is the best it’s been in quite a long time.” 

He climbed down and broke open a stalk to show me the “eye” at each joint in the plant. Sugar cane is not grown from seed, but from this eye.  A different machine will lay cut pieces in the rows and cover them and the eyes will sprout new plants. For three years, the plants are cut back and the root system remains to sprout again; after that the ground will be allowed to rest for a year before the cycle begins again.

When the empty truck returned, Randy asked me if I would like to climb up and ride with him. (Now what do you imagine that I said??) I passed up my camera case and climbed the ladder. 

It’s all pretty high tech. A GPS system takes you from point A to B and if you go beyond point B, it asks, “Are you alive? Are you awake?”  A camera mounted below lets him keep an eye on the row and a sensor tells him the height to set the cutting mechanism.  The cane is cut at two levels, and then separated from the leaves. The sugar cane goes into the bin behind the truck and the rest is blown back on the field to be plowed under later.  It’s a pretty resilient crop and can only really be “done in” by a hard freeze, which has only happened once that Randy can remember. Then, he said, “The factory just kept turning trucks away, saying we can’t make sugar out of that – can’t make nothin’ but gook with that!”

Randy pointed to the great billowing clouds of steam in the distance and explained that was the sugar factory. “If I had someone else to drive the combine today, I would just take you over and show you how it works”, he said.  (Now, how sweet is that!)

I told him I would at least have a peek at it as I left. At least 30 trucks were waiting their turn to deliver their sweet load. Randy had told me the clouds rising from the smokestacks were just clean steam, so that helped me see the beauty in them. The sky behind them was a soft, muted gray so they did look a bit like something Michelangelo might have painted.

That brought me here – to this warm, cozy cottage with candles glowing, thunder rolling and the rain coming down in torrents, like it can only do in the South. Life is sweet

Love, Gayle

About Gayle Harper

Travel Photographer and Writer
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2 Responses to Sweetness

  1. alejandra says:

    Hi Gayle! Thank you for the “master class in sugar cane crop and harvesting”. it´s interesting to see that Randy´s feelings about his job are very much the same that my husband´s or some friends of us down here in Argentina. Landscapes and crops maybe different but people are tied to cycles, weather, seasons, rain…the same way and they love it, accept it and can´t imagine a life without it. Good luckªª I´ll be waiting to see where the river takes you next time

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