spring planting '2'
Spring Planting ‘2’…this story is about one day in the life of a preschool boy on a southern cotton farm…part 2 of 2
previously in part 1 the boy and his elders have made the creek crossing successfully and are preparing to plant cotton...
Once the team pulled onto level ground in the open cotton fields the boy's father turned them to the right along the edge of the first freshly plowed and harrowed field to its far corner, then he turned them around and began retracing the wagon tracks. He stopped at intervals and the two older brothers unloaded an estimated quantity of supplies at each stop, until they had unloaded the entire wagon along the fields edge, which would be the quota for the day.
The boy’s father drove the empty wagon over to the nearby fence row and unhitched the team. He did so by simply pulling the coupling pin out of each mule’s single tree where they were hitched to the wagon’s front axel and then walking the team, using the lanyards, around and back to the planter; letting them drag the single trees that was hitched up to the trace chains behind them. The older brothers had unhooked and pulled the planter around facing the right direction and were waiting for the team to pass by in front. They would each grab one of the single trees being dragged by the team, and pull it back to the planter as their father backed the mules into their pulling positions, on each side of the planter’s tongue. Once “hitching up” was complete, the oldest brother climbed onto the planter and drove the team to the edge of the plowed field, where the first stack of supplies were and turned into the field; lining it up with the fence row, ready to load the planter’s bins and plant the first rows.
Later that day the boy’s father was riding the planter and his youngest brother was walking along behind with a hoe; pulling dirt over seed that the planter had failed to cover. The oldest brother was sitting on one of the wagon’s wheels inspecting a flint arrow point that he had picked up as it stuck up out of the newly plowed field, known to the clan as an ‘Indian rock.
With his hands in his pockets, the boy walked up behind his oldest brother and told him that he wanted to mosey off down by the ponds to check on catfish. The older brother turned around and looked at him, saying, nothing in there but snakes. But, as long as he, himself, didn’t have to get into them snake pits with him, to go ahead if he was that crazy, and that he best be aware of cottonmouths and rattlers.
The boy was going to stop by a cane break, on the way, as he eagerly began trotting down the edge of the field toward the slough. He wanted to get a good straight cane to use as his fishing pole, as he just happened to have two fish hooks wrapped in a piece of mail order catalog page tucked into his overall bib pocket. He would use it as a retrieving pole, also, if he could find a wasp nest that had larvae in it, to use as bait. Honey locust thorn trees grew around the edge of the field and huge black wasp built their nest in them. He approached the cane break first, with the cur running along behind him, and was about to enter it when a red tail hawk swooped down with a sharp cry just above his head. He watched the hawk climb back into the sky wondering why it had swooped down like that, because he had only seen them dive from the sky when they were bent on capturing prey. As the boy entered the cane break, he noticed the cur had bumped up a rabbit and was giving chase up the fence line toward the crossing.
The break put him into another world; tall straight slender cane and incredibly dense, reminding him of a sugar cane field, he felt as if he was entering a secret cove that would protect him from boring things such as cotton planting. He loved cane breaks also because they were cool and damp with a natural carpet of dried fallen leaves spread deep throughout, making walking fun and easy and with no briars.
Well into the break a nice tall straight cane stood out from the others just in front of him and as he walked around the prospect inspecting it further he decided to put his jack knife to work; whittling it down at its base, but, before he could fall down on his knees and begin the task, a strange noise sounded close by that seemed to come from all directions at once. The noise was a soft muffled rattling, but very freighting causing him to freeze immediately. He remembered what his father had warned him of if he ever heard such a sound. He was to be very careful and not move until he could locate what was making the paralyzing noise. It would likely be a deadly rattlesnake. He finally spotted the rattler coiled up in a pile; its piercing beady eyes were starring straight at him, with its tail raised over its head and rattling at such a frequency that it seemed only a blur. The boy was so scared that he stayed frozen after he had seen the snake and it was a good ten feet away. He was thinking of turning and running back out of the brake when a crashing noise came from above his head and he looked up to see the huge red tail hawk crashing down through the cane canopy and landed smack on top of the rattler, the hawk jumped and pranced around on the snake gripping and puncturing its head and body with his mighty talons and beak and all the time cautiously eyeing the boy.
The huge red tail hawk suddenly climbed back into the air, with the lifeless reptile grasped in his talons, up through the cane canopy as swiftly as he had crashed in. The boy raced outside the break to see where the mighty bird went; he saw it rise higher and higher then turned north out and over the big muddy creek, flying out of eye sight with its dangling prize. He hurried back into the brake with his jackknife still in his hand and commenced whittling at the base of the cane that he had chosen until its came lose from the stem, then he pulled it outside and trimmed off the twigs and leaves. Again the boy started off in the direction of the slough, looking for wasp nests in the honey locust trees that he passed along the way.
Big black wasp usually built their nest close to the ground in the thorn trees and that was where he eventually spotted a huge one covered with wasps. He immediately started looking around the host tree for the best hiding place to launch his attack from. A small cedar was standing on the lower side of the tree, surrounded by wild sage that looked to be the best cover; close enough for his pole to reach the nest, but far enough away to hide him from the stinging missiles that self launched once he ambushed their nest.
He slid down behind the cedar and fastened one of his fish hooks onto the tip of his cane with a length of his cotton thread, binding it tightly, directly onto the cane, so it would hold the nest once he had his hook sunk into it. His youngest brother had shown him how it was done.
Using the cedar for cover he slid the cane with the hook facing toward him carefully around the cedar and up over a limb that was directly between him and the nest, resting his cane on it he slid the tip with the hook toward the nest. The huge black wasp begin to stir and flex their wings in alarm and warning as the hook tipped cane neared their nest, the boy slid the hook right past the nest’s stem on the upper side then he pulled the cane’s hook back around the stem and gave it a good yank toward him. The hook bit into the nest at the stem and broke it right off. Now he had his pole sticking in the thorn tree with a wasp nest the size of an apple pie hanging on the other end with dozens of angry wasp still clinging to it. The rest of the wasps had taken to wing and were buzzing around over his cover. He poked the pole back and forth into the limbs and twigs until the rest of the wasp had abandoned the nest and then he pulled it over and off the supporting limb and let it fall to the ground, it lay in the tall grass in front the cedar with most of the cane pole pulled back behind him. Now, most of the wasp had landed back on the limb where the nest stem still hung, he pulled the heavy nest to him and started to inch back through the tall grass until he was clear of the thorn tree and its buzzing warriors.
With his cane pole in one hand and his nest of larvae bait in the other, he trotted to the edge of the slough and slid down the embankment into a lower elevation that covered several acres and was dotted with a dozen or so, individual ponds.
The slough or ponds, as they were called, were depressions left in the earth after men with trucks and shovels had hand loaded the gravel and hauled it away years earlier. Winter and spring floods caused the creek to flow over into them, leaving them well stocked with catfish. Willows and cattails rimed the ponds, and old service roads wound around and through them resembling miniature city blocks. Bullfrogs croaked and small water snakes slithered into the water as the boy walked briskly along the path. He loved the smell of the willows and the song of the redwing blackbird that flew from limb to limb, chattering its reedy drawn out call. Tiny bits of cotton like fuzz floated in the air from the willows as the fluttering birds and balmy breeze nudged it loose, reminding him of winter snow.
A log that had drifted in from the last flood had settled next to a good looking fishing place next to one of the ponds, he quickly sat down on it and began unleashing the hook from the tip of his cane. Next, he tied a length of his twine back to the tip of the cane pole and a fish hook to the loose end, after pulling some of the caps off the hexagon cells of the wasp nest he pulled one of the larvae out by its head and baited his hook. When he tossed his baited hook into the pond a dragon fly lit on his pole, good luck always followed a dragon fly that lights on one’s fishing pole, and no sooner did the boy remember this yarn, he felt a tug on his pole and yanked in a good sized catfish.
After dragging the fish a safe distance from the pond, he pulled out his jackknife once again and went looking, this time for a long slender willow limb that he could cut and used as a fish stringer. He found a suitable one and cut it off just below a yoke and then he cut the biggest branch off just above the yoke. This left him a stop so the fish wouldn’t fall off the bottom when he picked it up. He rolled the catfish over onto its back and pushed the slender willow limb underneath its gills and out its mouth, then he picked his stringer up and the fish slid to the bottom and settled against the yoke. He swung the catfish out into the water and placed a large rock on the end of the limb. He baited up again.
Wild ducks went circling overhead and finally began their decent into the slough as he pushed the willow limb through the fifteenth catfish’s gills. He decided that it was about time to mosey back up to see how the planting was coming along. He hated to leave the slough, but he knew he had a job ahead getting his catfish back to the wagon. So he took his tackle off the cane pole and wound it up on a twig, pushing the hook into the end and stuck it into his pocked. He pushed the sharp end of the cane pole down into the soft earth, then picked up his catch and started retracing his path out of the slough.
Struggling along with his catch, the boy was thinking about how pleased his father would be when he saw it, when suddenly a gigantic upheaval came to life from behind a row of cattails, a thunderous flock of wild ducks took to wing and startled the boy so that he let go of his limb of catfish and they went skidding down the muddy path in front of him. The ducks had settled in there since he had first come in. He quickly gathered his catch, and scrambled up the embankment leading out of the slough.
As he lugged his heavy willow limb of catfish along the field’s edge, he noticed his youngest brother sitting on a seed bag next to the last stack of supplies. Very shortly the last of the load of supplies would be planted and they would head for home. He struggled up to the wagon and plopped his catch over into it. The cur was lying under the wagon asleep. The boy’s youngest brother looked at the catfish, asking him, where in the world did you get all them stinking old catfish? You been snatching wasp nests for bait I reckon. Yep, I found a big one in a thorn tree, said the boy, as he crawled up into the wagon and sat down beside his fish. The boy’s father, finishing two more rows of freshly planted cotton seed, pulled up the team and planter asking where he had been. I’ve been fishing, said the boy, as he lifted up his catch. Well, well, said his father, I see we’ll have catfish for supper. That’s a mighty fine looking willow branch you’ve got there. Wouldn’t nothing to it, said the boy, as he turned away hiding his blushing face.
The last of the cotton seed and fertilizer were dumped into the planter’s hoppers for the last rows of the day. The oldest brother ambled over to the wagon, propped up on his hoe, and looked at the catfish; them things look nasty, he said, handing the hoe to his younger brother and then went strolling off across the fresh plowed field looking for more “Indian rocks”. The end.