We were driving thru New Mexico to the Texas border. There’s no wall in that area, so we were free to pass where towns have names like Clovis, Muleshoe, Whiteface, Sundown, or Cotton Center. (Wall comment is humor.) Yolonda was driving when I first noticed sheets of white ice, which had formed on the north side of plants, tree limbs, and anything sticking up out of the ground.
While the scene was pretty, it looked like an ice storm had passed by. But the look wasn’t quite correct. As we continued, we drove into a thick fog, or some sort of cloud.
That part of America is a windy, unpleasant, high-n-dry desert. Why anything, much less cotton, grows there is a mystery to me. Cotton may have a history of controversy in America, but we all have items produced from cotton in our homes, and yer probably wearing some now. We were driving through the midst of cotton country, which extends from California thru the southern USA up to Virginia — once called “King Cotton” for a good economic reasons.
When I saw my first cotton field, I asked my friend to pull over. I jumped out of the car, crawled through the fence, and picked some raw cotton. I was 19 and a damn-yankee (Yolonda insists that’s one word) who’d never seen it growing. I knew little about cotton. Just that is was a textile and that it had a lot to do with The Civil War, The South, a guy named Eli Whitney, and his invention called a gin.
I understood that gin was an alcoholic drink, a card game, and was a word for to come up with, as in gin up. Later I learned what it had everything to do with cotton. A cotton gin is a machine that removes seeds, husks, and foreign material from cotton. Big machines are used to harvest it. Then, it’s taken to the nearest gin where all the seed stuff is removed. The seeds are used for cotton seed oil, but I don’t know if any other part of the plant is used for anything but compost.
As it turns out, the ginning of cotton is a messy process as it draws cotton fibers through a screen thingy to sift out the seeds and husks. A lot of stuff, especially cotton fiber, ends up floating in the air. It looks like clouds or fog. When I say a lot, I am talking majorly huge acres of cotton fiber floating all over the place. If you’re down wind of one of these gin things (as my daughter is), and allergic to atmospheric dust (as she seems to be), good luck.
After pulling off onto the wide shoulder of a Texas road, I walked about 30 yards to a brushy area for a closer look. I had no worries about critters like snakes, it was too brutally cold, as it often is in the unfriendly climate of the Texas Panhandle. I saw the white ice on branches, limbs, tree trunks, and rocks. Closer examination revealed clear ice covering something white. I broke off a small thin branch and split it open.
I looked around when I realized that I had solved the mystery. What appeared to be fog, was not. It was cold and humid with moisture in the air, but the “fog” was actually teeny bits of cotton fiber and seed husk floating in the air. Agricultural and mechanical air pollution was being generated by the harvesting and cleaning of cotton with gins. It’s all done right there before the product is sent off to further processing and turned into consumer products.
The combination of a north wind with the right atmospheric conditions of moisture and freezing temperatures combined with the white cotton fibers floating in the air. As this combination moved south, it hit upon north-facing vegetation and virtually anything sticking up into the air. As this mini ice storm passed over, it placed a layer of white cotton fiber on the limbs and branches, then covered it with water which froze to form a thin layer of ice. The result was a glistening combination that looked like frozen snow on one side of trees, even down the trunks. It was frozen air pollution.
Joanna Gains of the HGTV show Fixer Upper uses cotton plants for decoration. Here is a link if you want to see, or even buy some (Click here for link). I don’t cotton to the décor, myself.
And then there is the story of the lady who was upset with Hobby Lobby (or some such place) cuz she felt cotton for décor is racially offensive. Cotton did not cause slavery, but the invention of Whitney’s cotton gin did contribute to the significant expansion of the cotton industry and slavery during the first half of the 19th Century.
A little cotton pickin’ music for your listening pleasure (CCR doing a Leadbelly tune).
Be curious as you look both ways.
Mind the gaps and watch for snakes when you stop to smell the roses
or admire nature’s work in concert with local farmers.