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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Get Your Hands Off My Cotton Pickin' Pecans!

Today we took a walk west across the Town of Wade, North Carolina.  We wanted to explore the community and we hoped to catch a glimpse of the Cape Fear River, which runs north and south to the west of the town.  We got a lot more than we bargained for.

No sooner did we leave the campground than we passed a field that was littlered with white fluffs.  Here is Kathy checking what they were:

As it turns out, the fluffs were cotton, and the field had been filled with cotton shrubs, which had been harvested, leaving behind some cotton balls.  It was fascinating to pull them apart, finding the cotton seeds in the middle, and twisting the cotton strands, imagining that they might become thread for cloth.

According to Wikipedia, cotton was first cultivated 7,000 years ago in India.  It was brought to North America by the 1600's.  Without belittling the much larger issues, one could argue that the Civil War was fought in part over cotton.  After the Civil War, cotton continued to be a decidedly mixed blessing to the South and the rest of the U.S., bringing profits but also the practice of sharecropping.  It wasn't until the 1950's that reliable equipment was introduced to replace manual labor.  Again, a mixed blessing:  the evils of manual cotton harvesting ended, but many jobs were lost in the South.

Walking along, we pondered these weighty thoughts, until we came across a group of people hauling a manlift to a small grove of trees along the road.  It turns out they were picking pecans.  Here is the group's organizer showing Kathy a pecan and how they pick and open the nuts.

We hadn't thought about pecans as a crop, or that they grow so ubiquitously, but, as it turns out, they are native to the southern United States.  They were gathered by colonial Americans but weren't commercially grown until the 1880's.  Now, the U.S. is the world's major source of pecans.

Again, we pondered THESE weighty thoughts as we walked on, and arrived at the Main Street Grill, at the main crossroads of the Town of Wade, where we decided to have lunch.  It proved a good choice:  Kathy had scrumptious chicken and pastry, with black-eyed peas, a biscuit and green beans.  David had really tasty, homemade chicken salad.  We walked out stuffed and perhaps hiked along a little slower for an hour or so until we digested our meal.

On we walked out toward the Cape Fear River, past horse farms, turf farms, two churches and a cattle farm.  We never saw the river, but enjoyed feeling the cool wind, the sun on our faces, and the fragrances of herbs and pines in a South Carolina winter.

As we returned, Kathy spotted a hazelnut tree and picked up a couple of those nuts.  It seems that hazelnuts are also a cash crop in South Carolina, although Georgia is said to be the largest hazelnut producing state.  Here is Kathy examining her two new nut friends:

So, as it happened, our casual walk through the town of Wade introduced us to four North Carolina crops:  sod farms, cotton, pecans and hazelnuts (not to mention cattle and horses and corn).

We returned to the campground with new eyes.  Now, everywhere we turned, we spotted hazelnut and pecan trees.  Here is Kathy examining a very large pecan tree.  Incidentally, the owner had planted cactus (? yes, cactus) at the foot of the tree, and the cactus appeared to be thriving:

By the time we finished our walk, we had logged 9 miles.  All of this, on pavement, produced feet that knew they had walked.  We were happy to get home to kick back in our recliners and savor how much we had seen and learned today.

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