Seasons in Sunrise neighborhoods are not marked by weather so much as by harvest cycle. It is pretty much always hot and humid, with a chance of rain. There are a few months when it is less hot and humid and the chance of rain is slight. (In fact, when it is most hot and humid in the States, it feels the most pleasant here. Those that have been here longest describe it as almost cold, but it rarely drops below 70, even at night). But the harvest cycles are a much clearer mark of the passage of time.
Each geographic area of fields stays on the same stage of harvest together based on when their turn for irrigation comes. And so, the fields surrounding our home recently finished the cycle with the last stage – smoke. But first let me list the harvest stages:
In between stage: the fields lay fallow and dry. This can last anywhere from months to just a couple weeks.
Preparation stage: Paths are made through the dirt walls between each field allowing the fields to flood with water. Using large tilling machines (or a yoke of oxen in poorer areas), the soil is turned over leaving black pools of water covering rich soil. Each field is usually tilled twice – once to turn the soil into lumpy, muddy miniature islands and the second to level it out, leaving a glassy, watery surface ready for planting.
Planting stage: Seedlings that were planted during preparation stage in close groups are now separated and planted in rows. Planters can be seen walking around the fields, calf deep in the watery murk, meticulously planting row after row of seedlings.
Growing stage: the seedlings that were generously spaced when planted soon turn into a sea of rich green that waves in the breeze. They grow taller and taller in the warm tropical sun until heads of grain begin to appear.
Preparing for harvest: We can tell harvest is nearing as more and more noisemakers, strings, and plastics bags appear above the fields in the owner’s attempt to deter the birds. The last few weeks before harvest begins, the scarecrow men arrive. Their “Ha! Heeya!” can be heard from sunrise to sunset during those weeks. The flow of water is cut off at the end of this stage to dry out the fields and prepare them for collection.
Harvest Stage: The workers arrive again. One day, a field is full of grain. The next, all the stalks have been cut and collected into piles. A group of field owners will often rent a harvesting machine together and share it from field to field. The grass is collected in a huge mound near the machine to be fun through it, separating the rice from the grass. Workers collect the grain in bags and stack them to be trucked out. Those who can’t afford to rent the machine, collect all the grass with the rice still on it and truck the whole plant to the mill to be separated there. Later, scavengers can be seen going around behind the harvesters, collecting any grain they can find that has been left behind on the ground. Herds of ducks are also taken through the freshly harvested fields for feeding.
Smoke Season: Now for the fun part. About 5 days after the stalks have all been cut, collected, and the rice has been separated out, we prepare ourselves to be smoked out. Since our home is surrounded on 3 sides by fields, when this stage comes, we try to bunker down or leave the premises completely. In the wake of harvest, large piles of dried grass are left to be dealt with. Any time of day or evening, the field workers will light these piles. Depending on wind, we can have a couple weeks of smoky days as field after field is lit. The very worst of these smoke days this time around, we decided to treat the kids to a Mexican restaurant we had discovered in the city. On that particular day, the majority of the close fields on three sides of our home were lit at once. However, one pile lying just on the other side of our east wall was left. So the next afternoon, we locked ourselves in one of our most enclosed rooms, turned on the air conditioning and did our school work in there. A little extra adventure
Yes, smoke season can be a nuisance – smoky clothes, extra dust, extra coughing and headaches… but we’ll take the smoke as a small price to pay for the fresh air we enjoy the rest of the seasons and the beauty of the fields of growing green all around.