A freelancer's life is often feast or famine and these last couple of months have been a blur of overlapping deadlines and assignments, leaving me on the unbalanced side of life. Still, I am grateful, a squirrel gathering the bounty before the bleakness of winter sets in.
I ended the week with a Halloween photo shoot for next year, and as I packed up the last of our set on location, I rushed out the door to go trick or treating only to return home and pack up for yet another photo shoot, one of a personal nature that I'd waited a year to bring to fruition, relying on the cycle of nature, its maturation, then harvest.
Sunday morning I awoke to a brilliant sunrise in sugarcane country, the smoke from the raw sugar mill billowing out over the horizon. The air smelled of fire and cane syrup, the road humming and electric as the big trucks moved back and forth, carrying loads of cut sugarcane. It was exhilarating, a new experience for me, but somehow deeply embedded in my DNA.
My family tree and relationships are complicated and I grew up knowing very little of my father's history until later in life. But when an elderly gentleman in a small cafe in Cajun country asked me if I was a Louisiana Stirling, one of the sugar people, I had a shock of recognition. I may not have known the details, but I have been fascinated with sugar and cane since I was a child.
Looking back through photos of road trips, there are recurring themes of cane fields, the tall stalks blowing in the wind beneath hovering storm clouds, an endless sea of green. I can see the color, even when I photographed them in black and white. I remember, too, as a child begging my stepfather to stop by the side of the road to cut the cane for me. I loved to chew on the thick stalks, extracting the juice. Later, I moved on to a love of rum. I enjoy the taste, but more than that, I love the smell.
There is nothing romantic about the growing and harvesting of cane. It is difficult, back-breaking work that I know nothing of, other than what I've read about. But standing on the edge of a cane field, peering into that sea of green, the air swelling with humidity, it's one of the most peaceful things I know. It's the other side of my conflict between city and country, the New Orleans that was my mother's family, the country that was my father's. It exists in me, that blurring, that longing for the other, the strands of DNA running in opposite directions. I will never fully satisfy that itch, but I've come to love the ache of the unresolved.