Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 37.djvu/851

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RICE AND ITS CULTURE.

appropriating the crop. The rice-bird proper of Georgia and Carolina (Emberiza oryzivora), the reed-bird of the Middle States, and the bobolink of the North and West, is one and the same. It is abont the size of a sparrow, and, while of grave and somber coloring during some months of the year, again decks itself in livelier plumage; and the quick, merry songs which enliven the grassy meadows during the breeding season, give place later to a "short, sharp chirrup." They are migratory, spending their winters mainly in the Western Isles. They come to the Southern States in early spring, leave, and return to the rice-fields in September and October. Continual war is waged against them by the rice-planter, and they are annihilated by the hundreds by the rusty muskets of the old darkey and the army of negro women; and one-garmented, short-skirted, dirt-besmeared urchins, who, by dint of "cracking" whips, and a continual switching at them, manage to at least mitigate the evil and give the persecuted rice a chance to grow. These little darkeys are sometimes negligent, and one of the old "drivers" used to say, "I gie um a licking, sah, f o dey go in fuh mek show ob dere bein' fateful."

Then, again, the rice-bird falls at the hands of the rapacious sportsman, who frequently by one shot puts an end to a half-dozen dozen little lives; and sometimes weary of gathering the plump little mouthfuls, so fat that they have been known to burst in falling, leaves many in the field, at the same time bearing home with him far more than "four-and-twenty" rice-birds to be "baked in a pie."

But to return to our more special subject. When the plant shows a joint the last hoeing is given, and the crop is "laid by" by the opening of the flood-gates, and turning on of the "joint water" or "harvest-flow," for the support of the plants, the field remaining under water until the grain is fully ripe, which may be two months. When matured, a few days before harvesting, the field is finally drained, and the ditches cleansed by the "succeeding tide."

Harvest.—The rice is cut with sickles, the use of heavy machinery being impracticable in a rice-field. The crop is now left to dry; but the day after cutting, when free from dew, is tied in bundles, which are piled in ricks or upon platforms on the canals and rivers, so arranged as to shed the rain, until taken off by the barges to the thrashing-mills; these flats carry each the harvest of from five to seven acres.

After Harvest.—Now comes the gala day of the rice-field laborer, when the crop is being taken to the mill to be thrashed. The barges are numbered, say from one to ten, and great are the excitement and rivalry of the men in command, the same state of feeling pervading the whole force. With flags flying they bend