Last Stand

For several weeks now I have been rising at 3am in order to capture pre-dawn burns of the sugar cane fields. With only a few months left for sugar cultivation on this island, the pressure is on to capture as much of this long-time agriculture business as possible... the burns, the harvests, the workers soon to be unemployed, the Mill...

This morning, I woke, wide-eyed, unusually early... 1:30am. I felt an unusual sense of excitement... something was going to happen. At 3:30am, I grabbed the cameras and jumped into the car as usual. Driving around the fields in darkness, looking for telltale lights from the Mill's pickup trucks around the fields the burn schedule said were to be ignited this morning. The first two areas I checked showed no sign of activity. I drove some more. No sign of a burn anywhere. First light began to silhouette the volcano looming large against the faint trace of daylight. Still nothing. I turned the car back towards the north shore, one more place to check. By this time, it was already 5am and I was losing hope. Driving through the town of Paia, I turned right and began heading up the mountain towards home. Just above the town were two red pickup trucks... security from the Mill. Things were looking a little more promising. I stopped and talked with the guards. The Mill meteorologist was on site. He was trying to determine if weather conditions were right to conduct the burn. He wasn't optimistic, worried that the winds and some potential trade wind showers might delay things for another day.

A few minutes later, the meteorologist sped off towards town. Before he left, he told me they might burn but if they did, it wouldn't be until 6:30am. I waited. A burn after sunrise is very rare these days due to complaints from island residents of the smoke inundation and ash. I have been trying to catch a daylight burn for some time with little luck. The image posted above is something I have seen in my head long before starting this project and not possible to make when burns are held during hours of darkness. 

At 6:30am, I could see traces of smoke in the near distance. Grabbing cameras, I headed down the muddy cane-haul road toward the flames. This sapling stood just inside the burning field. Snapping away at the flames, I patiently waited for the fire to die down, the smoke wrapping itself around this tree, swirling with the light breeze. Magic! Success!

© Tony Novak-Clifford. All rights reserved.