Water Leveling

I spent the day with Dwayne Gossen, a rice farmer whose family has long, and as it turns out wide, roots in Roberts Cove. Gossen is, on the one hand, quite typical of so many of the farmers I have met working on this book: he is a gentle man, quiet to the point of seeming shy, but a font of warmth and hospitality when asked an honest question. So many of these men are like this: it makes me wish that everyone took a turn at farming — perhaps rice farming in particular — so that more people would have a similar disposition.

Most of my time was spent with him in the cab of his Case-IH 385 tractor, a giant 8-wheel-drive machine that could pull the twenty-foot-wide blade of a water leveler through some fields almost at an idle. While the work would seem effortless standing by the side of a field, inside the cab Gossen spent much of his time turned around in his seat, his neck craned to check how much mud he was pulling in the blade, how well the tire ruts were filling as he worked the soil.

Water Leveling in Louisiana

The view out the back of the cab as we make a turn.

Gossen was a patient teacher, explaining the intricacies of water leveling, much of which requires the ability to “see” beneath the surface of muddy water. At one point I finally exclaimed to him, “Dwayne, you are describing an intricate topography of hills and holes, of overpulling and underpulling, but all I see is muddy water.” Characteristically, Gossen smiled, laughed, and shook his head. How could a university professor not understand what was so obvious to him?