Dead Zones

His back ached and he could still taste grit between his teeth, but as he rocked in the porch swing at the end of the day and looked out over the land, he could see it going on for years and years. His children and their children would continue to grow the small herd of beef cattle and the vegetable crops for the local market. Perhaps they could pick up that piece just west of them, near the salt water canal, and expand their holdings.

He didn’t know about dead zones.



The years passed, and he passed, too. His children went to war and wandered to the cities. The land was divided and sold. The years passed and the land was divided again and sold. And then again.

And when my friend Connie and her husband bought one of those much smaller pieces, just a fraction of the farmer’s, they hauled in rich topsoil all around the house. They set about developing beautiful gardens–a small orchard down near the road, raised vegetable beds behind the house, flowers for every season surrounding it, and a lush carpet of lawn in front.

Connie doesn’t have a green thumb–she has ten green fingers. Past president of the garden club, she can grow anything.

Almost anything. Connie didn’t know about the dead zone.

She planted a plum tree by the side of the house with a good southern exposure. It died. She planted another fruit tree nearby. It too died.

In frustration she finally contacted the county extension office. They weren’t surprised at her question. They’d heard this complaint before. Farmers years ago often kept one area, perhaps a corner, away from the house and animals, as a dumping ground for any chemicals, old fertilizers, or poisons. This, a dead zone, passes on and on for generations.


Dead zones also exist in the oceans, areas where the oxygen concentration is so low that animals can’t live there. These areas can occur naturally, but human activity can also create or enhance them. Excess fertilizer runs off the land (hence the concern about septic tanks or farm animals close to streams, rivers and salt water) and then into the sea. Those nutrients promote algae growth. As that algae decomposes, the process consumes the oxygen in the water that’s necessary for marine life.


Connie’s farmer had neglected to visualize that division of his land, the population growth, the loss of the farm. Connie dealt with her dead zone by planting grass whose shallow roots don’t run beneath the rich topsoil.

Today we know about the dead zones, in the water and on the land. We know that whatever we spray or sprinkle on our little patches of ground will stay there. We know the lawn chemicals won’t magically evaporate or sink into nothingness, in spite of what the manufacturers claim. It accumulates over the years, over the generations.

We know all about the dead zones. What will our descendants inherit?

“When we tug at a single thing in nature, we find it attached to the rest of the world.”                      –John Muir

Photo 1 –

photo credit: <a href=””>Charlie Essers</a> via <a href=””>photopin</a&gt; <a href=””>cc</a&gt;

Photo 2 –

photo credit: <a href=””>vintage_queen</a&gt; via <a href=””>photopin</a&gt; <a href=””>cc</a&gt;


4 thoughts on “Dead Zones

  1. Oh my ssg gosh. I love this. You had me so hooked at the beginning with the story… brilliant… and then the message! You are good. Really really good.

    The quote at the end is the theme of our TPE conference

  2. Oh crumb .. I had started a glowing review of this piece and my computer ate it. I have to go to yoga, then to a counselling session and then I will co me home and write to you. It is a brilliant piece of writing. You had me hooked from the beginning….and now it won’t let me send it….hmmmm

    sending it now… four days later

  3. Mary, in cleaning out my computer this am I reread this post…. and ache at your last question … what are the dead zones we will leave…. Thank you it is a reminder for the day ahead just in terms of who I meet today as well as the larger global picture . Date: Thu, 8 Jan 2015 23:18:37 +0000 To:

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