Dead Zones (revisited, revised for this month of change, November, 2016)

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 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 that had a great southern exposure. It died. She pulled it out and planted another fruit tree nearby. It died also.

In frustration she finally contacted the county extension office. They weren’t surprised at her question. They’d heard this complaint before. Many years ago, farmers often kept one area, perhaps a corner, away from the house and their 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. He didn’t know that what he was doing would continue to contaminate the soil for generations after he was gone. Connie dealt with her dead zone by planting grass whose shallow roots didn’t run beneath the rich topsoil. She calls it the “Dead Zone.”

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. They accumulate over the years, over the generations.

Today we know that the over-emittance of greenhouse gases is contributing to the increase of Earth’s temperatures at an alarming rate. Scientists have warned us about this for years. We’ve resisted their warnings for a long time. Now we’re beginning to feel it in the changing weather patterns. We can no longer claim ignorance.

Today we know that if we don’t make significant changes in the way we live, we will be producing more dead zones all over the world.

We know all about the dead zones. What will our grandchildren and their children inherit?

We know better.

Bathroom Gardening

Bathrooms and who can use them are the news of the day. In my house it’s no different–my bathroom is the most popular room in the house right now. No, it’s nothing fancy–the old fixtures are rust-stained and the ceiling needs a coat of paint.

I must admit it’s a little awkward when a guest comes in the back door and I say, “Please come into my bathroom–I want to show you something!” I haven’t had anyone refuse me, although with all the media hype around bathrooms, that may happen yet.

The small window in that very private room is about 24 inches by 16 inches. As you look out the window, this is your view looking to the left:

Toshiba Digital Camera

To the far left you can see the white rhododendron “Unique” that blossoms near my birthday. Next are the shy lavender and salmon-colored azaleas, and then, on the right, the  stately, dark red rhody “Jean Marie.” Branches of the cherry tree are in the background. Underneath the azaleas is a little native ground cover that moved in on its own some years back and decided to stay. It will have small white flowers and then die back during the summer.

Now take a second look out the window. This is your view looking to the right:

Toshiba Digital Camera

The striking “Jean Marie” rhody again claims the middle of the stage, and a calla lily is just to the right of her, holding the promise of more blossoms. To the right of the calla lily is a native fern just beginning to unfurl its new fronds, and then the rosemary bush, also blossoming. It got an expert trimming from a gardening friend earlier this spring. Below the rosemary are those lovely little lilies-of-the-valley. Behind the rosemary is a peony bush that has a couple dozen buds about to pop. You might see a hint of dark blue behind the fern. Those are the bachelor buttons, or cornflowers.

Right behind the calla lily you can see a lush-looking plant. It is the most obnoxious plant I’ve ever met. I’ve written about it in a previous post (“The Curse of the Voodoo Lily”). A botany professor described its aromatic fragrance as “a mixture of cow dung, carrion, dead fish, manure and halitosis.” The voodoo lily isn’t blossoming yet, but when it does, visitors will no longer linger at my back door–or possibly even in the neighborhood.

I once went skinny-dipping with a friend in her big old claw-footed, sun-heated bathtub out in her back yard, with native woods all around us. If the UPS truck had come, we might have been in trouble, but her yard was so remote, that thought never occurred to us.

I swear you can find anything on the Internet. When I googled “Bathroom Gardening” today, the first bathroom that popped up was one that I could live in as a house. It had some gorgeous plants, including one good-sized tree. Another site, “Outdoor Bathrooms and Indoor Gardens” had photos of really lovely bathrooms–yes, outside. The only drawback to these tropical-type rooms was that I was pretty sure there was a snake curled up in the corner of almost every one.

I think my bathroom garden, the showpiece of my yard, tops them all. And the irony is that for all the hours I spend weeding in other areas around my yard, this bathroom area, for the most part, just takes care of itself.

Perhaps people who use public bathrooms can do the same thing?