Sunday, April 10, 2011

It's Been a While

Blush Noisette in Drought Apr 2011
I didn't feel like writing anything in the blog for the longest time. I even thought of trying to sell this place or sticking a mobile home on it and renting it out and never coming here again. The weather and soil here are challenging enough without toxic neighbors. The situation with the oil well got even worse, as the opertor began venting large quantities of "sour" gas into the air. In mid-March, I sent the following to the operator, with a copy to his attorney (names left out to protect privacy):

Dear WWW

You are not properly disposing of the toxic gas coming from XXX #1 on the YYY lease. Instead, you are venting the gas directly into the air. The level of hydrogen sulfide in the air is high enough to cause burning eyes and throats on my land. I suspect there are also high levels of hydrogen cyanide and sulfur dioxide. I became dizzy and sick to my stomach after breathing the air for four hours last week, and my neighbor ZZZ told me he and his family have suffered similar symptoms. ZZZ has emphysema, and he says the gas from the well makes his cough worse. ZZZ's grandson's wife, who also lives on the land next to mine, is pregnant. Hydrogen sulfide can cause birth defects if a pregnant woman is exposed to it.

Because of the gases you are venting from your well, I am unable to spend more than two or three hours on my land when the wind is blowing from the north. Besides violating state rules on on H2S safety, your venting H2S into the air is denying me the use of my surface rights.

Please correct the situation immediately. 

The situation was altered within the next couple of days. Now the operator is piping the gas half a mile away and releasing it on someone else's land. So the air at the Berry Farm smells sweet and fresh, but someone else has to breathe H2S.

Here's the thing that makes me feel especially sad: I am not an innocent party. I use gasoline and oil in my car. I use methane and propane. I buy goods that have been transported across long distances, using fuel that comes from wells like the one next to my land. Even the photovoltaic system I used at Altamira required fossil fuel to make the equipment and ship it. At this very moment, I am consuming electricity created by generators running on methane (natural gas).

I've tried living without electricity, and I didn't like it. Even before I put in the electrical system at Altamira, I used kerosene and propane lanterns. Even when I heated my house with a wood burning stove, I used a gasoline powered chain saw to cut up the wood. I loved my chain saw. I love machines. I don't have any desire to return to life as it was in the 18th century.  What I'd like to have happen, if I were writing the script, is small-scale photovoltaic and wind systems that wouldn't require huge power lines, and more efficient energy storage systems, and perhaps a completely new energy source.

The weather and land here at the Berry Farm continue to be vicious. Hard to believe, but there was a frost here this past week. The low temperature for the week at the Austin airport was something like 46, but it got down to 32 here, just 40 miles away (and to the south!). Killed the new growth on the catalpa tree and grape vines and even one of the sophora trees, which is a tough central Texas native. Made the fava bean blossoms shrivel up and turn black. There was frost damage to the new leaves on the pear trees.  It's all very discouraging. The gardening mentors of my youth told me: "Plant your corn when the mesquite trees start to leaf out." The mesquite trees were wrong this year. Then, of course, there's the lack of rain. Pity I don't have the contact info for the person to whom to write a cease and desist letter concerning the weather.

I've been reading a book about relatively abrupt climate change (that appears to have been global in scope) in the 16th century -- the beginning of what's known at the Little Ice Age. There's something to be learned from those times. In particular, the Dutch people provided an example of a good response, which was to change the way they grew food, adopting a more diverse range of food crops and changing their methods of farming. The French, on the other hand, provided an example of how NOT to respond. They insisted on keeping their traditional ways of farming, even if it meant death by starvation to thousands.

Speaking of thousands, there are thousands of baby grasshoppers hopping around the Berry Farm. I'm trying Surround kaolin spray on the fruit trees, putting a thin layer on the leaves. I think I'll try painting the trunks with a thick layer. The most horrible thing the grasshoppers did last year was eat the bark on the young fruit trees, girdling them, which caused them to die.

On the brighter side, the roses and phlox are beautiful, and the collards taste better after a frost.