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BOOK II: THE GARDEN


Excerpt from "Chapter 4: 2,4,5-T"
   of Aquarius Rising  Book II: The Garden

 

. . .

The four turned away from the gate and paused, struck momentarily speechless by the vista before them. Everywhere they saw the naked, broken trunks of dead trees. Completely denuded of bark, most had lost all their smaller branches and some of their major limbs. Beneath this skeletal stubble grew thickets of dense undergrowth so clustered together that the hikers could not see more than thirty yards in any direction. Scattered between the clumps of impenetrable undergrowth were scrappy patches of grasses, still a light green in the October afternoon sunlight. Here and there Helen spotted tall, dark green pine trees, which seemed oddly out of place in the otherwise blasted, unnatural landscape.

"What's this? Fire damage?" she asked.

Frank pointed out a couple of the pine trees. "If it was, they would have been burned, too, right?"

Helen nodded.

"Besides, you don't see any charred wood, do you?"

She shook her head. "No."

"And look at this." Frank pointed left and right. The destruction traced a straight line in either direction just inside the barbed-wire fence. "Fire has no respect for property lines."

"This was done with herbicides, right?" said Helen.

Frank nodded. "Mary mentioned something about it last night. Agent Orange, which they used in Viet Nam, right?"

"Well, not really," Frank replied. "Agent Orange was a mixture of two herbicides, di chlorophenoxyacetic acid, called 2,4-D for short, and tri chlorophenoxyacetic acid, otherwise known as 2,4,5-T. The defoliation you see here was accomplished using only 2,4,5-T."

"And it kills some kinds of trees but not others?"

"That's right. In the concentrations used here it kills only the broad leaf, deciduous trees and leaves the needle-bearing conifers alone."

"Why? Why would anyone want to do this? This place looks like a disaster area."

"There are two reasons. Think about it: one reason should be obvious already."

Helen considered Frank's prompting for a moment. "Let's see: you want to get rid of the hardwoods and leave the evergreens?"

"Good thinking: that's one of the two reasons. The paper and lumber industry would just love to convert the entire Ozark forest into one giant tree farm populated only by fast-growing, highly profitable pine trees. And they'd do that if they could. But that's not what's going on here. What do you think is happening here?"

Helen thought intensely for a few moments but then shook her head and said, "I have no idea."

"See the patches of grass here and there?"

Helen nodded.

"This is using 2,4,5-T to convert forest into pasture."

"Go on! You've got to be kidding. This isn't pasture: this is a mess."

Frank shook his head. "This land was first sprayed by helicopter three years ago right after Barb and I got here. A month or so later the 'copter came back and they sowed grass seed. Since then the only thing that has been done is that Buddy has run a few of his cattle in here every summer for a couple of months."

"Damn few, I'll bet. As I said, this doesn't look like any pasture to me."

"Hey, these are the finest clothes the emperor's money could buy," Paul quipped.

"Yeah, right!"

"The sales pitch goes something like this," Frank continued: "Year one you spray the land, kill off all the hardwoods, and seed it. Then leave it to grow back for three years, at which time it looks like this. So you spray it again and kill off all this brushy grow-back stuff. Then you leave it alone for another three years, spray it again, leave it for three more years, and then spray it for the fourth and final time. Supposedly all you'll have left at that point is grass with scattered evergreen trees to provide some shade—in other words, perfect pasture."

"The grass isn't killed by the herbicide?"

"No, only the deciduous hardwood trees." Frank gestured for them to continue onward, and they resumed walking on the faint road leading through the grotesque countryside. "These phenoxy herbicides have a hormonal effect on broadleaf trees: they stimulate them to grow so fast and furiously that the bark literally splits apart and falls off the tree. That's why all these trunks look so bare."

Helen looked around closely at all the shattered ruins of the trees. "What becomes of all this wood? Does it just all go to waste?"

"You got it," replied Frank. "Once it's sprayed, it is useless as lumber—or so I'm told. I don't know the reasoning: maybe it's because the wood splits or because it dries out and gets too hard to saw or something else all together, but none of the local sawmills will touch sprayed trees."

Barbara turned her head and said over her shoulder, "Maybe it's because they know they'll be breathing poisonous sawdust, and they don't want to get sick."

"Good thinking," said Frank. "Some one of us should go around and interview all the sawmill owners in our copious free time, and find out why."

Barbara and Paul laughed. "'Copious free time!' Sure thing, boss."

"So, once they're killed, these trees just stand here until they break apart and fall over and rot back into the earth. Now, that's not going to happen in ten short years. And, as long as there are logs lying around, you're never going to be able to get a bush hog in here to cut down the brush and suckers that grow back."

"'Bush hog?'" Helen asked.

"It's an overgrown lawn-mower-type thing that goes on the back of a tractor. See, here in the Ozarks, the woods never stop trying to take back any cleared land, and, if you don't bush hog away the suckers and brush from your pasture every few years or so, you lose your pasture back to the forest."

Helen's face lit up with comprehension. "And, so, as long as you've got rotting tree trunks lying around, you're going to have to keep spraying your land because you can't bush hog it, right?"

"Exactly!" Frank replied. "And thus is exposed the first one of the major lies in the sprayer's sales trip: you're going to have to spray five, six, eight, ten times to complete the process of converting woods to pasture via chemical means. I think that's what convinced Buddy not to have this land sprayed for the second time, when I pointed that out to him. He's either going to let this go back to woods or get a bulldozer in here to finish the job. Here, check this out."

They had walked into a clearing slightly larger than a basketball court . . .

 


 

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