Excerpt from "Chapter 4: 2,4,5-T"
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?"
"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?"
"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.
"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 . . .