A room with a view

The ranch house looks out on this. There are no words for the beauty of the Sangres; they are harsh, difficult mountains, so raw and geologically new they are like a stunning young face, impossible to turn away from.

Having come of age in a state that refused the Winter Olympics because of its potential impacts and seen the Eagle and Roaring Fork Valleys ravaged by building, I dreamed of owning one acre of land that I could protect; I just wanted to put my arms around something beautiful that I could tuck away and save from pollution, from developers, from anything that might cause it harm.

I just wanted just one mountain acre to have and protect as my own. Now I have 10.

Proper stewardship of land like ours is complicated. Surrounded on all sides by ranchers who make all or a portion of their livings growing hay, our ranchito is less of an island than it is part of an economic and environmental whole. What happens in our pasture, doesn't necessarily stay in our pasture.

Which brings me to weeds. Noxious, invasive plants like Canada thistle and leafy spurge that when given half a chance will choke out all that pretty blonde grass pictured above. Since we're not growing hay, this isn't a problem for us. But if we let our weeds get out of hand, they could invade our neighbors' fields and compromise the integrity of their hay.

This year our valley, like many in the Southwest, has suffered from a prolonged drought. Canada thistle loves harsh conditions and will establish large, alien colonies when grass begins to falter. Our north field and the one to the southeast are riddled with thistle and we've been advised by veteran ranchers in our area to spray. To broadcast toxic herbicides on our pretty pasture.

In writing about sustainability for the last few years, I've learned that sustainability means compromise, often the choice between the lesser of two evils. I recently interviewed a newly minted PhD who wrote her dissertation on water treatment and local agriculture in India. She found that when treated water (costly both in terms of money and energy useage) was used to irrigate, vegetables carried a similar bacterial load to those that had been irrigated with waste water. To further complicate things, the fields irrigated with waste water produced more food because of all the nutrients in the dirty water.

So do you build expensive  treatment plants as a common good to clean up the general environment? Or do you continue with traditional practices, which produce greater yield, cost less in money and energy but perpetuate long-standing pollution problems?

Do you spray your fields or leave them alone?

Right now I'm wishing for that herd of weed-chomping angora goats I've always wanted.

 

Comments (1) -

September 21. 2011 10:13

Threadingwater

Hard choice, indeed. If you spray, would you be doing it yourselves, by hand? There is a method I've read about, but never tried, where you cut the stalk of the beasty weed, then essentially drip the weed killer directly into the remaining plant. The poison isn't broadcast over a large area and supposedly only affects the individual plant and its root system. I know some of the poison would get into the soil, but far less of it than application via spray. MUCH more labor intensive on your part, though.

Threadingwater |

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