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Friday, June 6, 2008

Expertism, Personal Freedom and Common Sense

Between health concerns and environmental concerns we have a constant barage of commandments and new 'expert' decrees aimed at us. It sometimes defies sense.

Yesterday I was informed about another commandment. I was having a conversation about how to care for plants with someone. The conversation lost its pleasantness for me when I realized the person I was speaking with was chastising me. Upon reflection, I can now identify probably 5 other things that came up in that short 'friendly' conversation to inform me of a variety of areas where I am doing the wrong thing in my personal choices in life. I'm still sort of amazed at the conversation to be honest. I tend to feel pretty uncomfortable when I get 'grilled' by someone who I don't really think has a right to do that--and yet-- there are folks who do take it upon themselves to do this sort of thing. How is it I get so lucky? I seem to have run into more than one such person the past week. It must be leftover 'karma' from my own 'know it allness' when I was younger. ??? dunno.

Anyhow--Among my many faux pas, which have now been corrected by this person-- I have violated the water table!

Last year during the exceptional drought here in Charlotte--at the peak of the hot dry time--Alas! I used a few small buckets of diluted kitchen gray water on my shrubs. I didn't make a habit of doing it because it was a bit more work than it seemed worth to be honest.

Well now I have been told this was a tremendous harm to the environment.

I've read about the subject of gray water before--much has been written on it, especially in 'homesteading' publications. This was a first for me. I thought-- are you serious? And also--why would you even feel free to impose a decree on someone during a friendly (I had thought) conversation? (since she imposed not one but I think 4 or 5, I guessed this was a habitual thing for her, I now stand corrected about proper pet care, diet, choosing of which plant to buy, and use of gray water)

Well, lets look at the gray water thing--
My shrubs were planted in hard clay with some compost and pine bark mixed in and mulched with pine straw. Between me and the nearest river there was quite alot of solid earth, I'm thinking enough to do a pretty darn good job of filtering my little buckets of slightly soapy water.

This person literally lectured me when she heard this-- for my few buckets of diluted dish water! She told me that she had let her shrubs die because of the drought last summer, she simply refused to water them out of concern for the water table. Poor martyred shrubs, I thought.

In Charlotte we were never told we could not hand water our shrubs-- yet many folks who were concerned about the water table went far beyond the city requirements and simply let their plants die. I personally have a 'secret opinion' that it may well have been the extremely high temperatures last summer and the dread of getting out there with the hose that really did these plants in. It was not a fun job. I know human nature and I know it took alot to get me to got out there and 'just do it'. It was HOT. (its hot now too, but I'm doing it)

In any case I never broke the rules that were laid out by the city. I hand watered, according to the restrictions watching them carefully as they changed, some of the restrictions have since been lifted a little. My plants made it through the summer for the most part--I only lost a couple which I think I may have missed in my watering routine somehow. I'm still checking the city website to make sure no restrictions change and that I follow the rules. I may now use my sprinkler on Sunday to do the lawn, so I do--if I think it needs it. I may hand water my plants at any time--and so I do. I may top off my pool and so when it needs it-- I do.

I am considering investing in a rain barrel--but I am taken back that the folks who are so concerned about the environment and sell these things raised the price on them about 25% when the drought hit! It would now cost me about a hundred dollars to buy a big plastic drum with some plumbing in it to catch rain--I'm guessing it will cost about $20 to make one if I can find a big plastic drum someplace. So the one I'm considering is the homemade version.

Sigh.. Another thing-- since we used less water in Charlotte last year with the restrictions, the city raised the water rate this year as they needed more money because sales were down! Yup. You get less for more--like everything else.

Anyhow I question the science that I was chastised over. This person told me that a 'water expert' had come to speak to their group about drought and warned them not to use gray water as it will go into nearby rivers and streams.

She asked me, "what if we all did this?"

I thought, what if we all recycled our sink water? Hmmmm..I hate how I can never come up with an intelligent answer when on the spot like that--but I think about things and later on it comes to me. Maybe that's why I'm a better writer than impromptu speaker.

Well, I imagined all my neighbors dumping a few buckets of dilluted sink water on shrubs... I failed to see her point. I suppose if we all dumped all our gray water on our lawns, or if we had sewage running in the streets-- but that was not at all what I had done. Actually-- not too far from the city there are many folks who use septic systems-- where does this person think that water goes? Into the ground--where it is filtered basically by dirt. I read an article in our local paper not long ago stating that the city had also considered this topic and it was now ok by them if we put small amounts of gray water on ornamental plants. But-- somewhere an 'expert' lurks apparently with the power to kill shrubs.

My few buckets of water I know went from the kitchen sink into parched ground through layers of mulch and dirt and clay and humus. Much of the liquid most likely evaporated. Some went into the plants which I think are wonderful also in that they serve to purify some of the water, and use the chemicals as well--assuming they are diluted enough. The air and the very dirt under our feet are also filtering systems. I'm willing to wager that that my little bit of water never went near the water table or the rivers or the streams. I'm not talking about flooding my yard with gray water here, I don't run my laundry water through the sprinkler or something--although I think in a less densley populated areas that actually might not be a bad idea. When we lived in the country I knew a woman who did that--diverted her laundry water to her flower patch--and she had lovely flowers and I highly doubt there was a negative environmental impact from it.

My point is that there is a lack of reasoning here. If an 'expert' says it --it must be so. Who is the expert? What did they base this on? Are there other 'experts' with a different view (and there are) Which one, if either is correct? Please do not tell me that a bunch of letters after someone's name means they are an untainted honest to goodness expert either! I've met enough folks with big degrees to know that it is not a guarrantee they can reason well. Some are very knowledgeable but then so are some regular folks.

A large farm that has a huge amount of run off near a stream--now that could be a problem. Steps should be taken I think to monitor such a thing and to make sure precautions are taken. Its a matter of economy of scale! The earth is a wonderfully designed filter system! Kudos to the designer! The various systems of the earth really can handle a great deal of gray water.

Another thing she told me is that she doesn't use fertiler for the same reason, it may pollute the water table.

Well, my goodness, if all the dogs and cats and birds in my neighborhood are considered there is some amount of fertilizing going on naturally. I've seen the little river near me, there's fish in there. I suppose they are fertilizing too. Actually, what is IN the fertilizer? For the most part the chemicals in the fertilizer are natural chemicals that plants need to grow, they simply put them in a more concentrated easily accesible form. I suppose I could get the neighborhood pups to add urea to my garden, but I think I prefer to use compost and a little bit of 10-10-10.

Again--its an economy of scale. Earth and sky and water are all filters. No we don't want to pollute them--but we should make some reasonable decisions to accomodate life and gardening while also taking reasonable care of our environment.

It is not needed to kill our shrubs at this point in our drought--if it were I think we'd have to do it--but I don't think its going to come to that any time soon. You don't get 'extra credit' for sacrificing your spirea and forsythia on the alter of the water table. What you get is to spend more money on new shrubs.

My thought is we need to think for ourselves. We can't rely on experts to do our thinking and we should never have let expertism get so out of hand. What happens is we lose our personal freedom as we give up our responsibility to think.

Common sense used to be something that was valued, now it is looked down upon by experts who think it is merely the wisdom of the ignorant masses. The experts will tell us all what to think and do and in the end they will have to take care of us all I guess. We won't be able to do it, we won't have enough funds to pay for all the stuff experts say we need for one thing. It will also have become too hard for our feeble minds to commit to any action at all for fear of all the bad we might do without some expert to guide our every move, and then come back and trot us all around so that we can go the other way when they've done the next tax funded study.

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