August 3, 2003
DRILLING FOR WATER
This week a water well was dug here, and it's wonderful having all the pure, sweet-tasting
water I need.
A crew of four came with an old drilling rig that formerly had seen service at a small
town in Kentucky. First with a backhoe they dug a narrow pit about 8 feet deep, then they
excavated an L-shaped trench leading into the pit. They filled the pit with water from a
truck they'd brought with them, and finally they pulled the drilling rig up to the
trench's head, raised the tower and began drilling. You can see a picture of the
operation, (I'm the balding fellow in shorts & blue shirt), taken by neighbor Karen
Wise, at www.earthfoot.org/temp/drillwll.jpg
As the bit ate into the earth, water from the pit was pumped down the hole so that it
would gush back up carrying loose earth dislodged by the bit. Throughout the drilling,
this water constantly circulated between the pit and the drilling hole.
At first as they drilled through the layer of loess mantling this area, nothing but
silt came up with the water. At 15 feet (4.5 m) they hit sand, then at 30 feet (9 m) they
came into gravel. At about 38 feet they encountered the water table. It would have been
possible to have a well at that point, because what they look for is a layer of gravel or
coarse sand below the water table. However, this gravel was so close to the surface that
it was feared that if the nearby stream got polluted it would ruin our water supply. So,
they drilled deeper.
Soon the bit passed into fine sand, and then for the next 170 feet (51 m) there was
nothing but sand. During the entire drilling, as water gushed from the drilling hole into
the trench leading into the pit, one worker constantly held a shovel in the water
collecting mineral sediment. Every 30 seconds to a minute he'd raise the shovel so the
foreman could examine the sediment, peering at it closely through the bottom lenses of his
bifocals, and sometimes rubbing it between his fingers to feel the texture. He wanted to
feel gravel or coarse sand because water flows faster through that, plus, if the sand was
too small it would pass through the slits in the casing pipe that later would be inserted
into the well. At the 200-ft depth (60 m) the sand became a little coarser, so finally it
was figured that that was deep enough.
During the drilling process a worker occasionally shoveled from a sack a few pounds of
dry powder they called "mud" into the circulating water. Words on the sack
described the contents as "Premium Gel, 100% Wyoming Bentonite." It looked like
gray talc. This "mud" served two purposes. First, it stabilized the well's sand
walls, and; second, it made the water "thicker" so that debris dislodged by the
bit would come out with the water easier.
Once the hole was drilled they inserted several 20-ft- long, 4.5-inch wide,
plastic-looking casing pipes into the hole. Each pipe bore thousands of tiny slits, each
slit being 1/10,000-ths of an inch wide (2.5 microns). Water can pass through such slits,
but not sand grains. Water under pressure was forced into the hole to "flush it
out," and then they forced air into it and measured the water pressure. Finally the
water pump was inserted into the well not far from the ground's surface, a small retention
tank was set next to the well head, the pump was connected to a 220-volt plug, and then we
all stood by to see wonderful, cold, milky water begin gushing from a large black hose
into the nearby pond. I let the water flow for 24 hours to get the residual
"mud" out of the system.
I asked the foreman whether this drilling had been a typical job. His reply was,
"Yeah,... sandy." So, it was pretty typical, but they'd run into more sand than
they were used to. However, being so close to a little stream, this was normal.
The drilling-company owner told me beforehand that he guaranteed he'd strike water. I
think that this had been a pretty safe bet, because in this area if you go deep enough
you'll always strike water. In my home area of Kentucky that wasn't always the case,
because in many places you might strike dry bedrock before encountering a water table.
However, here there's little or no bedrock near the ground's surface and the elevation
above sea level is so low that the water level is seldom far from the surface. In
Kentucky, folks who can dowse for water are much in demand, but, here, dowsers don't seem
to be part of the local culture.
If you'd like to learn more about your own local hydrology, you can find the basics at
a great site on the Web developed by the US Geological Survey, called "Groundwater
Atlas of the United States." It's at http://sr6capp.er.usgs.gov/gwa/index.html
There, the page providing a regional summary for the Mississippi, Louisiana and Arkansas
area is found at http://sr6capp.er.usgs.gov/gwa/ch_f/index.html
Maps at this site show that the area around Natchez is located within the huge
"Southeastern Coastal Plain aquifer system" and that here the system either
outcrops at or near the ground's surface. This explains why the drilling-company owner
could be so confident he'd strike water. The aquifer system here is about 5,000 feet deep
(1500 m), as shown on a map at http://sr6capp.er.usgs.gov/gwa/ch_f/gif/F067.GIF
The driller told me that he thought our water was coming from the Citronelle Formation.
The Citronelle is considered to have been deposited during the Pliocene Epoch 1.7 to 3.6
million years ago. If your computer can deal with PDF documents, you can download a page
with a section about "Semiconsolidated Sand Aquifers" of the kind we have here
If you need a general brushing up on geology, don't forget my geology section on the
Web at www.backyardnature.net/g/geology.htm.
To get a grasp on geologic time, the Geologic Time Scale chart is presented at www.backyardnature.net/g/geo-time.htm
The driller told me that we were lucky because at the cabin about a 3-minute walk up the
road the well water "is full of sulfur," and that many other water wells in our
area are salty. He guessed that this is because of oil-drilling practices of the past. In
the old days oil-drilling companies would pump their polluted water into the aquifer
instead of disposing of it properly.
ANOLES FIGHTING ON THE FENCEPOST
Thursday as I passed by my garden I noticed two male Green Anoles, ANOLIS CAROLINENSIS
("chameleon" lizards), circling one another on a fencepost. Clearly they were
contesting territory. One was a little larger than the other, and the small one had about
a quarter of his tail missing. The larger was slower but kept the high ground while the
smaller was more aggressive and willing to attack. Both were bright green.
Finally they lunged at one another, their open mouths ending up crosswise to one another,
each with a good bit of the other's upper or lower jaw in its own mouth. At first it
appeared as if each was in an equally bad situation but then the larger one, in a matter
of less than 30 seconds, turned dark brown- gray. During most or maybe all of the matings
I've seen, the male remained bright green while the female turned a dark, leaden hue, so
the thought occurred to me that maybe the big male sensed that he was at a disadvantage in
the fight, and his darkening signaled his desperation or submission. Closer up I saw that
the big one not only had one of his eyes inside the other's mouth, but also several of his
head scales were dislodged, and he was breathing much faster than his smaller opponent. I
think he considered himself to be losing the fight.
They remained locked together like this for ten minutes, the smaller one constantly
shifting his body to get a better grip, the larger one just holding on. Finally they
disengaged and the circling continued, the big one walking stiffly and seemingly dazed.
Soon they attacked again and the same situation developed, except that this time no eye
was covered by a jaw. After about ten more minutes the big one began turning green again
and the small one started looking nervous, shifting his position more frequently but never
improving his situation.
Somehow they came undone, circled one another some more, the big one always maintaining
the highest position despite his swollen, wounded tongue hanging from his mouth's corner,
and then they attacked again. The big one continued regaining his earlier bright green
color and now the small one had as many loose scales and raw-looking spots as the big one.
As they chewed at one another, sometimes one would lose his grip and the other would hold
him in mid air while clinging to the side of the fencepost. Then the loose one would gain
a grip, give a mighty twist and flip the other into the air. It was a tremendous fight.
After about 40 minutes from the beginning they disengaged, circled one another for a
while, and then I saw it: The big one had returned to his former brilliant bright
greenness but the small one now for the first time was darkening. And now the small one,
for every five steps he'd take forward or sideways, would take six backwards. He still
looked aggressive but unmistakably he was withdrawing from the fight as he grew darker and
Finally just the bright green big one remained on the fencepost as the dark small one
slinked away through the daylilies.
Newsletter subscriber and friend Ana María near Mérida in Mexico writes to me about the
fun she's having with a new family of domesticated rabbits she's invited to live with her
-- the parents being named Roberto and Chabela. Recently Chabela gave birth and Ana María
wrote asking about nursing among rabbits. Soon Google had led me to the very nice Web site
produced by the "House Rabbit Society" at www.rabbit.org.
Information found there applies to domesticated "house rabbits," not necessarily
to wild rabbits and cottontails.
I learned that when a rabbit mother gives birth, she doesn't stay on her nest, for this
would attract the attention of predators. The babies burrow to the nest's bottom and hide
until the mother returns for meal time. Usually, instead of nursing her young right after
birth, the mother first feeds them the night after the birth, typically between midnight
and 5:00 AM. On the average, the babies are fed every 24 hours.
When a mother rabbit nurses, she doesn't lie in the nest like a cat would, but stands
over the babies. However, like a cat, when she's cleaning them she licks their bellies and
bottoms to stimulate elimination.
One offshoot of what's said above is that when you find a nest of baby rabbits without
a parent around you shouldn't assume that they have been abandoned and need your help.
Just get away from the nest fast and don't bother them. If you have a nest of baby rabbits
and want to be sure they are being cared for, check them the first thing each morning. If
they are warm and their bellies are round, they're fine. An even more certain way is each
morning at dawn to weigh them on a small postage scale or kitchen scale. If each day they
gain 1/4 oz. or so (7.5 g), they're being fed.
There's a lot more information at the www.rabbit.org
site, so if you have any rabbit affinities at all, this is a good site to bookmark.
JAPANESE BEETLE UPDATE
My cousin Miles in Kentucky, who treasures his plants as much as I, writes this:
"The beetles are eating all the blooms and all the ripe fruit. They come in by the
hundreds. They love sassafras leaves. When they get done with a tree you can see right
through it, all that's left is the veins on the leaf. I hate these beetles."
This is the third summer I've told Newsletter readers about Japanese Beetles. Each
summer I've referred you to a map on the Internet showing how these rapacious, introduced
beetles are advancing westward and southward toward us in southwestern Mississippi. This
year the map shows them established in parts of northeastern and eastern Mississippi, but
still a few counties from Natchez. You can see the 2003 map at http://ceris.purdue.edu/napis/pests/jb/imap/jbmap.html
I've been telling everyone I can about the pending arrival of these beetles, especially
since I heard that the Natchez City Council spent a good deal of money planting the
streets in Crepe Myrtles, which happen to be among this beetle's favorite foods.
The USDA's main page on the biology and control of Japanese Beetles is at www.pueblo.gsa.gov/cic_text/housing/japanese-beetle/jbeetle.html
FOWLER'S TOADS & AMERICAN TOADS
Lately I've been seeing plenty of toads. At dusk they hop onto the barn's concrete floor
and work along the edges. They also like my gardens. It's been interesting figuring out
which species they are.
Of course toads are squat, plump little critters with rough, warty skin, while regular
frogs usually have smoother skin and are a little more streamlined. The wonderful USGS
"National Atlas for Amphibian Distributions" found on the Internet at www.mp2-pwrc.usgs.gov/armiatlas/order.cfm?recordID=Anura
informs us that Mississippi is home to five toad species. They are:
- Fowler's Toad
- American Toad
- Coastal Plain Toad
- Oak Toad
- Southern Toad
Of these five species, only the Fowler's Toad, BUFO FOWLERI, and the American Toad,
BUFO AMERICANUS, are listed for Adams County, though other species come awfully close.
These two species are very similar. Pictures of Fowler's Toads can be viewed at
www.biology.wustl.edu/tyson/faunaamphwdtoad.html You can see how similar the American Toad
is at www.uri.edu/cels/nrs/paton/toad/EX_p-amto10_se.jpg
Until 1997, Fowler's Toad was considered to be a subspecies of Woodhouse's Toad.
American Toads and Fowler's Toads are so similar that sometimes I find it hard to
distinguish them. The American's chest and forward part of the abdomen is cream-colored
and speckled with small black flecks or spots while that part on the Fowler's is
immaculately white with no dark flecking. On Americans, each of the larger spots contains
1-2 round warts but the Fowler's has 3-4 warts per spot.
But often I find in-between individuals. Then I have to check the "parotoids"
and "cranial crests" on the head area. You can view a drawing identifying
cranial crests (supraorbital and postorbital) at www.tpwd.state.tx.us/images/nature/wild/amphibia/key/toadfig4.gif
Cranial crests look like slender wires implanted just beneath the toad's skin, right
behind the eyes. The parotoids (pa-ROW-toids) are tumor-like growths farther behind the
eyes and about twice the size of the eyes. Parotoids secrete a viscous, white poison,
which the toad smears in the mouths of predators trying to eat it, causing the predator to
get sick, rarely even to die. You can see conspicuous parotoids on a Fowler's Toad,
looking like beans implanted beneath the skin behind the eyes, at www.biology.wustl.edu/tyson/faunaamphwdtoad.html
The American's parotid glands are either separated from the cranial ridge behind the
eye, or connected with it by a short spur. On Fowler's, the cranial ridges and parotid
glands touch completely.
Beyond that, American Toads call with "a pleasant musical trill lasting up to 30
seconds" while Fowler's Toads call with a sound "like the bleat of a sheep with
POKE GREENS IN AUGUST
Not long after I cleared away the blackberry thicket growing up against the barn, hundreds
of little Pokeweeds began sprouting. The blackberry thicket had been a favorite overnight
roosting spot for Pokeweed- eating birds, and those birds had sown Pokeweed seed there in
their poop. Since usually Pokeweed sprouts are at their best for cooking as greens in late
March, removing the blackberries has resulted in an out-of- season poke harvest for me.
They're good greens, too, as tasty now as if it were early spring. I put them in a pot
with a little water and cooked them. A pot full cooks down to a piddling amount, but
what's left is good, like spinach. Adding a bit of butter, salt and pepper makes a grand
Pokeweed is a perennial arising from a large rootstock. I've read that in the old days
people would dig pokeweed rootstocks in the fall, store them in their warm rootcellars,
then eat the shoots as they sprouted through the winter. I've thought of doing that but to
me Pokeweed is such a pretty plant and of such value to wildlife that I'd rather the plant
do its own thing the next spring.
You can see an edible Pokeweed sprout along with the blackish fruits also now appearing
COMPOSTING THE DOMINANT PARADIGM
My dictionary's first definition of "poor" is, "Wanting in material riches
I wonder if the dictionary's editors meant to be as profound with their definition as
it seems to me they were? For, in their choice of words they reflected this society's
dominant consumerist paradigm by employing the term "wanting," when, in my mind,
they should have written "needing... " A person is poor, I believe, when someone
is "needing" of material riches or goods, not just "wanting" them...
I became especially sensitive to these opposing concepts of being poor this week while
draining water into the bathtub prior to washing my Kentucky quilts for the first time in
a long, long time. That morning as the water poured, I made my rounds seeing what new
plants were blossoming or producing fruit, how high my Moonflower vine had grown in the
night, whether new mushrooms had sprung up, how my anoles and fence lizards were doing,
and I was feeling prosperous and fortunate beyond description.
Yet, I could probably qualify for welfare because my yearly income is so low. Despite
my sense of affluence and despite my having much more than I really NEED, and certainly
not WANTING more "material riches or goods," the world around me often
classifies me as "poor." Moreover, many would be annoyed that on a weekday
morning I myself was not in a car hurrying someplace to a paying job.
The crystalline, soul-pleasing water gushed from the ground joyously gurgling and
splashing after long confinement in the aquifer. The sun sparkled in the water and I drank
deeply and bathed in it, and watered my plants and compost heap with it. What enormous
potential I envisioned for us -- me and this water -- and how many degrees of fulfillment
I experienced at that moment!
Of course, drilling the well had been a major expense. However, if you figure the
amount of service the well will provide during many years of operation, the cost will be
seen to be almost negligible. To me, drilling a water well fits nicely with the Tao's
"Middle Path" philosophy: It's not free, but it's hardly gross self- indulgence,
I wish I had a way to compost this culture's dominant motivating paradigm that assigns
one to poverty simply if little money is at hand, and declares that one is wasting his or
her time if not perpetually employed with earning a weekly salary. I should like to shred
that paradigm and ceremoniously dump it into the straw and dried pig manure of history,
then stand yodeling and lustily pee on it.
What pleasure it would be one morning to see it black and spongy, steamy in the morning
air and smelling wholesome and well intentioned. If I could do that, I believe I should
enrich the whole world many-fold, and happiness would emerge everywhere like well-formed
mushrooms from perfect compost.