Into the fog

I guess I shouldn't have been that surprised.

After all, landing on the "No Spray List" in the first place had been no easy task. When we phoned the mosquito control district last spring, our decision was immediately called into question. First, the drawl on the other end of the line asked us point-blank why we wanted to be on the list. That we have a large garden/small farm and a 2-year-old roaming the property didn't seem to do the trick. He remained unconvinced and seemed to be carefully guarding the list. When we refused to budge, he pulled out the heavy artillery, informing us that all of our neighbors had specifically requested that insecticide be sprayed on their properties.

"You can get on the list if you want," we were finally told. "But I can't make any promises. If the wind blows, your property's just going to get sprayed anyway."

The conversation ended with us asking, for a third time, to have our address added to the roster. The phones finally hung up and I tried to forget about permethrin and malathion for a few months.

However, my sense of security seemed hopelessly thin late last Friday night as I pulled toward our driveway and what appeared to be a fully involved fire. Narrowing our eyes, my wife Rachael and I looked over a white plume that was nearly 60 feet tall and growing. Centered in the vicinity of our front yard, its location was cause for more than a little concern. Things got even stranger when the smoke slowly moved toward us. What could it be, I blindly asked myself. Burning car, spontaneous fireball, ghostly apparition and crashed alien spacecraft all briefly entered the picture. Then as the rolling fog was nearly on us and became transparent, the answer became obvious. "Quick! Roll up all the windows," I shouted, nearly waking up my daughter from her car seat slumber.

The seals connected just in time, and the large spray truck drove past our front yard, four fruit trees, one of our gardens, my daughter's play set and our car's entire left side. The thick cloud obscured all sight. Fearing a trip into the ditch, I slowed almost to a halt as the mist settled on the windshield, the hood and all of the side windows. The acrid odor mysteriously penetrated the closed windows and filled the cab of the car. Suddenly, the headlights broke through the white, the cloud dissipated and our freshly sprayed driveway rose up to greet us. In my rear view, the spray continued down the road, an uninterrupted rooster tail of insecticide covering the entire neighborhood.

The district manager's voice echoed in the back of my mind. "I can't make any promises."

I've heard plenty of other stories about broken promises over the past few months. There's the guy whose "No Spray List" status also vanished when his entire downtown Durango neighborhood was sprayed. There's the organic farmer in the Animas Valley who lost his certification and livelihood after his patch was sprayed without permission. And there's the familiar case of the woman whose property, garden and body were all sprayed despite her efforts to wave off the truck as it approached in broad daylight.

Ironically, Rachael and I took mosquito control seriously before getting sprayed last Friday (and who knows how many other times). Last summer, a friend our age got stung by the wrong mosquito, and we watched as he spent a couple months getting hammered by the West Nile Virus. Consequently, we devoted countless hours to eliminating tall grasses over the course of recent months. On a daily basis, we traversed our couple acres on patrols for standing water. In general, we took the West Nile situation seriously and had no interest in experimenting with the virus.

We also joined, or thought we joined, the "No Spray List" for good reasons. We had no interest in having ourselves, our land, our food or our 2-year-old sprayed with insecticide. One look at and taste of that deep fog last Friday night only reinforced these already strong feelings.

And the next time that cloud of chemicals blows through my neighborhood and onto my property, I will try to rationally pick up the phone and politely lodge a complaint with the mosquito control district. But then again, I'm not sure I can make any promises.

Will Sands




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