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John Mac Carpenter

INTERVIEWEE: John Mac Carpenter (JC)
INTERVIEWERS: David Todd (DT) and David Weisman (DW)
DATE: April 6, 2001
LOCATION: Fort Stockton, Texas
REELS: 2159 and 2160

Please note that the corresponding videos include roughly 60 seconds of color bars and sound tone for technical settings at the outset of the recordings. Numbers correlate with the time codes on the VHS tape copy of the interview. “Misc.” refers to background noise or off-camera conversation that is unrelated to the interview.

DT: My name is David Todd, I’m here for the Conservation History Association of Texas. We’re in Ft. Stockton, Texas. It’s April 6th, 2001. We have the opportunity to talk to John Mac Carpenter who has been involved in many things over the years from the experience in farming to an expertise in botany and activities in fighting nuclear waste to trying to clear the air out here. I wanted to thank you to taking the time to talk to us about some of your experiences and the insight you have gained over the years.
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JC: My family moved to this part of Texas when I was baby in 1939 to farm in Ward County just across the river. We still own that farm. It hasn’t been farmed in about forty-five years. But I’ve seen an enormous number of changes in this country and I’ve also seen some things that real—made me realize that bef—in the thirty years before I was born, there was some enormous countr—changes. When I was a kid in Pecos County where I live now and have for much for my adult life had about eight thousand acres that were irrigated, produced wonderful cotton and feed crops and lot of food and it was all produced on land irrigated from springs. The primary spring system was Comanche Springs which was here in Ft. Stockton, and was the reason Fort Stockton was here. The two smaller ones were Santa Rosa Springs North and a little East of town and Santa Rosa Springs which are due North. The Comanche Springs were named after the Comanches. It was one of the major stops on the Comanche war trail. The first town out
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here was Saint Gall founded, I guess, in the 1840’s by Peter Gallagher who was Irish born and worked out of San Antonio. He was a trader on the Chihuahua Trail. And he named the town after his patron saint, Saint Gall. Then—and he came shortly before the Fort did. And the Fort came out to guard the Chihuahua trail against the Comanches. And then the town continued to grow to support the Fort. In the 1870’s, I think it was, there were some brothers named Torres who built the first irrigation canal using those spring waters to go to the East of town, north and the East to put in the farm area, the first big farm area. Later on this was expanded into the area North of town that’s known as Block One now. It was one of the most productive systems in the world. By the time of the drought of the 50’s which Elmer Kelton has immortalized in the book The Time it Never Rained, the springs had already to begun to diminish and flow, largely because of
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overgrazing. It wasn’t anything that was done intentionally. It was that people simply didn’t know enough about the country to know how to handle it. Some ranchers learned fast and managed to keep their range in good shape. Many came in, ate every—had their cattle eat up everything. And during World War I and World War II, a great deal of damage was done, particularly because we had so many sheep out here. They needed the wool and an amazing amount of wool was used for uniforms. And most of it came from West Texas and New Mexico and Arizona. And it did a huge amount of damage in all three states. But when I—my first memories of this part of the country was mesquite nearly everywhere and it was small mesquite. I always thought they were pretty plants
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and they are pretty plants. But they send—one mesquite tree will send its roots down sometimes sixty feet in search of water and if there’s any water down there, they will extract it. And they come in after the cover has been disturbed usually by overgrazing. And, in the old days, there were lots of fires that would come and they would burn these small for—these small shrubs and trees, you know, the seedlings. The big ones would survive, the little ones would die. So they didn’t really get real thick. The grazing was more natural. The savory system that is used in Hollister Resource Management is an
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attempt to replicate this and I’ve seen some ranches turned, you know, greatly improved by that. However, we’re at—at, I hope, near the end of a seven year drought that has pretty well kept us from doing anything real good or bad to the land. The—the drought has done all its damage but several years ago, I was driving near Grand Falls beside the farm where I lived when I was a little boy and I was driving a full size Ford pick up and I’m six foot two and I realized I could not see over the mesquite. And I could remember when I was a little boy driving in the back seat of my daddy’s four door Chevy sedan, 1941 Chevy and we actually didn’t have seats in the back end. We had stool—foot stools that we sat on. And I could look out the window and see over that mesquite. And that—I had known for years that that had been a short grassland prairie but that was the first time that it—all of a sudden that, you know, there was a blinding flash like on the ro—like Saint Paul when—when Saul of Tarsus became Saint Paul. You know, he—he suddenly saw the light and suddenly I—I realized it deeply inside instead of just knowing
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it intellectually that not too many years before we—before Daddy was grubbing that farm land off to turn it into a farm, there were no mesquites there at all. There’s—one of the theories and I suspect it may be right but I don’t know, is that much of the heavy grazing was done by buffalo through much of this country and the rest of it by deer and antelope. And the theory is that they digest mesquite seeds thoroughly so that few of them germinate. Whereas cattle, they eat the pods and they des—derive some nourishment from them but most of them they just scarify. And everybody who’s spent time on a ranch in West Texas or Southern New Mexico or Arizona has seen a millions of cow piles with mesquite seedlings in them. And usually if it’s not fresh—fresher than you
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want to touch, you just reach down and pull a seedling out and drop it because you know you don’t need another mesquite tree. But there’s an area in Southern Cal—in Southern Arizona where they have farmed for very many years pumping water out and the mesquite has begun to die because even though it goes down sixty feet, they have drained all the water table below where mesquite can live. You know, where mesquite can reach it. We lost—we’ve lost some mesquite in this last drought and of course we don’t mind seeing the mesquite die except that before it dies, all the good stuff does too. When I was little Comanche Springs was the biggest spring system in the Western half of Texas. And it was probably twice what San Solomon Springs at Balmorhea is, which is now the largest one left. And even it is not as—doesn’t have as heavy as a flow as it used too but it’s still in pretty good shape because it’s recharged from the Davis Mountains. And while they have been grazed, some of it’s too rough for much grazing and the rest of it is
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awfully good grazing and there—there are some ranches in the Davis Mountains that have been abused but by and large they’re in good shape. It’s real good—it’s probably the best country in this part of the world, that and the Marathon, the Northern part of the Marathon basin and the Marfa Plateau are extremely rich grazing areas. And I am—I—I do have some good friends who refer to cattle as—as large locusts, but the way things are now, we truly need cattle and we need sheep and we need goats to do the grazing because we don’t have the buffalo anymore. We do have deer and we do have antelope and they do their part but deer, I mean, cattle and sheep and goats eat some of the things—same things but between them, they eat almost everything and if you eat it—if things are eaten evenly, you do—and mo—and the livestock is moved away soon enough, you don’t lose any of it. And it actually a land—land that is not grazed, the plants do begin to thin out on their own simply because they are not utilized.
DT: There is some sort of synergistic…
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JC: Yeah, uh huh, the—it—you know, the—the plants and the animals are part of the—we’re all part of the same world—we’re all part of the food chain, including us. If—if it’s not eaten it will, you know, it’ll get old and tough and die. And eventually it—it will stop making the new ones because it doesn’t have to and then it will die of old age. The—the cattle and the sheep and the goats, by eating different things, can really, you know, can really improve range land if—if they are not allowed to over graze. Doing an interesting experience in parts of New Mexico where creosote bush and some other things are really unpalatable have taken control. They have brought in some camels and different members of the camel family, who the Arab camels apparently will eat absolutely anything. And I haven’t had a chance—they’ve been doing this for about five years, I haven’t had a chance to go see how its working, but I—I’m real interested in the idea.
DT: Tell me how you originally got interested in this idea of conservation and the outdoors.
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JC: Okay. I grew up in a very conservation-minded family. My father ranched and farmed as his parents had before him. And they were always trying to find a better way to conserve if only because it, you know, it improves your income. The better you treat the land, the better it treats you. And unlike—well most ranchers have fig—you know, have long since figured it out, but there was a time when they didn’t know that. They’re not selling beef, they’re selling grass. And if they don’t raise the grass, they don’t have the beef. Unless they buy feed and, of course, a lot of ranchers and—do buy feed. And parts of the year it—it really does help, but when you have to feed them all the time, you’re not making any money.
DT: Can you give some examples of the conservation measures that your family worked on?
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JC: The first thing that I remember, you know, from early childhood was Daddy trying, you know, studying soil conservation, would do workshops and he’d go and they’d talk about better ways to irrigate. When I was little, the water would come down the ditches and we’d—we had everything divided into checks with rows in it and we’d throw a tarp across the ditch and block it and just upstream from the tarp, we’d cut a hole through the ditch and irrigate that check. You know, flood irrigate it and worked real well. Took a fair amount of heavy strength, you know, to set the tarps but once—but that was the big thing and then you’d, you know, you’d just keep going uphill and watering check after check but that uses an awful lot of water, an awful lot of it evaporates. And we don’t
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have an awful lot of water in this country and, of course, the water is expensive. And so they started using these irrigation tubes. And—they’re—they’re much lighter weight than the tarps but they’re also a lot more trouble. The nice thing about them though was you could set them and let them run for about twelve hours so we officially worked twelve hours shifts when we were irrigating. And we’d work like hard as hell for about two hours and other than that, we’d just kind of keep an eye on things and read or whatever the rest of the time. But that—even that is fairly water consuming and they—then a lot of the ditches went underground. They would put a, you know, a big pipeline underground because that way it wasn’t evaporating from the ditch. The thing that I’ve
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never—I—I really don’t understand the science for but apparently is true it—it really has been experimented and these sprinkler systems that they mostly use now, really does use less water than the little pipes we used. It looks like to me when you’re spraying it in the air, most of it’s going to evaporate. But they’ve—they’ve got the solid figures to prove that they’re actually producing more crop for—for less water. So I—I have to accept the mathematics on that, even if it looks wrong.
DT: Did you father or grandfather experience the Dust Bowl in Texas and New Mexico in the 30’s?
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JC: My Daddy’s family really didn’t, now Daddy’s parents were both dead before I was born and Daddy spent the—well my parents, of course, were growing up during the Dust Bowl and then married during the Depression. But Daddy—my grandfather Carpenter was a rancher and I know he was always trying to get more land and he did go fairly broke during those years of drought in the 30’s—in the—in the late 20’s. He died in the mid 30’s. He—when he sold out in Alabama in 1910 to move to Ari—to New Mexico, he moved west with over a million dollars in cash, which in 1910 was a hell of a lot of money. But when he died in the mid 30’s, everybody got enough land to make a living from and that was it. You know, there—there were eight kids which is—is, you know, admit that he did leave a good estate, but nothing like it had been twenty-five years
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before. And some of that he had spent ranching. My grandmother was the primary farmer. She had grown up in Alabama on cotton farms and he had grown up—well he was born in Wisconsin just before the Civil War and grew—and grew up with his father, was a fiddle foot, and they grew up all over the mid-west. He lived in Dakota territory and helped build some of the early railroads coast to coast as—as a very young man and then wound up in Alabama and became a saw mill operator and then moved to New Mexico and became a rancher. I think he was a pretty colorful character. One of the ways he survived in Alabama being a Yankee was by joining the Ku Klux Klan. And, as far as I know, he’s the closest relative I have who belonged to the Ku Klux Klan. And I certainly hope that none of my relatives do today. It doesn’t—it doesn’t exist in this part of the world, not that we don’t have hatred out here, but we’re not that organized in hating. But my grandfather McElhannon, was a small farmer in Arkansas and then in
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Oklahoma. And about the time that the Dust Bowl was driving all these Okies to California, his oldest son had moved to Texas and had a good job and Grandpa had always—had also worked at gins most of his life and, you know, was a skilled worker. And so my grandparents moved to Texas and then on to southern New Mexico with most of their children, including my mother. And they missed many of the hard times that the—their friends and relatives had who went on to California. That was—reading—I—I didn’t truly understand that until I read the Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck’s novel and it’s—it’s really a heartbreaking thing. It’s—it’s really equal to Trail of Tears, you know, what happened to those people from the near South who—who were poor at that stage and went to California in hopes of jobs. And, of course, their descendants are still there now and most of—most of them are quite prosperous but they went through real hard times. My grandparents had too many children and they went through hard times but they didn’t go hungry.
DT: Did your background in farming and working with plants—introduce you to botany or how did you first…
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JC: I was—I was always, you know, around plants where we were growing them but to tell you the truth, I was always more interested in the things that grew down on the river. In that salty Pecos river which is saltier now than it was when I was a child and truly does support fewer plants But there were so many interesting things down there.
DT: Tell about how you first got introduced ?
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JC: You know, it’s really hard to say, I—remember—the earliest memories I can actually date are in the summer of 1941 when I was three. And that’s when the Pecos river flooded. And I remember being taken to see not far from our farm—our farm was on the river but it was up high enough that we didn’t get any water on it but about a mile away, there was what to me as a three—three and half year old child, was just an endless sea of water. And I remember that before that came we used to go to the reservoir—the Imperial reservoir, which is closest to Grand Falls. We used to do a lot of picnicking out
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there as kids and we us—from our farm, we would go across the old Zimmerman dam which was built I think in the 20’s and had never been real successful but it was an easy way to cross the river and there was a direct road from our farm to the reservoir across there and it was maybe four miles. And we drove across it with high water on the river and water coming over the dam with fish in it. And I remember that real clearly. Then I remember seeing all that water spread out and then I remember after the roads got dry enough we could drive down there, Daddy taking us down there and the dam had washed out. And there were several floods that summer and I—you know, I don’t know the exact dates of any of them but I know that at one point, Mother and I went to El Paso on the bus. Daddy drove us to Monahans to catch the bus and when we came back, the bus
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driver let us out in front of our house, because the bridge at Pecos had washed out and he had to re-route through Ft. Stockton which meant that he drove through Grand Falls. And he drove a block from our house so he—so he went ahead and, you know, just dropped us off at the front door. They finished rebuilding that bridge between here and Grand Falls this last year. And one of the big reasons I know that they’re build—that they were rebuilding it was they were fe—they fe—there was a good possibility that heavy loads of nuclear waste would be carried across it. But my first thought, when they started was, well why are they re-building that bridge? That didn’t even wash out in 1941. And then I thought oh 1941, that’s an old bridge. But in any case, it’s wider and higher than it used to be. But it didn’t wash out even then. But the spring after that, there were wildflowers everywhere. It was absolutely spectacular. I can—instead of going
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over to the highway when we drove to town, Daddy always drove the back roads in that period because it was so beautiful. And there were things that I didn’t see again for twenty-five years. And some things I’ve—that I’ve only seen a few times since then. But the drought actually started here after those floods of 1941. We call it the drought of the 50’s but the rest of the 40’s were very low rainfall and well into the 50’s it was and I truly did not see many wildflowers again until I was out of high school. But I remember that first year so well and I loved them so much. It was so beautiful. And, of course, that has been on of my specialties as an adult is—I do more with flowering trees and shrubs but I do love the wildflowers too. And, of course, trees and shrubs are wildflowers as well, they’re just bigger ones.
DT: Tell about some of the plants that you’re most fond of and maybe some of the ways you learned about them and then some of the people you’ve taught on tours and seminars about these same plants.
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JC: The—during the early 50’s after World War II was a very prosperous period for this part of the country and farming was doing really well. And they did develop this area southwest of town called Belding as a farm area and it—it’s still in use. But combined with the removal of forage from much of the range land—range lands which had already caused the springs to decline somewhat, pumping that water out finished those springs. And except for occasionally in the winter, Comanche Springs do not flow
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anymore. I truly believe that the men who put that farming area together really didn’t know—you know, there were pe—there were some people telling him that they were going to dry up the springs but I don—I don’t—I think they really didn’t know it—I think they really didn’t believe it. The ones I knew were good men and I truly don’t think they’d of done that, you know, knowingly, but I—I think they saw it as a chance to make a lot of money and really to do a lot of good for the area. And if they hadn’t dried up the springs doing it and we’d that much more farming area, it would of done the area a lot of good. But as it is, it did a great deal of damage. We’ve—we still have—we have now—we got up to about sixty thousand acres in the 50’s up in Pecos County of irrigation and all of it was pumped from below. We dropped the water table drastically and as natural
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gas got more and more expensive, it got to where they couldn’t afford to pump it. And now all those farming areas are still used but the amount of farming is minute compared to what it was then. There is approximately the same amount of farming done in Pecos County as there was in 1950, the difference being that they have to pay to pump all the water instead of having it flow to them naturally. Now, you know, thi—this is not an economic benefit. It was a fantastic short-term economic benefit and a terrible long-term payment for it. It’s like buying a Porsche for two hundred dollars a month with a ninety thousand dollar balloon payment at the end. And by then the Porsche is worn out and you don’t have the ninety thousand. So it—it’s really been hard on us out here. We—we lost economic value and we lost true beauty. Ft. Stockton was a beautiful town back then and it’s still a good town to live in, it’s one of the best towns that I’ve ever lived, has some of the best people. We’re far enough from Odessa and Midland that we can buy
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nearly everything we need right here. The towns that are closer have, you know—people—people go to Odessa and Midland to buy what they want. And so the stores have died out in nearly all the towns that are closer and we’re—we’re still doing pretty well here. But I go down to—over to Iraan which is in the Pecos Valley or down to Sanderson, which is in Sanderson Creek Valley and look at the lay of the land and see how pretty the sights are. And with Ft. Stockton the thing that made it beautiful was the presence of water. The site itself is not that beautiful without water but it—it really was pretty back then. And now it—now it’s just a nice place.
DT: Well I guess a part of the beauty was from the plants that grew here.
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JC: Yes, uh huh, a lot of it was. This—this was an extremely green place. We always—when we had people who came out to visit from back East when I was a kid, we’d al—and, you know, who were kind of overwhelmed by the desert, which was all around us, we’d always bring them to Fort Stockton and drive them through the Block one farms where the trees met over the highway and you were in dappled shade all the time and then down to the part where all of that beautiful clear water ran all the time at seventy-one degrees and where the—where the bottom was twenty feet down you could see the rocks on it. The water was so clear and it was the largest swimming pool in Texas before the springs went dry. It’s an Olym—it’s an Olympic and quarter size now, built inside the old one. And it’s—it’s still a nice pool and it’s still a nice park, but it had I
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guess about six springs in it before and the largest spring was in the pool itself. And it was just amazing. CCC was out here during the depression and they built many of the build—old buildings out there. So many of the rock buildings in town were built by them and it—the pavilion down at the park is an absolutely exquisite building, so clean and simple and well built. And it’s not used like it used to be, times have changed a lot. When I was—when I was little during World War II, when we’d come over here in the evenings, you’d see high school kids and sold—and the Air Force guys from the local army air force base that was here, dancing there at the pavilion. There was a juke box there. And now it has beautiful wrought iron fencing and except when its unlocked for something specific, it is locked up at night. And I kind of hate to see that, but it, you know, it had been heavily vandalized over the years and—and times have just changed.
DT: I guess with the water going, the plant regime around here changed as well, is that right?
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JC: Yeah it really had—there—there really was a lot more grass out when I was little. Alfalfa was probably the primary product here in the Comanche—in Comanche Springs are but they—they did grow some cotton. We grew cotton at Grand Falls irrigated from the Pecos River and what farming is over there now is still from the Pecos River. Now they tell me that until the mid 30’s for—Grand Falls was famous for fruits and for grapes
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and for peaches. And that the water on the Pecos changed course upstream and ran through some salt beds and the water became salty and they all died. And I—I assume it’s true because it’s in all the old almanacs, you know, that it’s famous for—for fruit and by the time I was there, you know, if you got a mouth full of water when you were swimming, it didn’t make you want to throw up but it was definitely salty. And nobody was raising grapes or peaches anymore, except in their yards.
DT: What sort of effect did it have on the wild plants?
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JC: The wild plants—as—as the—well the—when the springs went dry, there’s—so much of the natural habitat had already been altered by—by the irrigation system that—now there are areas in the county where—where there were springs, where there were seeps and lots and lots of flowers, lots and lots of, you know, wetland plants. But around Comanche Springs, there wasn’t a whole lot of that left except right in the park and occasionally toward the—and toward the end of it, you know, where the—where the last water ran out. The Comanche Creek probably in prehistoric times reached the Pecos River all the time but in historic times, it didn’t except in periods of high rainfall, you know, eve—you know, when the first white men came here and this is not something that the Indians did, it’s just that this land has been drying up for several thousand years. But there were a lot of cienegas along the bed and you—you can still flying over see where the bed of it is. There are places where it gets real wide and you know that that was a
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cienega. And there are places where there actually is a stream bed and you can figure that the water just ran there. And the Pecos—the Rio Grande did that historically too. There were places in New Mexico and above La Junta at Presidio where it typically would go under—underground during long, very dry periods and then, you know, it—it would reappear on the surface with more rainfall. But the—I know that, for instance, the Texas Bluebells that still grow out at Diamond Y Springs that the—I’m told that they grew out here at the Y where Highway 67 takes off for McCamey there was—when that was—when that was the old post road what—and later became 290 and now is Interstate 10 that there was—that there was a stage stop there because there was water there. And I
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know that the Texas Bluebells grew there. In my lifetime, I don’t remember ever seeing them though they were probably still there when I was little. And now there’s—there’s a windmill where the spring used to be. The windmill’s been there for probably fifty years, so there is water out there, so that the place is green and pretty. But it’s not wild.
DT: I know you have spent a lot of time in the Big Bend as well and as I wondering if you could tell how the hydrology and vegetation may have changed there over the years.
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JC: Somewhere back behind you, there is a book called The Springs of Texas, I can’t even think what the guy’s name is who that wrote it, it’s—it’s a German name and I believe he’s dead now. Yeah—Gunov [Gunnar Brune] or something or other. It’s a fascinating book. I did—for awhile I did a seminar at the Big Bend on the springs of the Big Bend and I had gotten into studying them. And I’ve gotten away from it and I need to get back to it. I don’t know that I’m going to teach a seminar in it again, but it—but it’s a fascinating subject. He found data on many of the springs dating back to 1900 and they were slowly, you know, dwindling. Most of them went dry in the 50’s but—there were—there was—there were a couple of bad droughts in—in West Texas before the 50’s in the twentieth century, all of which had affect on it but the grazing, I think, is the primary thing. Grass
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and the small forbs slow water down so that it runs in. Mesquite bush, Creosote bush, Tar bush, Black Brush, they don’t slow it down much and now we got, you know—we get—we—we get flash flood type rains out here that des—we’re close enough to desert country that we do that. We don’t have—we don’t get a lot of these slow gentle rainfalls for three days that they’re—we’re usually sick to death of them when they stop, but we’re so grateful they came because all that water soaks in but we’re not used to clouds out here and we really don’t like them. While—while welcoming them—them to bring the water, we get depressed if they stay too long. But when it rains eight inches in forty-five minutes and there’s nothing to slow the water down, all it does is run into the ravines and creeks and take our topsoil away with it, and it, you know, it really does very little good except that some of it will wind up in Amistad eventually also silting up Amistad which has been a big problem. I don’t know if you can take a boat now from the Pecos river to the Rio Grande down there or not but I know a year or so ago, you couldn’t get even a row boat through there because the silt was so high and the water so low. But the—the
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overgrazing was probably the first problem and it was—most of it was done before people knew what they were doing. Most of the ranchers now are extremely careful and an awful lot of them are fantastic land stewards and they get really annoyed at people who come from places like Chicago and Houston who have always lived in cities, and come out here and scream about what Westerners are doing to the land, when all you’ve got to do is—you know, have you looked at Houston lately? You know, we—we’ve screwed ours up but at least it’s still livable out here and parts of those cities are totally unlivable by our standards. And there—most of the ranchers here really do know what they’re doing. They know that the less feed they have to buy, the better their income is.
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And many of them truly care about the land itself. Some of them only care about the money, but most of the ones who only care about the money have a long range vision enough to realize that they’ve got to take care of the land to make the money. The real problem comes when major corporations come in and they have—they truly have no concept of future. WCS, for instance, at Andrews…
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JC: Uh huh, Waste Control Services, run—one of the major owners is a man named Simmons who has been a major donor to Texas and now national politicians. But they—they are trying very hard to bring in nuclear waste. And they see the terms of the billions of dollars that had been set aside to deal with nuclear waste. And they’re sort of ignoring the fact that almost all the studies have been about how to make money dealing with it, not how to deal with it as safely as possible. We really haven’t had real science exposed to dealing with na—with nuclear waste. It’s—all the science that has been published and been paid for heavily has been trying to make money with, you know, first by nuclear energy and then with—with handling the waste. And there’s—there’s a great deal of work that needs to be done.
DT: Can you talk about some of the plans to site nuclear waste in Texas, West Texas and your involvement?
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JC: Okay the—years ago, probably the early 80’s, the DOE wanted to bring a bunch of high levels waste into Deaf Smith County which is North of here a little southwest of Amarillo. And Deaf Smith County is the home of Arrowhead Mills, which is one of the largest producers of natural foods in the world, organically grown. And it got a lot of attention simply because of that. Arrowhead Mills I know—I know the people who owned it were thrilled to death so many people were up in arms but they truly did not lead the fight against it. They—they, you know, they—they’re a for-profit organization and they could only do so much but they certainly gave us information when we asked for it. But at that point I lived in Alpine and the main thing we did was have petition drives there. But—we got that stopped, but I knew that wasn’t the end of it, and the next
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thing we knew, they were working on the whip site at Carlsbad which is actually has nuclear waste in it now and some of those salt chambers are already starting to collapse, you know, faster than they’re supposed to. I don’t know what the outcome of that’s going to be, I don’t know how much damage they’re going to do and I don’t know if whether we’re going to be able to keep them from doing more or not. But then they—the state of Texas settled on Hudspeth County, first up close to Dell City and then down close—then over close to Fort Hancock and then back to the—to the east of Sierra Blanca between Van Horn and Sierra Blanca. I don’t know whether you’ve driven through there on Interstate 10 or not but its look like country out of Arizona Highways. It’s one of the most beautiful places in the world, there between the mountains, just west of Van Horn and going into Sierra Blanca. It’s—that’s still good grassland. It’s—it’s got—the main thing you notice besides grasses, is it’s got huge Yuccas, they’ve got Giant Daggers
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there and there’s a plant called Winter Fat that is particularly loved by sheep and also by cattle and deer, but it—it’s called Winter Fat because it gets big and juicy in the winter when nothing else is green. And there’s an awful lot of that there and it’s much larger there than it is out here. I—I’m not sure what the difference is. They’ve got less rainfall than we do. We supposedly get twelve inches a year though, for about the last seven years, we’ve averaged about six inches a year. They normally get around nine inches a year and I think they’ve averaged about four for the last few years. But that’s—that’s really pretty country. You get down toward the river from there and there’s some hard desert that is almost impossible to make a living from except by its beauty. And it is beautiful, it’s truly beautiful, extremely salty land, hot springs down there. They—it—they’ve had a resort there off and on for years but they have trouble with the plumbing there because the—the water eats the plumbing. But I—I’ve never been there when it was open, so I’ve never bathed in them. If—if they didn’t have them locked up, I would have. But I’m not going to break through somebody’s locks. I—I am too much of a Texan to trespass to that degree.
DT: Well considering how beautiful it is out there, why do you think Sierra Blanca, Fort Hancock, Dell City have been– and I guess earlier Desmond County have been chosen as possible nuclear waste sites?
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JC: They look at the demographics. They see that there aren’t many people out here. It’s relatively dry country. Some of the early—if they’re going to bury nuclear waste, low rainfall is important, but there’s an awful lot of evidence that leads me to believe that burying nuclear waste is the very worst thing to do with it. That it needs to be stored above ground where it can be dealt with when and if you have leaks because you will have those leaks. Every site where nuclear waste has been put in the United States has leakage problems. They will in the next few years shut down the one in South Carolina. It’s been in operation for several years and they’re in deep trouble there. There is all the aquifers around and several rivers are contaminated with radiation now. There—there is radiation, you know, everywhere anyway, but we–when we add to it at this degree, it’s really quite dangerous. Now the state of Texas picked out the—the little square in
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Hudspeth County and said, this is the only place we can bury nuclear waste and it’s seismically quite active. It’s been a long time since there’s been a damaging earthquake down there, but there are lots of little tremors. About four years ago, there was a small but damaging quake near Marathon, Texas. We—we felt it over here and some of the older buildings here had damage from it. A lot of buildings in Alpine and Marathon had damage. It was really interesting. It was on Maundy Thursday and we were at church. And it was—it was one of the few church nights during holy week that we didn’t have a choir. So I was sitting in the—in the congregation and the door started rattling and I
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thought damn, the wind’s up. And, all of a sudden, the pew started to shake and I thought Joe Ben’s shaking his leg again, I wish he’d quit. And then I looked up and the chandeliers were all swaying. And I looked at one of my friends and we both at the same time mouthed (earthquake). And sure enough it was. When we lived in Alpine, there are a lot of little tremors over there. Alm—that’s the only one I know in my lifetime that’s caused actual damage, but there are lots of times when you feel them over there. You know, it’s—it’s almost like momentary vertigo. You know, you’re—you’re walking along or driving along or sitting there in a car and suddenly you’re still and everything else is moving and then it goes away and you think oh. Maybe—maybe I shouldn’t of been eating that Texas Mountain Laurel. I’ve never done that but they tell me that it feels much the same way. So it—that’s the—in fact, I think probably the seismically active is the main reason we stopped it. It wa—it was so obviously a bad place because of that.
DT: Talk about your efforts to stop it. You said you circulated petitions, I’m curious what people’s reactions were when you would come up and try to explain what the problem was and ask them to sign.
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JC: Well, you know, Alpine has about six thousand population and, at that point, about fifteen hundred students at Saul Ross. And we collected about five thousand signatures of people who were, you know, legal residents there. And it really wasn’t that hard. I did have one retired Ph.D. from Tex—from Saul Ross, who—who refused to sign it and he said, you know, our government is not going to do things wrong to us, it’s going to take care of us. And I thought well, you can be bright and be stupid as shit too. I think in many cases our government does try to take care of us but in a lot—in a lot of cases our government’s bought and paid for and a lot of times they really don’t know. And so often, they’re rushing to solve a problem without getting the evidence, without getting the information they need. You know, I could find a fire over here in these books and, you know I could get them out of the room by throwing them into the dining room, but it certainly would not solve the problem.
DT: Tell me about the latest episode in the nuclear saga, I understand there were some hearings in Austin that you attended.
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JC: Well we had Enviro Care which is one of those oxymoronic names, was trying to put a nuclear waste dump in Ward County and we organized over that and at the moment they’re out of the picture. But the rules—the rules have been changed in Austin. And not only have the rules been changed but rules of what—of what input the public has have been changed. It’s much harder to get a public hearing now. And there here are far fewer steps that they have to go through to make decisions. But the Senate, earlier this month, had hearings on—on Robert Duncan’s ra—ra—radioactive waste bill, which I was not able to go to, but then the following week, last week, the house had it at their
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Natural Resources Committee with primarily representative Chisum’s bill which is almost identical to Duncan’s bill—bill. And when some bills filed by Lon Burnham of Fort Worth. Chisum, two years ago, was absolutely adamant that we could not give a private company a license to—to handle nuclear waste, that we could hire a company, but the way the laws are set up, if we give them a license, they can import it from anybody in any amounts and this is why he was opposed to it. Well this year, he’s in favor of giving them a license. He is also in favor of their being allowed to bring nuclear waste in from non-compact states and volume is—is not controlled in this bill. It—they could—they could truly bring it in from everywhere in the United States and probably outside of the United States. We could be having those demonstrations against the French nuclear waste, instead of the Germans like they’re doing right now. But we went—went to the hearings and I did speak, I didn’t say a lot. I just told them that they needed to go do their homework, that they—that it needed to be stored as close to the place where it was produced as possible to cut down on the accidents in transport and because those places are already contaminated, that it’s immoral to go out way to contaminate more places.
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And Comanche Peaks, for instance, they’re near Glen Rose, produces about forty-five percent of the radioac—radioactive waste in—in Texas, not—well that will go into—that will go into the compact way, not the physical volume in cubic feet, but the physical—but the volume in terms of years of radiation. And it—and they—they’re talking about when it’s decommissioned, turning it into a subdivision. And I truly—with out—with science we have now, there is no way it can be safe. Now some day they may figure out how but, in the meantime, they ought to keep—that’s—that’s really the most logical place in Texas to put it. The other nuclear rea—reactors down on the coast produce as much, but because of the hurricanes and the attendant tornadoes that are near shore, I think that’s probably not a good place to store it. I think it was not—I’m not sure there was a good—there ever was a good place to put a nuclear reactor, but down on the coast is definitely not one of them.
DT: You made an interesting remark just a moment ago. I want to return to it, you said that you feel that it is immoral to dispose of this waste of and I think earlier you said something about a geologic time scale versus a human one. Can you explain what you mean?
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JC: Well much of this nuclear waste—you know, we won’t have fuel rods out here supposedly, but the—the vat—the tanks and a lot of the things that—that they use in nuclear reactor are in constant contact with the fuel rods and are as hot now as the fuel rods. But they are de jure, not de facto, but de jure low-level waste. They are actually as hot as anything man as ever made, but legally in Texas, they are low-level waste. But they are truly high level waste. And some of them it will take several million years before all the half lives, you know, have gone—enough half lives have gone by that it can be handled safely by life as we know it. You know, there’s certainly—your life does change steadily and I don’t know what direction it’s going but—and with the addition of
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this radiation it may make some radical changes. But this stuff—you know, we see things from a human viewpoint, from a historical view point. I’m sixty-three years old and I remember much of that sixty-three years and I know a lot of what happened particularly in the southwest for the hundred years or so and really up to about five hundred years before that. Some of the—back into some of the pre-history but when you’re talking about millions of years, this is geological time. It is not historical time, and it’s God’s time. Historical time is people’s time, the time that we can truly conceive. I can sort of conceive a million years but not really. I—when I was a little kid they’d talk about—the universe being unlimited. And I’d try to imagine it and I’d sit there and I’d think, well space goes out this far. And then I would think well no, it goes out farther and I’d imagine a little farther and finally I’d say well, you know I—I can’t do this, and you can’t—you really can’t, your mind can—can truly only conceive historical time and this is far beyond historical time. If you were one of the so-called scientific creationists who I think are both unbiblical as well unscientific, but that’s my point, man’s only been here I
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think about four thousand years. In fact, the world’s only about that old. And if you subscribe to the view I take, modern man is not as we know him, but in, you know, the same species is probably somewhere between two and four million years old. But writing was developed in about the last five thousand years. Electricity was invented before I was born but in the 19th century. This is, you know, this isn’t very long ago. And a lot of what man has done in—in the five thousand years or so since he first harnessed fire and learned to write, has had some lasting effects on the earth. But nuclear waste is the biggest one he’s done. And it’s because—you know the earth will survive. It may not survive in a form that we can recog—you know, that we would say that this is—this is what earth was, this is that beautiful green mother to—to man but it will be here after we’re gone. But I’m not in a hurry to go. You know, I like it here and I think it likes us, but it sure doesn’t like all the things we do.
DT: Ok, we’ve talked a good deal about nuclear waste and I guess one of major concerns is that radioactive waste may contaminate the water out here, and I was wondering if you might be able to bring us up to date on some the debates over the future of the water supplies out here. I know that El Paso and San Antonio have expressed interest in water outside of their boundaries and maybe you can talk a some about your experience there.
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JC: Well water has always been scarce in the Southwest. San Antonio and El Paso are two of the most desertic cities in—in Texas. San Antonio looks almost like the deep south because of the plants they grow but it truly is in hard south—south Texas brush land. It’s not—it’s not the deep south. It is not New Orleans, it is not Baton Rouge. It is—it is dry land. El Paso is even drier. El Paso range—averages somewhere between six and nine inches of rainfall a year. But back in the 50’s when the—when Comanche Springs went dry, the farmers who irrigated from Comanche Springs sued the farmers who were pumping the water out at Belding. And this is what established the right of
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capture. That, in Texas, whoever owns the land can pump whatever water is out from under it. Now when it comes to oil and gas, this is different because they recognize that those are pools that are shared. And I remember when a fellow in Grand Falls, when I was in high school drilled an oil well in his back yard and was horrified to find out that in order to produce it, he had to share his royalties with his neighbors. But if it had been water, he wouldn’t of. And the country people, my people have fought off changes in that. It’s that, you know, it’s my land by God and I’m going to drill a well. But now that El Paso has bought the old farms near Valentine, and is talking about a thirty year supply for El Paso from there, it’s what must be a hundred and seventy miles but they’re going to build a huge pipeline and they’re going to pump it until it’s dry. And, at that point, the aquifer will be caving in and even if they stop pumping and it continues to rain at its normal level and that’s a very rich grassland at this point, but that water it—it will not recharge in pools under there because the aquifers will have been destroyed. They will—they will cave in on themselves. This—there are a lot of ranchers who—whose parents they themselves, when younger, would have fought you hand to hand over the right of
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capture. But a lot of them are getting to the point where they would fight you for the other way. Because they realize that the city—the cities have the votes now and they’re going to be able to run the new legislation and we may wind up losing all of our water in the West. And if we do, you know, we can’t live here. And if we pollute it, we can’t live here. Once you’ve got nuclear waste into a water table, it doesn’t cleanse itself. We’re having problems—air problems with stuff from Mexico and stuff from East Texas from the testing that they’ve done so far, the biggest volume of site—you know, the biggest thing that we see is from Mexico but the actual lung damaging stuff, most of it is from around Houston, down in the Big Bend. But that truly, once we remove the sites, the sources of pollution, in a very short period of time, the air will clean itself but the water won’t. You know, once—once it is contaminated with radiation, it will always be contaminated.
DT: Maybe we could conclude this tape by your—your remark that one of your friends made about oil and water.
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JC: One of my old friends, parent of some of my contemporaries was the—the daughter of a Wildcatter and wife of another one. Died several years ago pretty well off, but she was a student of nature and of other things, a ver—absolutely a brilliant—brilliant woman, Amelia Gibson Henderson, who lived in Royalty for many years. And she told me once about her childhood being—living in McCamey when they first brought in the big oil strike. This was, you know, long before I was born, and she was a little girl. And she said they lived in a tent and her mamma ran a—an oil field café in another tent and her daddy was drilling. And said that water was selling for a dollar a barrel and oil was selling for fifty cents a barrel. And she looked at me and said, water’s always worth more than oil. And she’s absolutely right. We’re starting—there are all these histories about the range wars in the old days over water holes. Well now it’s—it’s between our culture and the cities. But it’s the same old fight over the water holes.
DT: Let’s start a new tape.
[End Reel #2159]
DT: Mr. Carpenter, when we left off on the last tape, we were talking about the—the water wars, which seemed to be increasingly pitting rural Texas against urban Texas. And I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about how the population of Texas has changed and it’s moved from, I guess ranches and farms to—to the cities.
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JC: Even at the end of World War II, World War II caused an immense upheaval of people from the country to the cities working in defense plants or trying to be clo—women trying to be close to the bases where their husbands were. And that continued through the 50’s and 60’s and to this day. When I was a kid, Texas was about ¾ rural, you know, in towns of 10,000 or less are living in the country. And I think we are probably about seventy-five percent city now, maybe more than that. The new census has been kind of a shock to a lot of West Texans. Fort Stockton is a little bit bigger; Iraan and Marathon are a little bit bigger. Odessa and Midland have made slight gains, whereas they’d thought they’d made big ones. And El Paso even, is much smaller than they’d expected. I don’t know if this is a flaw in counting, because in El Paso there are so many Coloniasts and such as that—that really are undercounted. They have an awful lot of people who don’t speak English, which does happen here, but isn’t nearly that
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common. We are, you know, I’m part of an ethnic minority, I have been all my life. I’m, you know, white protestant. I don’t like the term Anglo Saxon, because I’m Scotch, Irish and German. And the—the Scotch, the Scots, the Irish—and the Irish were not friends of the English, but I did grow up speaking English and that’s more—it’s—the culture’s very similar. But the lower class Mexican American’s, particularly many of the more recent immigrants have not learned to speak English and they’re living in very poor situations along the border in many cases, or even in cities. There are coloniasts in—in Austin and San Antonio and even Dallas and Fort Worth. And, of course, they are undercounted in census, but we’re—we’re I—I am not involved, I’m not working on the
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redistricting, it’s extremely important. But, you know, I’ve only got so much brain and so much time. And it’s absorbed already. I’m having to leave, you know, hope that compatriots of mine who are working on that are doing what they should and will have some good—will—will—will manage to accomplish some good, because, I ju—you know, I just can’t do that too. But it’s tremendously important. We’re at a very strange time politically in Texas. After being historically conservative Democrat all these years, in the last election, there were a number of major state offices that the Democrats did not even enter candidates in. And when Phil Gramm ran across—ran against—for reelection, against the little Mexican guy in the little white pick-up, the Democratic party didn’t help the little Mexican guy in the little white pick-up. He took forty percent of the votes, but he did it without the Demo—the help of the Democratic party of Texas. I don’t know what’s happened to him, I met him and I liked him. He stood up and he said
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what he thought and, you know, I’m not sayin’ that if he was elected to Senate if—the money wouldn’t overwhelm him, but by-god he knows where he stands now.
DT: Morales?
JC: Yo—I—you know I—to tell you the truth, I can’t remember his name, but he—yeah, he came out of nowhere. He was a social studies teacher in the hill country and he’d been telling his kids that they had to register, they had to vote, they had to get involved with politics because it was the only way to make things happen like they should. And he—he said, he’d decided that he had to put his money where his mouth was and he took a year off and ran for—for Senate. And he did it with very little money. He raised money as he went and stayed with people, slept in his pick-up, gave very good talks and it was—but it was strictly a grass-roots thing. The Democratic party of Texas didn’t help him at all. They, you know, he—he beat their candidate and, you know,
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screw him. But he still pulled forty percent of the vote. And what got me was Phil Gramm nearly broke his arm pattin’ himself on the back for doing so well. You know, he had the biggest war chest that any candidate for the Senate in the United States had ever had. And he was running against the most poorly bankrolled one and this ban—poorly bankrolled one still pulled forty percent of the votes. Phil Gramm oughta be wearin’ a diaper he’s so scared.
DT: How do you think the current demographics and—and the electoral politics in general affect the environment and conservation in Texas?
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JC: The contributions to political parties, both hard money and soft money, the great bulk of it comes from people who have immediate economic interest. And there’s very little control over it. And oftentimes it is given by people who have not real concern for the long-term economic or physical well being of anything. They’re looking at short-term profits. There’s—there are all kinds of things that you could do that would make you money for five years and ruin what you’re doing so that you’d never be able to use it again. It’s like the irrigation in Pecos County. We’re back to about what we had, except it costs us a lot more to do it and we had a few years of great prosperity at the expense of
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probably a couple of hundred years of—of not nearly enough water to go around. But I’m not sure that the McCain-Feinstein Bill is the right way, but it sure is a nice place to start. And they’re ha—I think they’re probably gonna get it passed, but it is against the wishes of the two major parties. Our President is not the only one who’s opposed to it. The Democrats are opposed to it. Most of the peo—there are a few people in the Senate who will vote for it from conviction. Most of ‘em who vote for it will vote for it because they’re afraid their constituents will hang ‘em by the balls if they don’t. But it’s of tremendous importance and, you know, Molly Ivans has been saying for several years that campaign reform will happen, and I tend to think that that’s her rose-colored glasses
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view. But right now it’s beginning to look like she’s right. I hope she is, I—I frequently disagree with Molly Ivins, I frequently agree with her, but in every case, I always enjoy the way she said it. I—I wish I got her columns more often, because even—even when the—sometimes they piss me off, but even then, they’re funny and they’re clever and they’re usually something that needed to be said.
DW: Do you see a role for third or a green party in getting this kind of work done?
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JC: I think a third party is absolutely necessary. The, you know, we’ve had some interesting things happen nationally in recent years, when a third party candidate pulled what about forty percent of the vote. No, what wa—he pulled twenty of the vote, nearly, nationwide, Ross Perot, when he ran. And he did it—and he, you know that pulling out in the middle of it and then coming back cost him a lot of votes. I think he—I don’t think he’d of won had he not pulled out and then come back, but, I think he might of pulled a—a whole lot more votes than he did. Most of the people who voted for him, voted for him because he was the only one addressing the issues. The two major parties do not address the issues. Do I—do I need to close that door? Is it getting too windy?
DT: Let—let’s resume talking about the third party in—in ways that might be a—an answer getting more responsive (?)
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JC: Well, at this point, the green party is being very active in the Big Bend and the Permian basin and I have worked with them and I think we’ve got some potential. Texas—Texas essentially only has one party, whether people run as Democrat or Republicans, most of then are essentially controlled by the same groups, and we need somebody different. And much of the green party platform I agree with, some of it I don’t. I voted for Nader this time. My wife voted for John McCain and frankly if John McCain had been on the ticket, I would have voted for him. There’s—I have some major disagreements with him too, but I think he was a much better man than either of the two
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major party candidates that we fielded. Nader did not steal the election from Gore. Gore threw the election away. Gore started out with what, sixty-five percent of the vote? And waffled for eight months and lost much of his support that way. Nader pulled minimal support in those important states that Gore should have carried that Gore lost. In many cases it was, you know, he—Gore lost by such little that had he had Nader’s votes, he would have won them. But he should have won ‘em by, you know, he should have pulled sixty percent in those States, instead of forty-nine percent and it was Gore that did it, not Nader. And, I’m not sure Nader would make a good President. He has actually had more affect on the well being of America than either of those—those two candidates. He’s done a lot of good things and he’s done some strange things. And those strange things may turn out to be better and more important than the things I already see as good, I don’t know. Ya know, no matter how long-range your view is, you still don’t know all
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the implications. And something that seems really nutty may turn out to be perfect and something that seems perfect may turn out to be a real bad idea. But, I truly think that many of our politicians are extremely short-sighted and they look at the money that will come in this year and next year and not just to them, many of ‘em are getting’ a lot of money from these companies, but they see, well look, my constituents are gonna have jobs and we can do all this, but they’re not looking at fifteen years down the road, twenty years down the road. I have grandchildren. My oldest one turned seven in—this month. The youngest one’s four and they’re wonderful people. I want them to grow up into a healthy world with good jobs and I want them to have grandchildren. People don’t really
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know, I—I have come to the conclusion that people don’t know what real love is until they have their own children. And then people don’t know what perfect love is until they have grandchildren, because, you know, you love your parents, you love your friends, you love your wife, you love your husband, you love a lot of people and there are a lot of degrees of love, but when you have children, the love is far more accepting than with other people. And then when you have grandchildren, there’s damn little those grandchildren can do that will disturb your love for them. I—they could almost be axe
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murderers and you—you’d still love ‘em. And they—they feel that way about their grandparents too, but, it’s, you know, they’re babies. They don’t have the same strength of love that we do. You—you really don’t know how you’re loved until—till you have your own children and grandchildren. And then you realize how your parents and grandparents felt about you.
DT: Speaking about your children and grandchildren, can—can you sort of step back and look at the sort of big picture and—and tell us in your view, what do you think the—the major environmental problems are that—that we and—and our offspring are gonna be facing?
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JC: You know, I come from a long line of asthmatics and I am asthmatic, I have been all my life. Mine’s usually under control. My daughter’s had more trouble than I and, my second grandson, the little blue-eyed one, who stands out so in our family is extremely asthmatic and he also has skin allergies. And there are times where he lives in North Carolina in the mountains, that there’s enough pollution in the air to make a difference, both to his lungs and his skin. Now, my little granddaughter at 4 ½ , her primary allergy seems to be poison ivy and there’s a lot of poison ivy back in the hills, but, you know, God put that there. She just has to learn not to touch the poison ivy, but Jacob really, he has to breath what air is there. You know, that—that’s what we’ve got to breath and
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the—the water we’ve is the water we’ve got. If it’s polluted, if it has things we’re allergic to, if it has things that will poison us or give us cancer, it’s still the water we’ve got and there are some things produced that R.O. [Reverse Osmosis] won’t take out of ‘em. I know, we’re having some problems…
DT: Reverse osmosis?
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JC: Yeah, reverse osmosis. I can’t even thing of the name of the chemical now that is beginning to show up in West Texas, water that R.O. does—that reverse osmosis won’t take out. And we’re fixing to get some new water filters that will take it out installed. The real prob—one of the real problems with this, I have—I have never broken a—well I had a—I had a skull fracture when I was a child in a head-on collision that two people were killed in and I survived. But I’ve—I’m sixty-three years old and I’ve had one cavity in my adult teeth. And a lot of it’s the water I grew up on, which had lots of calcium and lots of fluorides in it. And I could probably bite your finger off if you’d be still long enough to let me, cause my teeth are strong enough and sharp enough. But now there are a lot of other things in the water that make it reasonable for us to run our water
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through in our old system. Well, that also takes out the calcium and the fluorides. At this point, we still have—the city water they run half of it through the R.O. [reverse osmosis] system and that gets most of the poll—it gets the pollutants down to what are believed safe levels. And it—and we still have enough of the calcium and the fluorides to, you know, to produce good bones and teeth. But as water becomes more polluted and it’s more heavily, you know, filtered, eventually we’ll wind up taking all the good things out too. And when I go back East to drink their water that is—that comes—some of it comes—well, when I drink distilled water, you know, that’s—that’s flat tasting. I’m—I’m used to water with a
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little pizzazz. But it’s scary when your water’s not good for you and your air isn’t good for you. I don’t go to the Big Bend National Park anymore in the Summer, because the pollution tends, you know, is really bad then. The last time I was down there in the summer was probably three years ago. We were down there in August and I was standing on the deck at the lodge and normally you—from—from that point you can look through the window and see anywhere from two to five ranges of mountains in Southwest Texas and in Mexico and Chihuahua. And that day, I could not even see the edges of the window, much less what was beyond and it’s what, maybe two miles across there to that window? And we—we spent two nights down there and for about three weeks
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afterwards I couldn’t walk fast, because I was asthmatic enough that I didn’t have enough air to walk fast. And I couldn’t walk slow and talk and I—I talk a lot, you know, it—it’s really hard not to be able to walk and talk at the same time. The air will clean itself fairly rapidly once we remove the sources of pollution, but once we’ve polluted the water and the soil with radiation, it’s gonna be polluted forever by our standards. And once we have emptied the bolsons, the aquifers, and they’ve collapsed, they won’t recharge. There are things that the earth will forgive us and things that it won’t. And I—I am a Christian, but most religions view the earth pretty much as I do. I annoy my minister from time to time that telling—by telling him that I go to church because I wanna sing the songs and visit the people. And when I want to go talk to God I go to the country, because God to me is far—far more readily available in a—on a hillside than he is surrounded by people, though the finest people I know, I see God in, clearly. You know, it—it’s more personal
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up close out in the country. But we’ve got—we really, and—and it’s not just a matter or morality, it’s a matter of common sense. If we kill ourselves, we’re dead. It doesn’t matter how much money we made doing it. We—we—we really—we need prosperity, but we need it for the future as well as for right now.
DT: Speaking of the future, what—what sort of advice would you give the generations that may come after us to deal with these very long-standing and durable kinds of problems?
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JC: The nuclear waste is—is a real problem, because we really have not done proper studies to figure out how to handle it. Even a lot of the—well, a lot of the medical waste that they’re using to scare us, you know, they’re saying we’re running out places to put medical waste. There’s an awful lot, probably ninety percent in—in cubic feet of nu—of medical waste that you can put in a safe room for anywhere from three months to five years and then walk in with bare hands, take it out and put it in the dumpster. There are a few things that they use, some isotopes that they use in diagnosing and some of the cancer treatments that really do have extremely long half-lives. But in terms of—in terms of the total volu—waste volume of radiation, medical waste is negligible. The big thing is, in Texas, is the nuclear reactors, I know that nationally, Department of Energy stuff, which contains more weapons stuff really than it does energy stuff probably comes real close to equaling the same size stream as nuclear reactors. But we have a lot
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of nuclear reactors in the States now. I truly believe that what we need to do is store this waste as close as possible to where it is, where it’s being produced, to cut down on the transport and to keep from contaminating new areas. If we’re going to make more of it and it looks like we are, Mr. Chaney is advocating a lot more nuclear reactors because of the price of natural gas. And he’s right, yeah, its cheap energy, its getting rid of the waste that’s so damned expensive and it may bankrupt us and it may kill us too. But the—the waste that they are disposing is so much hotter than any of the raw materials that they worked with to produce the fuel rods, that it’s quite obvious that what they’re tryin’ to do is throw away a valuable resource. There has got to be a way to recycle, if they’re going
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to continue in nuclear energy, there has got to be a way to recycle, particularly the extremely high-grade stuff, so that it can used again. It just doesn’t make sense to take low-grade uranium ores, spend all that money refining them to high-grade fuel rods and then throwing away everything that—that is hot afterwards. It’s, you know, it’s just a waste of time, a waste of money. I—I truly feel like that when I live in this part of the country, I—I have a perfect right to consider—to—to tell everybody what they should do about energy because we produce a huge amount of natural gas, which is the cleanest source in widespread use of energy production at this point. And we now have four wind gen—sets of commercial wind generators under construction. There’s one that’s been in production for several years across the river in Upton county and we’re building four, I think there are three more companies who have taken options on land to put more in. But at this point, when—when what we’ve got being built goes into production, our grid will not be able to handle more to take it away. You know, they’re going to have to enlarge the grid. And I know that a lot of people are terribly concerned about living next to high—those really high powered electrical lines and I have no idea whether they’re right or not, I’m not gonna do it because there’s no point in it if I don’t have to when it could be dangerous. It’s like I do drink an occasional canned drink, but there’s some, definitely, no clear, but some evidence that aluminum contamination is one of the major
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things that causes Alzheimer’s disease. So I—I—I avoid it, you know, not—not—not totally, but it, you know it just—just doesn’t make sense to expose yourself to things you don’t need to. I don’t let chiropractors x-ray me, because I particularly since I had cancer thirteen years ago, I went through an awful lot of x-rays then and do get x-rayed from time to time in my check-ups. And I figure I’m getting all the radiation I ever need that way. A good chiropractor can use his hands and figure out where the kinks are.
DT: What sort of thoughts do you pass on to your children and grandchildren when you try and teach them about these very complicated and—and important issues?
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JC: Well, you know, it’s really funny, with a very small child you—you really, the best place to start out with is with animals or plants. And you show ‘em the flowers and then you show ‘em, you know, where somebody’s plowed something up or thrown something away and how it impacts the nature—the natural things. And you—you—you—you don’t really preach to kids a lot, because, you know, they’re very, very open, they’re
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ready to learn almost anything and they—they like nearly everything. You can show them how intricate a flower is and they get very involved in it and then they get interested in trying to make those plants survive. They—and then as they get older, well, my grandson Jacob, with his asthma, he’s beginning to understand that when he goes to Charlotte, they have a lot of air pollution. And when he goes to Charlotte, he’s probably gonna get sick from asthma. And he realizes that, you know, he—he doesn’t have any solutions for cleaning up the air, but then I don’t have as many as we need either and I’m
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sixty-two, not five. But, you know, he—he’s getting the idea that this is something we’ve done and that we’ve got to do something different. And you—you just add it on as they get older and can understand more. And, of course, there are so many things that we don’t understand. There’s, I think, the thing that annoys me most about both the National Congress and the Texas Congress is they are throwing money at solutions, trying to figure out ways for people to make money off of things and how to get it out of sight. They’re not trying to figure out how to solve the problem and we need some really good, hard scientists working on—on all of this stuff. But it’s real obvious that if you don’t use more water, than from the aquifers then they recharge, you’re gonna have ‘em forever, but if you do, every year you’re going to have less water than the year before. And it’s real obvious that if the air is so smoky that everybody got—is getting sick, that however cheap it is to produce that energy, the medical costs are going to eat up the difference and more. That low-grade coal that’s being burned in East Texas and in Mexico, and in Mexico with no scrubbers at all and East Texas with very mi—you know poorly designed
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scrubbers, very old-fashioned ones that were grand-fathered in some years ago in the Clean Air Act, you know, they’re wrong, they’re absolutely wrong. We need the energy, but we also need air and we need—we can live a whole lot longer without electricity than we can without air.
DT: You mentioned that one of the best ways to teach your children and grandchildren about the environment is to point out the beauty of a flower and get them intrigued in that way. I was wondering if—if there was a beautiful, not just a single flower, but a beautiful spot that you like to visit that—that restores you and invigorates you to carry on?
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JC: There is a particular spot in the Big Bend National Park that I do take people to, but I don’t wanna call it by name on here, because it’s fragile and too many people visit it already. But it has orchids and it has maidenhair ferns and it has columbines and a lot of other plants. It has cardinal flowers, which are not in bloom now, they’re fall blooming, but it’s—it’s one of those places where I can go and, assuming there aren’t too many people there, you can really be at peace. But, I think my favorite single spot is on the Old Mesquite Ranch in South—Southwest Presidio County, which belongs to the State of Texas now, Parks and Wildlife, but it’s—it’s desert and much of it is hard desert. It’s called Mesquite Ranch, but it’s really got a lot more catunas, the prickly pear, I mean the cat claws on it than anything else, but it also has a lot of Senna, shrub Senna, which is a beautiful yellow flowered shrub. It has a lot of Esperanza, the Tacoma stands, which is
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another one in the Bignonia family. And there are little hidden spots of water in it. There are no big springs on it, there are so—actually there—there is a big old hot springs on it and it’s not too far from that—from the old Kingston Hot Spring Resort. But during this—these last years of drought, the last time I was out there, the area of the cienega around the hot springs there on Mesquite Ranch is down to about half. And it’s populated very heavily with scrub and mesquite, which is very wa—you know which is a smaller tree than the Mesquite we have out here, but only grows next to water. And about half of it look—is apparently dead now from lack of water, because the—the cienega is not—is not nearly as wet as it was. And I know that overgrazing on the ranch
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ha—has cut down on recharge, but—but a lot of this, you know, in recent years has been the drought. But you go out there and, particularly back in the San Antonio canyon and even—even when there’s nothing in bloom, there’s a feeling of such peace. And when things are in bloom, it’s absolutely spectacular. You know, there’s another place that–that is open to the public now that I haven’t—I haven’t been since it was open to the public, but I’ve been there several times, it’s the Gypsum Sand Dunes on the west side of the Guadalupe Mountains. Part of ‘em were bought by the Nature Conservancy and part of ‘em were condemned by the National Park Services. And they’re close to Dell City and Dell City is a remote town. It’s a small town, it’s a poor town, it’s got some wonderful people in it. I have enjoyed every visit I’ve been there, but I do not—I truly don’t think I could ever live there, but every time I’m in those Gypsum Sand Dunes, my
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soul just sort of fills up and I think; I could stay here and then I think; no, I couldn’t and then I think; no, I’m home. I know that the reality of life day after day, you know I—I would not stay there, I would be someplace where there was a grocery store closer and where I could use my computer, but I don’t know of a single spot more peaceful than those Gypsum Sand Dunes. You’re in high country and you’re surrounded by mountains. You know that there are forests in the top of those mountains and that there’s hard desert right around you and there’s everything in between. And you know, you just feel like all rights—all’s right with the world.
DT: Thank you for telling us about your experiences and—and about some of these beautiful spots.
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JC: You know Texas is home. I may have bo—been born in New Mexico, but like I tell all my cousins who were born in the same farmhouse that’s on the East bank of the Rio Grande, it’s part of the Republic.
DT: Well said, thanks a lot.
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JC: You’re welcome David.
[End of Reel 2160]
[End of Interview with John Carpenter]