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Saturday, April 24, 2004

Through the constant hail of filled-to-pop bugs on the windshield, the land scaped before us:

.: A white-painted tyrannosaurus rex made of old gears and machine parts roared.

.: I wanted to strum the farmland’s fine perspective-line crops.

.: Dozens of silver windmills, mounted on a ridge, sliced the air (though it disconcerted me, for some reason, to think that the wind was performing the action – that the gusts were pushing on the blades, provoking the knife-threats).

.: Farms with large-scale sprayers fascinated me. The center of the field holds the fulcrum, the water source from which a wheeled arm radiates. The arm had motored wheels, each geared differently so that the center ones went slow and the edge ones went fast. Every five to ten feet there was a sprayer spigot. The spigots further out on the radius of the device were spraying noticeably more water than those towards the middle; it took some pondering for me to realize that because they covered a larger circumference than the interior sprayers, they needed to spray more water per unit time to equate (aquate?) the water per unit area. They too had been geared differently, as it were.

.: I received a lesson in oil well engineering from my dad. His field experience provided fodder for my curiosity; I remembered the ant-like pumps, nodding their formic acid into the ground, from my childhood, but I never learned how they actually worked. I learned that the 4- to 5-inch-wide holes are drilled over a mile into the ground. I learned that the wells push water into the oil to force it to float up to the surface. I learned that there are many configurations to the pump and counterweight system – anything from a bench-pressing praying mantis to a see-sawing hammer (as I saw). I learned about “mud loggers,” who record data on the “mud,” or pieces of rock, sediment, and soil pushed up with the boring (no, not as in “uninteresting”) chemicals. I learned about the division of gas, oil, and water that comes up through the pumps. I learned about the drilling process for wells, and the upkeep, and the retirement. The best part came when two of my favorite roadside visual attractions were connected. I noticed that some oil wells had tall ridges of dirt near them. “I know what that’s for,” my dad challenged, “Guess.” So I puzzled it aloud. “Displacement from drilling?” No. “A wind barrier?” No. “Gravel for a driveway?” Un-no. My dad laughs, “You don’t know how close you are!” So I keep thinking. “Oh, Summer, you’re looking right at it!” I was stumped. Eventually, he broke down and told me. “They’re put there so that the sprayers can clear the height of the oil well.” So they were indeed driveways. Good stuff.
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