Monday, June 4, 2012

Drought, a Tree Root, and No Plumbing

            When I left home to attend a five week National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Teacher Seminar I secured my husband’s devout promise he would water my flowers for me.  By the time I left for Fargo, North Dakota, in mid-July, the rich purple petunias, coral moss rose, and vibrant snapdragons already showed some heat distress.  Frequent watering was their only hope to last through the summer.

            While in Fargo, I kept track of western Kansas weather through phone calls and monitoring the Hays Daily News website.  Though some rain fell, I knew the only way my flowers would survive was through frequently sprinklings from the garden hose.  Imagine my pleasure when I arrived at 1:00 a.m. on a mid-August Friday morning and my flowerbeds still bloomed.  Sure, the drying buffalo grass crunched under foot, but the flowers blossomed vigorously.  What a sight!  My husband knew how I dreaded returning to find dried blooms.

            For the next day or so we caught up on each others’news, and I caught up on some laundry and dishes.  In short time, I realized we had another problem.  The pipes had backed up in the house. We had a blockage.  And the plumber was out of commission. 

            Adaptability became the key word.  I had so looked forward to coming home to all our modern conveniences after weeks of dorm living.  Fortunately, we have a complete stock of Cabela’s camping equipment, including camp shower and facilities.  Even though I had to do dishes outside and take a camp shower, we did not suffer as much as we could have.  Briskly showering under the light of a full prairie moon has its own merits.  I have to say it beats taking an outside shower in mid-January.

            After a few days of roughing it, my husband and a good friend decided to tackle the problem on their own.  I rented a rotor rooter machine, and they went on a mission to solve the problem.  Initially, they decided tree roots could not be the problem because the new pipe was impervious to root attack. 
            After several approaches to clearing the blockage, the guys dug out around the exit pipe.  What they found was a prime example of prairie adaptability.  We were not the only ones adjusting to circumstances. 
An old elm tree, which diligently refuses to give up the ghost, grows on the west side of the house, not too far from the plugged sewer line.  It provides hours of entertainment as we watch birds and squirrels scurry up and down its trunk and twisted branches.  In late afternoon, it even offers a little shade.  For these reasons, I have encouraged its fight for survival. 

            This summer’s dry conditions left the tree searching for moisture.  Somehow a slender root finger had found the one spot in the impervious pipe where it could enter and begin siphoning nutrient rich moisture.  Once the root tapped into the pipe joint, it began a reproductive life of its own.  Tiny hairs shot off the original root, and each of those hairs then manufactured even tinier hairs by the thousands.  We had a root wad the size of the exit pipe plugging our sewer. 

            The guys made quick work of putting everything back together while I did a long overdue load of dishes.  As I listened to the water draining easily through the pipes, I also gazed out the window at that determined tree.  Elm trees have a hard life on the prairie, and this one has done better than most.

            Maybe I should not begrudge it a drink in a dry season no matter where it has to go for that drink.  After all, life on the prairie is challenging.  We ought to enjoy what pleasures we can.   Maybe that’s why I enjoy those flowers so, even though they have seen better days and better blooms. 

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