When I left home to attend a five week National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Teacher Seminar, my husband devoutly promised he’d water my flowers. By the time I left, velvety purple petunias, coral moss rose, and vibrant snapdragons already showed heat distress.
While in North Dakota, I kept track of western Kansas weather through phone calls and monitoring the Hays Daily News. Though some rain fell, I knew the only way my flowers would survive was through regularly hosings.
Imagine my pleasure when I arrived on a mid-August morning to find my flowerbeds thriving. Drying buffalo grass crunched under foot, but the garden blossomed vigorously. What a sight! My husband knew I dreaded returning to find dried seed husks.
For the next day or so I caught up on my collected laundry and realized we had another problem. We had a blockage. And our plumber was out of commission.
Adaptability became the key word. Though I had looked forward to coming home to modern conveniences after weeks of dorm living, I was glad we had a stock of Cabela’s camping equipment, including camp shower and facilities packed in the garage. Even though I did dishes outside and took camp showers, we didn’t suffer as much as we might’ve. Briskly showering under the light of a full prairie moon has merits. It certainly 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 for them, and they began problem solving. Initially, they didn’t think tree roots could be the problem because our new pipe was supposedly impervious to root attack.
After several approaches to clearing the blockage, the guys dug out 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 refused to give up the ghost, grew on the west side of the house, not too far from the plugged sewer line. It provided hours of entertainment as we watched birds and squirrels scurry up and down its trunk and twisted branches. In late afternoon, it even offered scant shade. For these reasons, I encouraged its survival.
The summer’s dry conditions left the tree searching for moisture. Somehow a slender tip found the one spot in the impenetrable pipe where it could enter and siphon nutrient rich moisture. Once that fiber tapped into the pipe joint, it began a reproductive life of its own. Tiny hairs shot off the original trespasser, and each of those then manufactured even more miniscule growths 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 washed ripe laundry. As I listened to the water draining through the pipes, I gazed window at that determined tree. Elms have a hard life on the prairie, and this one has done better than most.
Maybe I shouldn’t begrudge it a drink in a dry season no matter where it goes for refreshment. After all, life on the prairie is challenging. We ought to enjoy what pleasures we can. Maybe that’s why I enjoy those flowers, even though they have seen better days and better blooms.