From our man in Port Hope – he had the problem and wrote about it with humour, at least he can laugh about such a dirty problem!
Ah, wood. The smell of the forest primeval. Nature itself. Hewers of wood, drawers of water. It’s what we are, us Canadians. It’s in our DNA.
I inhaled deeply.
Primevil alright, it smelled exactly like human waste. Feces. Excrement. Distinctly like shit.
The elm(s) in question are not on our property. They line the driveway at the side of our house on the neighbours’ side. The limbs Denis was splitting were lying in our driveway, having been sawn off at great height the day before. Those limbs overhung our property and thus were fair game for a woodsman whom I had instructed not to spare that tree -at least not the part hanging over our side.
Chinese Elm best lends itself to waist-high hedges. When left to grow unchecked it becomes brittle, produces more suckers than a time share seminar, and, every June issues forth a month long snowfall of dime-sized seeds in numbers even Carl Sagan would have difficulty describing.
“Billions and billions” as the great astronomer once said. Only of the cosmos, not weed trees.
And weeds they are. Huge weeds. Unattractive and angry looking as trees -or weeds- go.
The Chinese Elms came into our lives about twenty years ago when the neighbour next door, a determined woman, decided that the neighbourhood could always use more trees. Not being versed in the skills of an arborist (or even having a copy of The Golden Book Of Tree Identification) she nonetheless made regular forays into the surrounding countryside armed with a five-gallon pail and a spade. If she spotted a sapling she liked she dug it up and brought it home for replanting. Her property is now a candidate for a Worst Forestry Practices volume, the chapter on ‘Invasive Species’.
And it’s not even a forest. It’s a yard. A yard so crowded with Manitoba Maples, growing at 45-degree angles, that they’re slowly committing suicide by strangling themselves with their own roots, their only redeeming feature.
Much of southern Ontario has just come out of a six-week drought. No rain, warmer than normal temperatures and very high humidity. It is under conditions like these that trees send their roots deeper into the ground in search of moisture, any moisture.Even the moisture of human waste will suffice when survival is at stake.
Yep. Sewer pipes. Household waste. A veritable smorgasbord of nourishment for trees of all kinds. Which brings us to the hamlet of Orangeburg, New York, population 4,568, where in the 1860s, something called Orangeburg Pipe was born.
Orangeburg Pipe, known to plumbers as ‘paper pipe’, is a bituminous coal tar-impregnated wood chip sewer pipe that was in use until the 1970s -not a bad run for a product so dubious in its design that in at least one jurisdiction, Ann Arbor, Michigan, the citizenry rose up in a class action suit demanding that the city replace all Orangeburg Pipe as part of any road resurfacing that was undertaken.
Tar-paper sewer pipe is no match for thirsty trees. Especially old tar-paper pipe. And if you’ve got an old house in this area, [Port Hope ON] you’ve probably got Orangeburg Pipe.
And thus it was on Sunday last, whilst entertaining a small group of friends and relatives, we were informed by one of our guests that the toilet was not flushing -a phenomena that only occurs when you have guests. One needn’t be Kreskin to predict such things. Voracious human-waste-eating elm trees and substandard paper sewer pipe had conspired to put an end to our little gathering.
But…the next day, thanks to the best plumber in the area, a temporary fix was effected. Things would be fine, Woody said, just don’t use too much toilet paper for the time being. And, sometime next month Woody will return and excavate from the house to the sidewalk, removing the Orangeburg and replacing it with whatever the latest advancement in sewer pipe is.
I should have put two-and-two together when Denis handed me the piece of stinky elm. After all, the answer to the mystery of our clogged toilet was right under my nose.