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July 24, 1997

Signs of Growing Up?

"I can't wait until I get old enough to putter."
--Calvin (of Calvin & Hobbes)

We wage an eternal war against fire ants. Especially during the summer months, when they are more active, we experience brief periods of quiet interrupted by moments of strange invasion. We reach down to refill the cat's feeder and find that several hundred ants have crept silently through a crack in the wall to feast on chicken- and liver-flavored morsels that are a cat's (and ant's, apparently) delight. A flurry of noisome pesticide sprayed against the wall and along the floor, the remnats of the cat food thrown out the back door, ants dying by the hundred. And every weekend, I police the grounds poisoning every fire ant mound I can find. We can't win this way, we can only hope to hold them at bay until science or God comes up with something to rid us of them forever.

It was a hot Sunday afternoon and I had just finished one of these forays against the ant world. I had found two mounds of the "big red ants," as I call them since I don't know their scientific name, and carefully avoided putting any poison near them. You see, the big red ants are native to us here in Texas, the fire ants are not. In fact, the fire ants are quickly bringing the big red ants to the point of extinction, and as a consequence, are also seriously endangering our official state reptile, the Texas horned lizard, affectionately called by many the "horny-toad" (which subsists mainly on these ants, but unfortunately, doesn't eat fire ants). I had just put the sack of poison down and began wandering aimlessly around the house until I found myself, once again, staring down at something that always bothered me. A black hose that snaked downward out of the house, the hose that drains condensation out of the air conditioner. A thin but steady trickle of water oozed out of the hose, spreading slowly in a small puddle near the back door. It had always bothered me that this water was going to waste, providing moisture for nothing but the weeds and wild grass that grow in--for lack of a better term--our "back yard." I stood there silently for a minute and pondered the situation.

I remembered that I still had some scraps of hose and a hose repair kit left over from when my dog was still a puppy and going through a destructive phase. And there were those two pine trees in the front yard that could really use this water.

I really want these pine saplings to live. We tried planting several last year, leftovers from our neighbor who gave them to us because she ran out of room to plant new trees, but it was hopeless. The drought last year was too severe, and though we watered them every day they just eventually shrivelled and died. This year we've had lots of rain, but these trees will still require extra water, and there was no sense in letting this small supply go to waste. Besides, these trees were a matter of heritage.

It was more than 20 years ago, when I was only about 10 years old, and these saplings' parents were the same size they are now. We had gone to visit some friends in Louisiana, and we briefly crossed over into Mississippi and bought a dozen saplings from a greenhouse, wrapped them in a wet towel, and brought them all the way back to central Texas. They were transplanted at first on the place we lived back then, when we moved a year later, my dad dug up the trees and took them with us to our new home, only a few miles away, across the highway and farther away from town. There they have stayed all through the years, except for one that died young when a buck whitetail deer thrashed it to pieces knocking the velvet from his antlers, and another that we lost a few years later in a forest fire. The remaining 10 trees have grown tall and strong in the past 20 years, surpassing the post oak trees that were already tall and old when they were young. It has only been in the last few years that they have begun to produce new saplings.

It was only the work of a few minutes to splice a scrap of hose onto this drainage hose so I could connect the long garden hoses and run them around to one of the trees. After surveying the scene for a minute, I decided that this was too much hose for this thin trickle of water to work through, so I disconnected one and rearranged them again. Then I waited. And waited. Well, I thought, it was a long way for that water to run, and it wasn't much water, maybe it would take a long time to see results. So I spent several minutes rearranging the hose to create the straightest run possible, making sure to remove all the bends and kinks in the hose, running it through the lowest spots of the yard so that the water wouldn't have to do any uphill climbs. After several long minutes, a tiny drop of water oozed from the hose and I knew it was going to work.

Suddenly, I realized: Hey, I've been puttering!