The Walking Woods

bosque.twoLast Tuesday night, an alarm box in our basement went into hysterics.

The little guy kept shrieking and flashing messages that read: “Check Septic System!!”.

For the benefit of those who do not know what a septic system is, think about living a hundred miles south of the Metropolitan Sewer District. In other words, you have to have your own sewer.

For us, everything that goes down the drain gets pumped out to a big holding tank buried behind the house and if something goes wrong, the little alarm box in the basement freaks out.

So I called the septic guy.

After parking his truck, he walked around my yard and came back to the house to ask, “Where’s your septic tank?”

“Wasn’t it you who installed it?” I asked.

“Yeah, but I don’t see it,” he said.

Fair enough.

“It is in the woods,” I told him.

He took off his ball cap and shifted it nervously from hand to hand. “I though I put it over there,” he said, gesturing toward a spot behind my house.

“No, you put it further back. Now it is in the trees” I said, “and I warned you at the time that the woods is coming this way and it eats things.”

He blew off my last statement and walked back to his truck. There he rummaged around for a site map and the biggest tape measure you ever saw.

“Hang onto this,” he said, handing me one end. He then spooled the tape out into the woods. He came back a bit later, looking more confused than when he went in.

“Do you know where in the woods it might be?”

I shook my head no.

He tried a new angle, spooling off into the woods again, only to return even more perplexed. But this time he held the chewed off end of a PVC pipe.

“It’s gone,” he said.

The woods had swallowed my tank, leaving a big hole as testament to its ravenous hunger. Apparently it didn’t like PVC though, so it spit it out.

He can’t say I didn’t warn him.

Some blame it on the soil.  It is nothing but a thin layer of clay over white sand and when it takes a liking to something it doesn’t matter how big or small it is, if the ground wants it, it eats it. Cars, houses, barns, it is all the same.

Others say it is the trees.  Our grandfathers shoved them back with bulldozers so they could plant row crops but you can only push a woods so far before it starts to push back.

Every night, it creeps a little closer.

When the air is still and the insects take a rest, you can hear it move. Leaves rustle when there is no wind. Branches creak and moan. Roots snap and pop as the trees pull themselves out of the ground to take another step closer before the rising sun catches them at it.

Every once in a while, I beat the trees back but it is as futile as fighting the rising of the sea. Now they have claimed my holding tank.

The septic guy was apologetic. He grumbled about poor soils and promised to cover the damage under the installation warranty. Then as he turned to leave, he stopped cold.

“What the…” he said, “where’s my truck?”

I pushed aside a buck-thorn branch, revealing his pickup.

“It must have rolled,” he said getting into the cab – but I heard him release the parking brake.

It had not rolled.

I didn’t say a thing. He wouldn’t believe me if I did.

Author: Almost Iowa

46 thoughts on “The Walking Woods”

  1. I didn’t realize you lived next to Fangorn Forest. Give Treebeard my best.

    And I have to say, I’m glad to be done with a septic system. Though Erma Bombeck was right…the grass WAS always greener there.

  2. Love it! I skimmed through posts this morning and went by yours wanting to savor it with a cup of coffee and then got busy! Glad I heard from you, which prompted me to remember to read! Never like to miss an “episode” of Almost Iowa! It really could become a great sitcom! Kind of a Seinfeld meets Home Improvement combined with Green Acres. I feel like I have said this before…. Have I?? If you get the gig, I’ll be the senile friend from afar who can’t recall what she last wrote or said.

    1. My mom took me to see the wizard when I was five. I spent most of the movie hiding under my seat. There is all kinds of cool stuff down there. Lots of gum.

      1. I saw it in black and white on a teensy TV when I was ten. I don’t know how a five-year-old of that era survived the full-screen color experience. My six-year-old brother Paul vomited in his sleep that night from his fear of the (teensy-weensy grayscale) flying monkeys coming to get him.

        What relieved the monkey tension for me was that great catchy tune of the witch’s soldiers:


        Still love it. Ahhh…

        1. You got to love how the witch’s soldiers followed their own agenda. Must have been a relief not to chant “Oh-EE-oh…Ee-OHHH-oh!!” anymore. The tune hangs in your head like a bad commercial.

  3. After reading this, I determined I must sneak outside in the dead of night with a flashlight to see if I can catch the buckthorn and sumac sneaking farther and farther out of the woods into our backyard. They are making progress sometime and I don’t see action during daylight hours.

    1. The way to catch Buckthorn at it is to watch the birds. Buckthorn berries work like Exlax in the bird’s digestive system…wherever a bird flies, buckthorn spreads. At least sumac is native to North America.

      The best way to deal with a walking woods is goats. I have heard of a guy who rents out his goat herd, in a few days they will clean out a couple of acres.

  4. Another finely written episode of life outside the urban corridor. I’m very familiar with the tanks, but the way you wove the power of trees into your scenario was outstanding, and oh so true. Great piece, Greg!

    1. but the way you wove the power of trees into your scenario was outstanding

      I wrote the essay one night, I was just reporting what I saw and heard. 🙂

  5. I have found a little salt keeps the woods at bay. Well, a lot of salt, actually. I enjoyed this as I used to live in Indiana where septic is a way of life.

    1. We live in an ecology called Oak Savannah. It is where the prairie of the great plains meets the forest of the Mississippi valley. The prairie grass once grew high here and when dry, it burned like gasoline. The oaks absorbed the prairie fires and protected the woods… but now that there are no fires, invasive species like buckthorn cover the forest floor and spread aggressively into ditches and yards.

      We have several ghost towns in our region but it is hard to spot them – through the trees.

    1. Oh, oh…. sorry about that. I went walking last night in the woods under the light of the blue moon. Lucky I had Scooter with me. There are all kinds of things out there….. waiting.

            1. I am a city-boy who grew up in a nasty neighborhood then worked for almost three decades in law enforcement. I prefer the maniacs down here. 🙂

  6. The hills may be alive with the sound of music, but the woods are alive with… well, better to leave that alone, perhaps. We have far fewer trees and no real woods, but even city trees have tendencies. Ask anyone with buckled sidewalks and clogged sewer lines. They know the truth.

  7. I guess I have to keep checking for your blog posts now, just in case the Oaks eat you. I’ve heard of septic problems before, but none like this. Not here in New England where houses sit on top of one another. Good luck with the new system. I’m glad it’s covered.

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