Sitting here on Thanksgiving morning, in the relative quiet before the annual storm of friendship descends upon our kitchen and dining room, I wonder how often we really think about the infrastructure of our lives. My day-to-day routine just seems to happen, you know? Some alarm goes off (mine is internal and seems to be pegged on 6am local time - wherever that happens to be), and I begin the day. Most days, this involves some level of external light (sun rising over wisps of fog in the park, a hint of grey light in the eastern sky, or even a blast of golden energy into our second story bedroom) and sound (the steady thrumming of raindrops that are moving through the gutter system outside the window, wind flap-flap-flapping the sign that announces yet another years' holiday sale at the art museum across the street, the Amtrak commuter line to Portland announcing that yes, again, it is heading up the tracks, or even the background street noise from earlier-risers on Liberty and Mission Streets making their way to someplace else). Today is quiet and dark.
I go downstairs to perform ablutions - shaving with an electric razor (to avoid those nasty and potentially infected nicks and cuts), counting the remaining hairs on the top of my head, showering off all of the sleepiness and such. I turn the faucet handle at the sink to rinse off my razor, and clear cold water appears to do my bidding. Seconds later, bearing its micro-burden of beard remnants, that water whisks itself down a little hole and disappears back into the greater puddle we call our sanitary sewer system. Quite the little feat, there, and all assumed and trusted every day of our lives. As they say, "out of sight - out of mind." The water lines coming in to the house, and the sanitary sewer lines that drain our house, are hidden and silent behind lath-and-plaster, PVC, cast iron, and dirt. Yet our lives are so dependent on this hidden engineering.
The upstairs bathroom sink - a high-traffic area for us in the morning and evening - is draining poorly these days. And that means consideration of its health... Are we just looking at a hair/soap scum problem that can be removed by chemical or physical means? Are we talking about some exploratory pipe-work (always a little nerve-wracking, since the exploration can cause damage to water seals and pipe threads, and you may discover a systemic rather than localized problem!)? Do I have the skill, the tools, the replacement supplies... all that I will need to explore and then re-connect my vital sink infrastructure before it is needed again for tooth-brushing and face-washing and the like...?? Oh, the trouble this little drain may cause!
And all about a simple little sink drain! "Can't we call a guy" and make this whole thing go away? Pay someone to bear the burden of uncertainty and to assume the mantle of authority when it comes to diagnosis, prognosis, system design, and reconstruction? Geez. Let's try to plunge it first, then pour some chemicals in... we can always "call a guy" later, right? He'll come in and fix it up like new, no matter what we do first... uh, right?
Funny little story, eh? Variants on this story happen millions of times every day, and with only the smallest of repercussions across the infrastructure of our lives. But then again, take out a major highway bridge across the Mississippi River, or flood out the pumps that keep Manhattan's water table below the level of the deepest subway, or even ignore a backed up sink drain for a couple days, and all hell breaks loose. Now you've got compounding problems everywhere. In my simple example, water begins to spill onto the flooring (which is the ceiling of a lower floor), or the physical/chemical initial treatment finally weakens the main drain pipe enough that a small (unseen) leak develops inside the wall and it begins a different kind of structural problem. Yikes.
We take so much for granted in our modern existence. Clean air - delivered to our lungs 24/7 due to the symbiotic functioning of sunlight and chlorophyll; clean water - evapotranspiration and filtering provided at no additional cost by sunlight and soils; safe food and shelter; and healthy bodies. We have to watch all of these things carefully, maintain their health so to speak, and I realize that there are limits to the ability of one individual/family to manage all of the huge systems that support modern living in America. But awareness and reflection - those are things we can and should control. Be aware, for your drain may be in need of some attention sometime soon. Don't ignore the warning signs, or casually procrastinate on action. Fixing the problem later may cost a lot more than you are willing (or able) to pay.
Peace, and have a joyous day of thanks. I know I will!