I made a garden!

Shade garden after 1

My new shade garden, featuring hostas and impatiens, after two sweltering days of hard, hard work. I hope it survives!

Did you know that gardening can be a contact sport? No? Well, then you’ve never tried to create a garden north of 7, where fertile soil meets Canadian Shield and the latter generally wins.

A little over a week ago I plunged into a garden project I’d been wanting to tackle for a long time, to wit: turning the southwest corner of the Manse’s fairly expansive yard into a shade garden. (It has to be a shade garden because it’s under two very large evergreen trees that, I am embarrassed to admit, I have yet to identify. Tamaracks? I’ll figure it out one of these days.) This particular plot of land was, when Raymond and I bought the Manse, a repository of some years of compostable junk; the raking involved in my first yard cleanup turned up hundreds and hundreds of evergreen cones, along with assorted other things. Having cleaned out that stuff, I enjoyed seeing what subsequently happened in the shady patch, notably a rhubarb plant emerging.

But this past spring and summer, the shady corner plot turned up less (translation: zero) rhubarb and instead a ton of high-growing weeds. Which I was itching to get at and replace with shade plants, a project I finally got to once my rather demanding year of being a college instructor ended. Here is what that plot looked like just a couple of weeks ago:

Shade garden before 1

My shade garden when it was not a shade garden but a large patch of weeds.

In theory, my gardening project was easy: transplant several of the more-than-enough hosta plants that populate the perennial gardens in front of the Manse; and add in some bargain-priced (because it was late in the plant-selling season) impatiens, everybody’s favourite colourful shade bloom.

In practice: not so much.

What I found when I started digging that corner of land was roots, roots, roots and more roots. That’s pretty much what I find whenever I start digging anywhere around the Manse: this land is old, and the trees on it are too – and thus rooty; and the soil is thin and rocky. It is good for roots. And weeds. And rocks. And maybe rhubarb. Or blueberries. And not much else.

Creating my small shade garden turned out to be a very intensive two-day project, on both days of which I got dirtier and sweatier (the temperature was above 30C throughout, and it was humid) than you can probably imagine. In retrospect, I really wish I’d taken a selfie when I finally came in on one or the other of those days to collapse into the shower; the combination of sweat and soil on my face (not to mention the rest of me) would have done an early settler of our corner of central Hastings County proud. Plus it would have shocked Raymond! (Who wasn’t there at the moment, and is fond of neatness, tidiness, and cleanliness. He would have been horrified.)

What I did manage to do, however, is get a photo that sort of captures the contact-sport thing I was mentioning at the start of this post. Raymond was back by the time I’d showered the second evening, but while the grime and sweat were gone, the marks from the roots and thorns kind of going after me were still quite evident. I am rather proud of my gardening scars, and here are a few of them:

Gardening is a contact sport

You don’t spend two days wrestling with the old roots of Hastings County and come out unscarred. (Photo by Raymond Brassard)

After pulling all the weeds and pulling and/or cutting (with my trusty Fiskars) all the roots that I could find on the surface of my garden-to-be on Day 1, and feeling like I might have got the better of the rootiness, I proceeded on Day 2 to try to dig small holes in which to plant the hostas and impatiens. At which point I learned that there are more old roots in a small patch of north-of-7 land than you or I have ever dreamed of.

And you know, you can’t do everything. At least, not all at once. So as I tried to plant my wee plants and found little but roots as I dug, I made the executive decision to take my chances with planting the impatiens and the hostas among the roots. I mean, there is some soil there; and, given that the weeds had been absolutely flourishing a short time before, maybe the roots would also cut my new shade plants some slack and let them do their thing too.

We shall see. I have since decided that I may need to look into mulch, something I know nothing about but that I understand may help suppress weeds and encourage the plants I am trying to grow. (I hope veteran gardeners will not be laughing at me. Remember, I am new at this.)

Regardless, I am proud of my efforts. Proud enough to show them off to all of you. Here once again are some before-and-after shots.

Before: weediness!

Shade garden before 2

After: a garden! (Rudimentary, but still – a garden.)

Shade garden after 2

Time will tell whether the victor in this project will be the roots, or me and my shade garden. But I am a determined person, and I’ve already put a lot of sweat equity into this project. I’m betting on me. And the hostas.

The best-smelling tree around

Basswood bloom at the Manse

The sweet-smelling basswood flowers that our friend and neighbour Ed brought over to the Manse the other day. Lovely!

It didn’t take very long after Raymond and I bought the Manse four years ago for us to figure out that we’d be learning a lot about the natural world around us here in Queensborough. What with raccoon families and porcupines and turtles on the roads, a deer visiting the village, an American bittern by the roadside and also in the marsh that’s right across the way from our house, busy wood-pecking woodpeckers, colourful blue jays, the whippoorwill that I delight to hear on summer evenings, the gorgeous leaves in autumn, and on and on and on – well, let’s just say that our Audubon guides to birds, trees, weeds and so on are getting a workout.

Thanks to eagle-eyed readers, I recently learned about Black Locust trees. I had taken a photo of their amazing blooms one early-June morning as I drove through the crossroads of Hazzards Corners, posted it here with a query about what this striking-looking tree was, and before you can say Jack Robinson I was enlightened. “Those are probably Black Locust trees in blossom. There have been some around Hazzards Church for many years. I remember looking at them through the window when I should have been listening to the sermon,” said reader Doris in a comment. Another reader, Lindi, added: “Yes, definitely, Katherine. Locust trees, with their intoxicating perfume. We had a clump of them in the dooryard of my childhood farm home. The smell of almost-the-end-of-school for the summer!” About all this I have just this to say (as I often have before): Meanwhile, at the Manse readers are the best.

Anyway: a couple of days ago, thanks to our Queensborough friend and neighbour Ed, I learned about another tree that has lovely blossoms and an even lovelier scent.

“Here,” Ed said as he handed me a small blossom he’d picked as he walked toward the Manse. “It comes from the ornamental basswood over there,” angling his head to indicate a tree that’s pretty much right across the street from the Manse. I took the little twiggy thing from him, and inhaled, and the smell was heavenly. Who knew?

The basswood tree at King Street and Bosley Road

The basswood tree that’s right across the road from us, bringing us a lovely scent – and lots of bees doing important pollination work.

As we continued to discuss this tree – immediately adjacent to the striking Tree of Life that Raymond and I admire every single day while (until now) ignoring its interesting neighbour – Ed also informed us that if you stand right under its branches while it’s in bloom you’ll be awed by the sounds of hundreds, if not thousands, of bees buzzing around gathering the nectar from those sweet blossoms. People, I tried that standing-under-the-basswood thing, and it is true: there is just a chorus of bees up there. All doing great work on behalf of Mother Nature.

Looking up at the basswood blooms

I wish I could share with you the sound of the bees that I heard when I looked up into the basswood and took this photo. Pleas try to imagine that happy chorus combined with a lovely smell from the blossoms!

I turned to my friend the internet and looked up “Ornamental Basswood Ontario,” and here is the helpful site I found. And that bees thing was confirmed, because here is what it says: “Bees love basswood flowers because they bloom in midsummer, when few other trees are in bloom.”

Anyway, I want to say thanks not only to Ed for sharing his basswood knowledge, but to all those people – like Doris, and Lindi, and so many others – who have helped me learn about the plants and birds and trees and animals that we see around us every day out here North of 7. Where I am beginning to think Mother Nature is at her best.

A stylish and elegant birthday gift, from down on the (local) farm

KS with Enright Cattle Company bag

Me with my beautiful new Enright Cattle Company leather bag. While I may look a little dusty and the worse for wear from a day spent weeding the garden under a hot sun, I think you’ll have to agree that the bag is gorgeous. (Photo by Raymond Brassard)

Happy birthday to me, people! Well, actually, it is not my birthday quite yet. But today, as we also mark Independence Day by flying the Stars and Stripes here at the Manse in honour of our neighbours south of the border…

Fourth of July 2016

… I received an absolutely wonderful early birthday gift from Raymond. And since Mondays are Meanwhile, at the Manse days, but more particularly because the gift is a gorgeous, high-quality product produced by a local operation that is not 15 miles from us here in Queensborough, I thought I would share it with you all. It’s a celebration both of a lovely gift and of a local business that is doing amazing things – and that I think you too might be interested in supporting.

But let’s start this tale with the birthday card. Raymond couldn’t have found a better one for a cat-lover like me. Singing cats, complete with bling!

Then came the gift. My eyes lit up as soon as I saw the attractive cotton bag it came in:

Enright Cattle Company bags for bags

Why did they light up? Because I knew what would be inside. And no, it wasn’t several packages of great steaks (though the Enright Cattle Company of Hunt Road, Tweed, produces those too). It was a product from the Enright folks’ newest venture: gorgeous handcrafted leather bags.

Raymond and I met Kara Enright not long after we bought the Manse in 2012. Early that fall I was seeking out a fresh local farm turkey for Thanksgiving, and tracked her down by phone from Montreal through the website of the excellent local organization Harvest Hastings. Kara told me she no longer raised turkeys, but put me on to her neighbours, Tim, Dorothy and Gary Hunt, from whom we got a first-rate one. Not long after, we visited the beef farm Kara runs with her husband, Darold (and young son Corben and baby daughter Evelyn), to pick up tickets for a special dinner featuring local farm products. (I wrote about that delicious repast here.) It was interesting to see their Simmental cattle, a breed I had not known about until then, and to listen to Kara talk about their operation. I came away totally impressed by her dedication and her enthusiasm for, as the Enright Cattle Company website puts it “the preservation of rural life and the improvement of agriculture.”

Since those first encounters, I’ve watched with interest as the reputation of the Enright Cattle Company has grown. Their beef products are being served in a wide array of top-flight restaurants in Eastern Ontario and beyond, generally with the source of the meat proudly listed on the menu. That is very cool.

But then a few months ago I learned that Kara had embarked on a new venture: fashion! Here is the video that I found thanks to my Queensborough friend Lisa sharing it on Facebook – a news report from the launch in Kingston, Ont., of the company’s line of handbags and other leather products.

“Part of our philosophy has always been to utilize as much of the carcass as possible,” Kara explains in the video. “We work with the finest tannery in Ontario to produce this really amazing, very soft leather from our hides, and then we have a really awesome leather maker. He hand crafts each bag – so it’s all done on a bench, hand cut and stitched. And he makes these amazing handbags that now are branded with our farm brand and made right from our own hides.”

Isn’t that something? Good chefs and butchers these days are doing their best to show respect to the animals that give their lives so that we can have meat, through what’s known as “nose to tail” cooking and eating. But what Kara and Darold are doing takes the process another step: using the hides of the animals they raise – with so much care for their well-being, and for the environment – to make of them one final product that will be loved and treasured.

So back to my birthday gift!

Here is the bag Raymond picked up from Kara at the farm this very morning:

Enright Cattle Company bag

And here is Part 2 of the gift! It’s designed to be a case for glasses (i.e. the reading glasses that I lose about 75 times a day), but Kara says (and I agree) that it could also be a great change purse:

Enright Cattle Company glasses pouch

And here is the whole shebang displayed on one of our Solair chairs on the Manse’s front porch – great Canadian design meets great Canadian design!

Birthday gift from Raymond

As you can tell, I am absolutely thrilled about my birthday gift. It is something beautiful, and something local. Thank you to Raymond, to Kara and Darold (and Corben and Evelyn), and to a Simmental cow who, I know, lived a good life on the Enrights’ farm (where maybe I saw her on our visit four years ago), and who is the creature ultimately responsible for this lovely bag.

Local gifts are the best!

Power, water: you don’t know what you’ve got till they’re gone

Power outage at the Manse

This was the scene in the Manse’s dining room a week ago this evening, when, by candelight and kerosene lamps, I was desperately trying to finish a presentation for the next morning on two computers that were quickly running out of battery power. The hydro outage lasted six hours.

Ah, country life. The silence of the mornings, save for gentle birdsong. The absence of traffic jams. The wide open spaces. Neighbours helping neighbours.

The power outages. The water shortages.

Of course I fully realize that power outages and water shortages can happen when you live in a town or city. But let’s just say that my recent experiences – or in the case of the water, close encounters – have reminded me that, as with so many other things, it’s different when you’re in the country. That said, the experiences have also been a healthy reminder of how fortunate we are to have ready access to those luxuries – electricity and water, I mean – almost all the time.

The power outage happened a week ago this evening, and is the reason why regular readers did not get their usual Monday instalment of Meanwhile, at the Manse last week. “Severe thunderstorms predicted for tonight,” said the text Raymond sent me while I was driving to work that morning. “Oh great,” I thought, knowing how I absolutely had to spend several hours on my laptop that evening finishing up a big presentation to be delivered at a municipal conference the following morning.

But then again: the weather forecasts are so often wrong. And we often get thunderstorms without there being a power loss. What were the chances it would happen this particular evening?

The chances were excellent.

When the power went out a little before 6:30 p.m., I still had a long way to go to finish getting the text of my talk into digital form and putting together the slideshow that must accompany a presentation if you want to keep the audience awake. (Plus a slideshow is always a great chance to show off how pretty Queensborough is, which was one of the themes of my talk.) Stupidly, I’d been working out on the Manse’s front porch until that point – that is, working on battery power rather than with my laptop plugged in. Which meant the battery was already low when the lights (and Raymond’s Red Sox game on TV) suddenly went out.

Raymond by candlelight

Raymond by candlelight on a power-free night at the Manse.

I can laugh about it now, but at the time it wasn’t very amusing: trying to get as much done as I could while battery power remained on my laptop and Raymond’s, awkwardly transferring files back and forth between them on a USB stick and knowing that even in a best-case scenario (like, say, the power coming back at a reasonable hour), it was going to be a late night and a stressful next day. (I had to be at the scene of the talk, a drive of almost an hour and a half, early in the morning.) We lit all the candles in the house and our two kerosene lamps, and it was all very quaint and cheerful-looking, as you can maybe tell from my photos. But looks can be deceiving. It was hot (and made hotter by all those flames); I was stressed; and we were hungry and tired.

Did I mention hungry? The last time the power went out at our former home in Montreal at dinnertime, we walked up the street to a very nice restaurant that was fully lit and operational, and used the outage as an excuse to treat ourselves to sushi. Obviously that wasn’t an option in Queensborough, so Raymond tried for the next best thing: pizza. But after several attempts at calling a place we like in Madoc (which is “town” for us, most of the time), we realized that it was without power too, along with everyone and everything else in Madoc. Ah, but there was the pizza place in Tweed! (Which is also “town.”) We called. It was a little before 8 p.m. They were closed.

Ah, life in the country.

Anyway, to end that story, the power did come on again, though not till 12:30 a.m. I’d given up trying to work and, after a cold supper of prosciutto and melon (we don’t live that badly), gone to bed and failed utterly to sleep in the all-pervasive heat. Got up at 5 a.m., did my best to whip the presentation into shape, and survived. With another tale to tell.

But the power outage leads me to something else: being without water. As most of you doubtless know, probably the single biggest inconvenience about power outages is that your water pump won’t run (unless it’s powered by something other than electricity). So: Taking a shower? Flushing the toilet? Forget it. And that’s no fun. Fortunately we have a rain barrel and were able to get toilet-flushing (and hand-washing) water from it. But let’s just say thank goodness the outage didn’t last any longer than it did.

But that’s not the only low-water story I’ve got. As everyone in my part of the world knows, we’re suffering through an extreme lack of rain, and water is becoming a big issue. Here – I’ll show you what I mean. This is how the Black River usually looks as it flows over the dam in the heart of “downtown” Queensborough:

Dam when there's water

And this is how it looked late this afternoon:

Dam without water

You will notice there is precisely zero water going over the dam, and the river is very, very low. Here are some photos that I took today of the millpond above the dam, normally a popular swimming spot:

Low water at the millpond No water going over the dam

It’s been a good many years since anyone in Queensborough has seen so much rock and dry land where normally there’s lots of water. Everyone is worried for the farmers; while most of the local ones have managed to get off their first cut of hay (thanks to the heat making the season early), unless we get some rain soon that hoped-for second cut may not materialize at all. As for those who grow vegetables – yikes! Our fingers are crossed for them.

To show you one small impact of the lack of rain, here are a couple of photos of the Manse’s dried-up brown lawn right now:

Dry lawn with Honey Bunny

Let’s call this one “Dry Lawn With Cat.” That’s Honey Bunny, the tortoiseshell cat who enjoys her outdoor sojourns (tethered for her own protection) on the Manse’s front lawn.

It's always greener over the spetic tank

And this one is called “The Grass is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank.” Hey – wasn’t that the name of a book by Erma Bombeck? But it’s totally true. And septic tanks (as opposed to a municipal sewer system) are yet another sometimes-challenging aspect of only-in-the-country life.

We had a period of summer drought here in Queensborough in 2012, the first year that Raymond and I owned the Manse; I wrote about it here, and here’s a photo from that July:

Drought of 2012

Our poor tortured plants during the drought of July 2012.

Mercifully, the rains did finally come that summer. But what I’m realizing this time around is that there’s a big difference between spending the odd weekend in a house in the country when the water levels are low (as Raymond and I were then, still living and working full-time as we were in Montreal), and having that water-challenged house in the country be your one and only full-time residence.

Suddenly you start thinking seriously about how often and how long your showers are, and whether you really have to flush the toilet, and whether you’re willing to risk combining whites and lights in the laundry to make a single load where normally there would be two. Because what you desperately want not to happen is your precious well running dry. I understand there is a remedy if it does – you pay for a big tanker truck to come and fill it up – but that brings with it expense and the hassle of priming the pump and so on.

The sand bar

Looking across from the millpond to the sand bar on the Black River where the water was shallower and where my sister and brothers and I swam when we were small children in Queensborough.

As a result of this arid state of affairs, I have started to better appreciate why we did some of the things we did when I was a kid growing up at this same Manse. Things like going swimming often in the river, and taking a bar of soap and shampoo with us, to avoid taxing the well with baths or showers. Or filling a cup with water for toothbrushing at the bathroom sink, rather than running water from the tap for a minute or two. Or washing your car at the river rather than with the garden hose. It all makes sense now.

Having plentiful water, and power that doesn’t go off for long periods – or, if it does, having ready access to places with heat and light – are things that urban folk take for granted. But as Joni Mitchell so wisely reminded us (speaking of paradise, as opposed to power and water – but really, when you think about it, they have a lot in common), you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.

But us rural folks know.

And I wouldn’t change it for the world.

The stories that we tell

Madoc Ontario c. 1960 (from postcard)

A postcard showing off the main street of Madoc in about 1960 (a very good year), generously shared by fellow central Hastings County storyteller Russell Prowse.

One of the absolute best things about being the creator, curator and general dogsbody here at Meanwhile, at the Manse is that quite often readers share their stories with me. This brings two large benefits. One, the stories are invariably enlightening and/or entertaining – whether they be about local (i.e. Queensborough-area) history, or about their own family history, or old-home-renovation success or horror stories, or memories from the mid-20th-century era when I was a kid growing up here at the Manse, or – well, whatever. And the second big benefit is that these stories provide me with interesting new material to in turn share with the readership as a whole, and thus to build up the amount of shared knowledge and anecdotes that one can find right here at Manse Central. And of course, stories that come in and are shared tend to prompt even more memories and stories. It’s a productive and happy little process.

Pigden Motor Sales sign at Bush Furniture

The old Pigden Motor Sales sign that made a brief reappearance during renovations to the exterior of the building’s current occupant, Bush Furniture.

Today I want to share a story that is not my own, but that is very close to home. It comes from reader Russell Prowse, who posted a comment a little while back on a post I did about the brief reappearance (due to some renovations at Bush Furniture in Madoc) of a long-ago sign from when the building housed Pigden’s Garage. Since some readers probably won’t have seen the comment, here’s what it said:

“I have a postcard of Madoc from about 1958 or 1959 which is a photo of Highway 62 in the centre of town, facing north. Directly opposite Kincaid Brothers’ Red & White Super Market and immediately south of the Madoc 5c & 10c store, beside the Cafe Moira, is a large sign over the western sidewalk that reads “Ford, Monarch, Falcon”. [Note from Katherine: I believe this would have been Brett’s Garage.] I imagine it identified only the office for the dealership. I can’t imagine there was any kind of showroom in that small storefront for any vehicles sporting those three venerable badges. I wish I could give further clarification, but I was a very young kid at the time, and my family of cottagers were just beginning our long relationship with Madoc’s main street. I’d love to send you a copy of the postcard if you’d be interested. Thanks for your great efforts in providing such happy memories. More power to you.”

Now if that isn’t the kind of comment to gladden a blog writer’s heart, I don’t know what is!

Of course I responded to Russell’s comment on the blog. But I also sent him a private email – when people post comments, I am able to see their email address, though other readers are not – thanking him for his kind words and issuing a hearty invitation to send along that vintage picture postcard of main-street Madoc. Which he did!

Now, it turned out that it was a picture that had crossed my path before, and that I’d written about after discovering it framed and hanging in the Madoc used-book store The Bookworm; that post is here. But my photo of it at the time of that post, back in 2014, was basically a picture of a picture, reflections in the glass and weird angle and all. Thanks to Russell scanning the postcard, you can see the real thing at the top of this post, and it is a lovely trip back in time for anyone who remembers Madoc in the middle of the last century.

But really, even better than the picture was Russell’s own story of his connection with Madoc and how he came to have that postcard. And so this evening I’m going to let him tell the story. All you have to do is sit back and enjoy:

My connection with Madoc is due to my family’s yearly summer visits to Steenburg Lake, north of Madoc, near the hamlets of Gilmour and St. Ola.

Our Mom would drive us up from Toronto on the last day of school and we’d return on Labour Day. We were so lucky. We have been going there for sixty years now, starting when I was about five, and we still own our cottage. The postcard (probably purchased at the Rexall) just slightly pre-dates my strongest memories of the street: I don’t remember Cafe Moira, but I certainly remember the Madoc five and dime for its bags of plastic toy soldiers and beach paraphernalia. I remember Stickwood’s, where we could buy Bell brand (as in Belleville) flannel shirts. I would look at the records at Pigden’s, and buy my comics at Johnston’s Rexall. But across the street, in Rupert’s, the other drug store, where the really, really nice white-haired man worked, I would gaze, week after week, with deep longing at an outstanding collection of harmonicas on sale. Harmonicas! Eventually I bought my first Hohner Chromatic there with, I suspect, a little financial help from him (the Chromatic’s the one with the little push button at the side, like Stevie Wonder plays, and it isn’t cheap), and the white-haired man tossed in his friendly encouragement as a bonus. I wish I could remember his name. I’ll never forget his kindness.

Our shopping day was Thursday, I think, and that meant lunches at Richard’s Restaurant, SW corner of 62 and 7, which we called Johnny’s because we believed that was the name of the man who ran it. I’ll have a turkey sandwich – all white meat, please – on white with fries and a chocolate shake, and excuse me but I have to get up and put a another dime in the jukebox for another play of “Surf City“. That would be the third play, actually, but nobody seemed to mind. I bloody loved that place!

sunset on Steenburg Lake

This is our part of the world: sunset over Steenburg Lake, a little over a half-hour’s drive north of Queensborough. (Photo from the “Scenes from the Lake” gallery at the website of the Steenburg Lake Community Association)

My Dad was the type of guy who went out of his way to get to know people, and that included Kel Kincaid. They were a lot alike, kind of boisterous and sometimes a little too in your face for some. But my Mom and Dad got to know everybody who worked at the Red & White and later the IGA and when we finally got a phone at the cottage they began the habit of calling ahead to the store’s butcher and ordering the week’s BBQ. They swore by “Madoc Meat”. At Steenburg (at the time, still known as Bass) Lake, about half the population of cottagers would make the trek north to Bancroft for supplies. But we always drove the couple of extra miles south to Madoc because we felt it was maybe a bit gentler, a bit friendlier. And for Mom and Dad, that lasted to end of their days. After Kel died and his daughter and son-in-law took over, the friendship continued and in fact they held a bit of a party for my parents’ 50th anniversary – a wonderful and sweet gesture.

I have always felt as though the town was mine too, even though I would only engage with it for a few months a year. I have mourned the losses over the years of the buildings on that street, and the fading of the town. It troubles me. Because I love it.

What absolutely wonderful memories! I think Russell has told the story of many, many families who have come from the city to spend summers enjoying the quiet lakes of central and northern Hastings CountyMoira Lake, Stoco Lake, Crowe Lake, Weslemkoon Lake and so on – and also enjoying their occasional visits to “town” for turkey sandwiches, shopping at the five and dime, and maybe the latest hits on the jukebox. As for sadness about Madoc not being as busy as it once was, I told Russell in my email reply that I too am sad for what is gone, but optimistic about the future thanks to the local-food movement that is starting to take effect in our area; the number of arts companies and arts projects (the arts being the lifeblood of interesting, healthy communities); and to the inevitable spinoff effects of the enormous popularity of our immediate geographical neighbour to the south, Prince Edward County. (Then again, do we really want the rest of the world to discover the secret of our own beautiful and semi-hidden part of the world? Maybe not.)

Anyway, the stories are just great.

As I was starting to think about writing this post, I found there was a long-ago and almost-forgotten song lyric running around in my head – something about “the stories that we tell.” As you can see, I used it for my title, but even at the time I wrote that title I couldn’t remember the song that the line came from. A bit of searching and some memory work finally turned it up, and I thought sharing it might be a nice way to end this post – what with Russell having got the music theme going with his recollection of playing Jan and Dean on the jukebox at Richard’s Restaurant in Madoc all those years ago. The song was written by John Sebastian, but the version I know (from the album called A1A) is by the one and only Jimmy Buffett. What he says at the end of this live performance pretty much goes for me tonight – to Russell and to all readers who share their memories: “Thank you for the stories; thank you for the fun!”

A Hazzards Corners state of mind

Helping the Hazzards turtle

My new Queensborough friends Sherry (left) and Gail work together to get a big old snapping turtle safely across Queensborough Road at Hazzards Corners.

The tiny corner of the world known as Hazzards Corners – it’s so small you can’t even call it a hamlet – has loomed large in my Queensborough life these past few days. In a good way! I thought I’d tell you about that in this week’s instalment of Meanwhile, at the Manse. Nothing earth-shaking; just some delightful little local incidents that all took place there.

Okay, so: Hazzards Corners Event #1. This past Thursday morning, as I was driving to work, I spotted a turtle on the south side of Queensborough Road just before it intersects with Cooper Road – that would be “downtown” Hazzards Corners, right across the road from historic Hazzards Church and its cemetery. As regular readers know, Raymond and I (along with lots of other people) are doing our best to help the local turtles survive their annual spring/summer ritual of crossing the warmed-by-the-sun roads before and after laying their eggs. (My most recent post touching on that topic was last week’s, which is here.)

The turtle I saw Thursday was big snapper of a certain age. How do I know? The moss on her back! It takes time to grow moss on your back. Here she is, before she started across the road. What a beauty!

Hazzards turtle

And that was the thing: when I spotted her, she hadn’t started to cross the road, although she was clearly poised and ready, having just laid her eggs on the south side:

Where the turtle laid her eggs

The spot where Mrs. Mossy Turtle had just laid her eggs on the south side of Queensborough Road at Hazzards Corners.

I pulled over because I figured if she was about to make the crossing, she’d appreciate someone keeping traffic from interfering with her progress. Or, much worse, hitting her and injuring or killing her. And I waited for her to start.

I didn’t wait long. Two things happened: one, the turtle started to cross; and two, another car pulled over. And almost immediately, another. And there were Sherry and Gail, two women from Queensborough whom I’d never met before but who both were a) deeply caring about turtles’ well-being and b) experienced in helping them. As the turtle began to unhelpfully head down the centre of the road rather than across it, we three turtle-helpers quickly conferred and decided we could make good use of the shovel I always carry in the trunk of my car for exactly this purpose. So the shovel came out, and Sherry and Gail compared notes on their experiences with using one to get a big snapper across the road. Gail was inclined to try to get the turtle on the shovel and carry it, while Sherry advocated using the shovel to block Mrs. Turtle’s sideways vision to try to keep her eyes and motion aimed for the opposite site of the road. As Mrs. Mossy slowly – very slowly – made her progress, we tried both approaches, and what ended up working was a bit of a combination of gentle pushes with the shovel and using it as the aforementioned peripheral sightline block.

Directing traffic while helping the turtle

Gail directs traffic with one hand and wields my shovel in the other, while Sherry tries out a technique recommended by one of the drivers who stopped to offer advice: holding out a stick that Mrs. Turtle might bite and hold on to, so that we could carry her across the road that way. (The stick didn’t work all that well, but maybe we need more practice.) But we got her across!

I was delighted to make the acquaintance of Sherry and Gail and to hear their turtle-helping stories; and I was also delighted by all the drivers who stopped and offered help and advice, or just supportively watched what we three were trying to do. You wouldn’t – or at least I couldn’t – believe how many vehicles pass through the intersection of Queensborough and Cooper roads at Hazzards Corners at 9 a.m.ish on a weekday morning! They all slowed down or stopped, and really it was quite the community gathering – all in aid of Mrs. Mossyback Turtle and her survival.

We got her across the road, and we all went on our way. And if that isn’t a good start to a workday, I don’t know what is.

Hazzards Corners Event #2: Two mornings after Mrs. Mossy Turtle’s laborious road crossing, I was back at Hazzards Corners as one of the people on a big, fancy Franklin Coach Lines bus that was taking a tour group organized by the Hastings County Historical Society though the very part of the world that I live in and love: central Hastings County. The historical society, an excellent outfit that does all kinds of good and interesting things, organizes a bus tour of some interesting area or other each year, and this year chose our neck of the woods. There were stops at Chisholm’s Mills, Thomasburg, Actinolite, Queensborough, Hazzards Corners, Madoc, Eldorado, Malone and Deloro. How could I not take part? I even invited my mum to join me, and it was very interesting indeed. (Despite the tour guide being pretty fuzzy on Queensborough history; I resisted the urge to correct him on several occasions, in the interest of being polite.)

Hazzards Church signThe tour’s stop at historic Hazzards Church was definitely a highlight, and I know that anyone who was on the bus would agree with me. Grant Ketcheson, one of the hard-working volunteers who has helped preserve that beautiful old former Methodist (and then United) church, gave a splendid and entertaining talk on the building’s history, complete with the wonderful news about a recently announced $30,000 grant from the Belleville-based Parrott Foundation to be used for replacement of the roof. The visitors asked lots of questions and were clearly quite taken with this simple old country church and its stories. Here they are, listening intently as Grant answers a question:

Historical society visit to Hazzards Church

And then finally, Hazzards Corners Event #3: A sight this morning that, readers, I need your help with. Once again I was heading west on Queenborough Road to work, and just as I approached Hazzards Corners I noticed the abundance of white blossoms on the trees on either side of the road, looking particularly beautiful against a sky that featured darkish clouds with spots of bright sunlight:

Blossoming trees at Hazzards

As usual, my photo doesn’t do justice to the beauty of the scene – I am the first to say I am a pretty hopeless photographer – but I hope you can tell that it was a lovely sight.

Now here’s my question: what are those white-blossomed trees? Readers, please enlighten me. And hey: if you feel you need to make a field trip to Hazzards Corners to do some first-hand research in the interest of coming up with the correct answer, I heartily urge you to do so. Admire historic Hazzards Church while you’re there, and poke around its beautiful old well-kept cemetery.

And hey, if you happen to spot a turtle trying to cross the road – please stop and help her. I am absolutely sure you’ll soon have reinforcements, and will make new friends. All in an excellent cause!

Death, beauty, nature, gardening: a Queensborough miscellany

tomato plants

I am just delighted about the heirloom tomato plants that Raymond and I put into our garden early this evening. Don’t they look nice beside the soon-to-blossom peonies (a gift from our Montreal friends Johannah and Tracy) and our bright-red oil tank?

It has been another in a string of sunny, hot days here in Queensborough, though today the heat was moderated by a lovely soft wind that had the added bonus of steering the bugs away. As I drove home from work along Queensborough Road late in the afternoon, I was luxuriating in the beauty of the rural countryside.

And then I saw the turtle.

Regular readers will know that Raymond and I are among the many local residents who do everything they can to make sure the various species of turtles that inhabit our region get safely to the other side of the roads that they are bound and determined to cross during the warm months. I’ve told you before (like here and here) about how Raymond in particular has taken on as a mission the business of helping out the turtles. But we both travel with shovels and gloves in our vehicles – the gloves for picking up the smaller turtles, the shovels for moving the big snappers – and I’ve done my share of this turtle crossing-guard work too.

So when I saw a smallish turtle-shaped object at a big curve on Queensborough Road, I of course slowed down – only to realize with horror that the turtle was on its back and probably dead. I pulled over, hoping that the poor thing only needed to be righted after a glancing blow from a vehicle, and that it would be okay. But it was not to be; there was the pool of blood trickling away from the body of that innocent little painted turtle with the gorgeous markings that you can see here:

Dead turtle, Queensborough Road

A sight you don’t want to see: a beautiful painted turtle, killed on the road.

Poor, poor turtle. I only hope that the driver who struck it did so accidentally and without deliberate intent to harm; I am told (though I hate to think it’s true) that some cruel people actually try to hit the turtles when they see them. I personally hope that those people burn in hell, though I suppose that’s not a very Christian thing to say.

I decided that one thing I could do for the little turtle was to get its body to the side of the road so it wouldn’t be struck again and again, and crushed and mangled. What I saw when I turned it over with my shovel wasn’t very pretty, but I gently carried it to the tall marshy grass where it had probably been hoping to lay its eggs, and bid it farewell. And carried on with the rest of my drive back to the Manse, feeling deeply sad.

But you know, there are things to make a person feel better. Like seeing the flower baskets that our friends at the Queensborough Beautification Committee have once again hung all over the village, and that look absolutely splendid:

Queensborough hanging baskets 2016

This past weekend, the volunteers with the Queensborough Beautification Committee once again installed hanging flower baskets on the made-in-Queensborough street signs. They are beautiful!

And then there were the irises that have bloomed in the Manse’s front garden:

Manse irises

And also, the 2016 crop of geraniums in hanging baskets that Raymond had bought this afternoon from our reliable supplier, the garden centre at Madoc Home Hardware, and put up on the front porch:

flower baskets 2016

Two of this year’s geranium baskets (along with a wasp trap to protect Raymond) on the Manse’s front porch.

And the satisfaction of planting (with Raymond’s help) the two heirloom tomato plants – Brandywine and Black Vernissage – and that we’d bought at the Whole Darn Town of Madoc Yard Sale a couple of weekends ago. You can see the results of our planting session in the photo at the top of this post.

Also, there was the interesting surprise, as we prepared the ground for those plantings, of a pair of recently shed snake skins!

snakeskins

Perhaps Mr. and Mrs. Garter Snake whose acquaintance I made a few years ago have not disappeared after all.

And finally, as Raymond and I sat on the front porch post-planting session, admiring our garden and our flowers and pretty little Queensborough generally, came the crowning touch: the first appearance of the year of a hummingbird at our feeder. These tiny things are so lovely, and they seem so friendly. I wish I had a picture of Mr. Hummingbird to show you, but you all know how fast and flitty hummingbirds are.

None of these good and happy and pretty things made me forget the sad end of the turtle; but they all – perhaps especially the snake skins, left behind as the snakes enter a new phase of life – reminded me of the wonder of the cycle of the seasons and of the natural world. Death is just a part of that cycle, isn’t it? But so is renewal, and new growth. And the return of the hummingbirds. Life is good.

But people, please please please be careful about the turtles when you drive!