In which the yellow peril of the plant world shows up

Our wild parsnip

Looks kind of pretty, doesn’t it? But people, you do not want to discover this plant on your property. Unfortunately, I did.

Among the many things that urban dwellers (such as I once was) rarely or never have to think about are invasive plants. By this I mean flora that are a) non-native and therefore shouldn’t be growing where they are; or b) dangerous; or c) both of the above. Wild parsnip is most assuredly both of the above.

Here in Eastern Ontario, we’ve been hearing about the threat of wild parsnip for the past number of years – pretty much ever since Raymond and I bought the Manse in 2012, and very possibly before that. Here’s the lowdown on it, courtesy of the website Ontario’s Invading Species Awareness Program, run by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry and the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters:

Wild parsnip is an invasive plant native to Europe and Asia. It was [probably] brought to North America by European settlers, who grew it for its edible root. Since its introduction, wild parsnip has escaped from cultivated gardens and spread across the continent. Wild parsnip roots are edible, but the sap of the plant can cause severe burns … Wild parsnip, which is also known as poison parsnip, is a member of the carrot/parsley family. It typically grows a low, spindly rosette of leaves in the first year while the root develops. In the second year it flowers on a tall stalk and then dies. The plant can form dense stands and spreads quickly in disturbed areas such as abandoned yards, waste dumps, meadows, open fields, roadsides and railway embankments. Its seeds are easily dispersed by wind and water, and on mowing or other equipment. Like giant hogweed and other members of the carrot family, it produces sap containing chemicals that can cause human skin to react to sunlight, resulting in intense burns, rashes or blisters.

In North America, scattered wild parsnip populations are found from British Columbia to California, and from Ontario to Florida. It has been reported in all provinces and territories of Canada except Nunavut. The plant is currently found throughout eastern and southern Ontario, and researchers believe it is spreading from east to west across the province.

Lovely, huh? Apparently if you manage to get yourself into a patch of wild parsnip, the effect on your skin can make poison ivy look like a picnic. (Though I have heard anecdotally from people around Queensborough that the poisonous sap affects some people more than others, and some people not at all. I do not know if this is scientifically true, or just a well-meaning attempt to downplay the problem.)

Once the wild-parsnip problem penetrated my consciousness a few years ago, thanks to awareness campaigns by the likes of the anglers and hunters federation and, of course, the provincial government, I quickly became aware of the extent of it. In our area, wild parsnip is, not to put too fine a point on it, everywhere. Along the roads, in ditches, at the edge of wooded areas – and, most worrisomely to me, alongside sidewalks right here in Queensborough. Here, take a look:

Wild parsnip alongside the sidewalk

Just look at all the wild parsnip reaching out across a sidewalk in Queensborough. This is not great for people who might be using that sidewalk – especially kids – and brushing up against the noxious plant.

In a village where there are a lot of children running and skipping and riding their bikes around – which is a wonderful thing – do we really want our sidewalks lined with a plant that can cause very unpleasant damage to tender young skin? I think not. But here’s the thing: wild parsnip is a bugger (excuse my language) to get rid of. As I discovered first-hand a month or so ago.

I was out pacing the acreage of the Manse one perfect summer morning, admiring the work I’d done in a shade garden in one corner and nearby, against the fence on the property’s southern edge, my newly installed asparagus plant. Suddenly I noticed another plant along that same fenceline: tall, with attractive yellow flowers. Attractive it may have been, but it was indisputably wild parsnip, the seeds that created it doubtless having been borne by the wind from one of the hundreds of other such plants growing around here. Yikes!

I looked up the drill on removing wild parsnip from your property, as explained by the natural-resources ministry:

Wear protective clothing, including waterproof gloves, long-sleeved shirts, pants and eye protection. A disposable spray suit over your normal clothing provides the best protection. Spray suits are commercial-grade waterproof coveralls. After working around the plant, remove your protective clothing carefully to avoid transferring any sap from your clothing onto your skin. Wash your rubber gloves with soap and water, then take off your spray suit or outer clothing. Wash your rubber gloves again and then take them off. Finally, take off your protective eye wear. Put non-disposable clothing in the laundry and wash yourself immediately with soap and water.

“Dear god,” I thought to myself. “Do I really have to do this?”

Yes, I did. But a spray suit? To get rid of one plant? That was a bit much. Instead, on a day of blazing sun with the temperature in the 30-degree range (that’s high 80s to you Fahrenheit people), I donned jeans, a long-sleeved shirt, socks and shoes, garden gloves and eye protectors. I grabbed the pointy garden shovel that Raymond found at a yard sale a while back, and attacked our wild parsnip plant.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Before I put on all that unseasonal clothing, I checked the rest of the fenceline to see if there were more wild parsnip plants. The bad news: I found another one. The good news: that was all – just two in total. And as it happened, the second plant was on the other side of the fence that divides the Manse property from the lovely one of our gardening-wiz neighbours, Brian and Sylvia. I figured that since I was going to be tackling our plant, I might as well offer to tackle theirs too – no sense all of us having to get all kitted out with protective gear – so I called them up, explained my discovery, and offered to dig it up. They appreciatively accepted the offer, and in return said they would look after the disposal of both plants. Because get this: you can’t toss a dug-up wild-parsnip plant just anywhere; the disposal is almost as much of a pain in the rear as is the digging-up of the thing. Here’s what the natural-resources ministry has to say about that:

DO NOT burn or compost wild parsnip plants that have been cut down or dug up. If possible, leave the stems to dry out completely at the site. Carefully dispose of plant material in black plastic bags and leave in direct sun for a week or more. Contact your municipality to determine if the bagged plants can be sent to your local landfill site.

Man, this plant is just bad news from first to last.

Anyway.

Wearing my middle-of-winter attire and armed with my trusty shovel, I successfully dug up the wild parsnip plant that was on our side of the fence, and then the wild-parsnip plant that was on Brian and Sylvia’s side. Here’s the specimen from our side, lying on the ground, root and all:

Pulled-out wild parsnip

And here’s Brian and Sylvia’s:

Pulled-out wild parsnip at Brian and Sylvia's

You can’t see it in my photo (I was staying well away, needless to say), but it had a very impressively sized root. It was quite the job to get them both out, and I was proud of myself at the end. And very grateful to Brian and Sylvia for agreeing to dispose of them.

I’m also proud of myself for discovering the plants before there were many of them, and for doing the right thing in getting rid of them. When you drive along our local roads and see the thousands of wild-parsnip plants everywhere, it’s discouraging. Given that wild parsnip is officially listed as a noxious weed in Ontario, municipalities should probably enact bylaws requiring property-owners to get rid of any plants that may show up on their land; but with the rather overwhelming extent of the problem and the daunting task of digging up and disposing of the weeds properly, I can see why they don’t. How would you ever police or enforce such a bylaw, when the problem is so out of control?

However. I am very happy to report that there are zero wild-parsnip plants growing on the Manse property, and if any should show up in future, they will be dealt with. If we all tried to do this, it would be a good thing.

And then all we’d have to worry about would be dog-strangling vine. Oh dear. It’s always something.

A very useful birthday present

Herb My friend and neighbour from just east of Queensborough, Herb Holgate – source of one of the most useful birthday gifts I have ever received.

Regular readers will doubtless recall that last week’s instalment of Meanwhile, at the Manse, had a birthday theme: it was marking the significant birthday of my very patient husband, Raymond. And thank you so much (from both of us) to all of you who responded with cheery birthday wishes for Raymond! Now, before we get away from birthdays entirely, I want to tell you about something that happened a few weeks earlier in July – on my birthday, as it happened.

I’ll preface the story by telling you that Raymond and I have taken to starting our days with a brisk hour-long walk. It’s not the ultimate fitness regimen, but it’s significantly better than nothing on the good-for-you scale. And it’s a pleasant way to take in the sights and sounds – a hawk diving for its prey, a marshland tree looking like something out of a Group of Seven painting – on the outskirts of Queensborough.

I’ll add a second preface by also mentioning that this summer has been a particularly bad one on the deer-fly front. If you’re an urban person and not too sure what a deer fly is, you can find a good explanation of it (along with its larger relative, the horse fly) here; but this summary from the Friends of Algonquin Park is as useful and to the point as any:

Deer flies and horse flies appear similar to large house flies, but they pack a strong bite. Unlike the sucking mouth parts of a mosquito, these insects have biting mouth parts that occasionally feel like they are “taking a chunk of skin” as a meal. Horse flies are relatively larger and darkly coloured, while deer flies are smaller and have colourful eyes and dark-patterned wings. Deer and horse flies are most abundant during the summer months and fly only during the day. Being visual feeders attracted to motion, these insects circle humans waiting for a good time to land and obtain a meal. Insect repellent is less effective against deer and horse flies than compared to other biting insect species.

If you’re a rural person like us here in Queensborough, you of course already knew all this. And you also know that the deer flies have been brutal in the summer of 2018.

deer fly

ttps://atthemanse.wordpress.com/2018/08/07/a-very-useful-birthday-present/deer-fly/” rel=”attachment wp-att-17872″> The deer fly – a major hindrance to enjoying a summer walk in the country. (Photo from the website of Hammerhead Kayak Supply)

[/caption]Now, if you noted the Algonquin Park people’s description of deer flies being “visual feeders attracted to motion,” you can doubtless imagine what happens when a person goes out for a walk on a midsummer day. It doesn’t take the deer flies any time at all to spot your motion and start circling your head and body, looking for a tasty spot to land and take a bite. Soon all its friends and relatives have showed up too. And the more your healthy exercise makes you sweat with the exertion, the more the deer flies are attracted to you. So you find yourself getting additional exercise by flailing your arms around in the hopeless effort to make them go away.

Okay, now for my story proper.

On the afternoon of my birthday in earlyish July, I was out for a walk on my own. I’d chosen the route that runs east from Queensborough, past the pretty and peaceful Greenwood Cemetery and Moore’s Corners, turning to return home when I’d reached the 2.5-kilometre mark at the intersection of Queensborough and DeClair roads. It was a hot day, and as I laboured up Holgate Hill – an informal name that comes from the family that for many years has lived at the top of it – the deer flies were buzzing all around me.

tthemanse.wordpress.com/2018/08/07/a-very-useful-birthday-present/walking-up-holgate-hill/” rel=”attachment wp-att-17869″> Here’s Raymond walking up Holgate Hill on Queensborough Road east of Queensborough.[/caption]At the

At the crest of the hill, my friend and neighbour Herb Holgate pulled out in his pickup truck, heading in the same direction I was. He recognized that my walk was a purposeful one and knew I couldn’t stop to chat, so he drove very slowly alongside me for a few minutes and we had an excellent catchup on each other’s news. Toward the end, he remarked on how my head was looking like the control tower for a deer-fly airport, and suggested a solution: clear plastic sticky strips that you attach to the back of a baseball cap. They work, he said, like those rolls of sticky tape you’d sometimes see suspended from farmhouse ceilings in my childhood, use to nab houseflies: the bugs are attracted to the tape, fly to it, get stuck, and die there. And possibly live specimens, seeing their immobilized friends and relatives dead or at least well on the way, will steer clear of you.

It might sound gruesome, but let me tell you, if you’ve ever been plagued by deer flies, you really wouldn’t mind being the death knell for some of them. Herb assured me that these sticky strips work, and told me I could get some at the farm-supply shop in Madoc (which is “town” for us). “Tell them I sent you,” he said genially. I was thrilled to learn of this new-to-me product, and told Herb that it was my birthday and the information he’d just given me was an excellent present. With a grin and a wave and a foot on the accelerator, he was on his way.

The next day I headed to Madoc and the farm-supply store. Now, as it happens there are two farm-supply stores in Madoc. I had leaped to the conclusion that the one Herb was referring to was the more rustic of the two; don’t ask me why. I told the friendly chap at the counter what I was looking for, and he told me that while the store had once stocked them, they unfortunately no longer do. Disappointing!

Why on earth I didn’t stop at the second farm-supply place to check I cannot explain. I just had it in my head that Herb had meant the first store, and that was that. Oh well.

But a little later that same day, when I was out working in the garden, Herb’s truck pulled up at the Manse. “Did you find those fly strips?” he asked me. I explained what had happened – and you can guess what comes next. He had meant the other farm-supply place. He also reinforced his story of the efficacy of the sticky strips by showing me the back of his own baseball cap. It was shocking in a thrilling way: stuck to the strip pinned to the cap were a good 20 or 30 dead deer flies. Wow!

Herb wasn’t going to leave it there. He hopped back into his truck, roared up the road to his house, and was back in just a few minutes with four of the sticky strips, two each for me and for Raymond. (Raymond is very popular with biting insects of all sorts, which means he has a lot more issues with the deer flies than even I do.)

What a great gift!

The deer flies are starting to tail off now so I’m holding my powder till next summer, but Raymond attached his sticky strip right away. And guess what? It works! Here, let me show you the evidence. The sticky strip is attached to Raymond’s walking cap of choice (you can tell by the sweat stains):

Queensborough cap front

Now take a look at the back of that cap:

Cap with deerflies

(I realize you’ve probably had to have experienced deer-fly misery at least once in your life to appreciate the wonderfulness of this photo.)

We can’t thank Herb enough for sharing his knowledge about the deer-fly strips, and especially for being kind enough to give us some to get us started. Here’s Raymond’s in action on a recent morning walk:

Deerfly catcher in action

I gotta tell you: to me that is a beautiful sight. Thank you, Herb!

This is dedicated to the one I love

Oban scotch on a cold, rainy day

Cheers to Raymond on his birthday! Here’s a very recent photo of him enjoying a small glass of Oban scotch whisky as a warmup on a cold, rainy day in Kennebunkport, Maine. It seemed appropriate because almost exactly a year ago, we had visited the whisky’s distillery in the beautiful coastal Scottish town of Oban.

Today we interrupt the regular goings-on here at Meanwhile, at the Manse to pay tribute to someone who plays a critical role in everything that goes on at the Manse. As it happens, today (July 30, 2018) is that person’s birthday, and quite a significant birthday at that. (I won’t say what it is, save that it is five years more significant than the last significant birthday.) You’ve probably guessed that the person I’m talking about is none other than my husband, Raymond. He’s feeling a little put out about having reached this landmark birthday. So let’s try to cheer him up a little by reminding ourselves – and him – of what a remarkable and wonderful guy he is.

As Raymond might well be the first to tell you, probably the single biggest proof that he loves me is this quote that crosses his lips fairly frequently: “I came to Queensborough!”

Queensborough, of course, being the location of the Manse, the house that I grew up in during the heady midcentury days of the 1960s and ’70s. As you know through almost countless (oh, okay: 1,334) posts here in this space, Queensborough is a beautiful and interesting place to be. But let’s just say it was not exactly where Raymond had envisioned spending his retirement years. In fact, until Raymond met me, he’d never heard of Queensborough. (I know, it’s hard to believe, but it’s true.) The places he dreamed of retiring to were, you know, a farmhouse in the south of France. Or a rambling cottage on the New England coast. (Raymond is a native of Lowell, Mass., so a born-and-bred New Englander.) Or a nice big flat in Paris. Or his beloved Eastern Townships of Quebec, a beautiful place where, during his long career as managing editor and then executive editor of the Montreal Gazette, he lived part-time for several years. Queensborough was not exactly on his radar.

Raymond in his Gazette office

Raymond in his days as executive editor of the Montreal Gazette – a life far, far removed from the one he now leads in Queensborough.

But you know that saying “Happy wife, happy life”? Raymond appears to be a subscriber to that philosophy. I wish I could capture the look that came over his face the day I told him back in late 2011 that I’d just discovered that the Manse, my beloved childhood home in Queensborough – a fixer-upper located an inconvenient 4½-hour drive from our home and work in Montreal – was for sale at the price I could afford, and that the die was cast; we had to buy it. The look certainly wasn’t one of horror; I’d describe it more as a mix of:

  1. Surprise;
  2. I’m bracing myself;
  3. Gulp; and
  4. Loving support.

And with that, our joint adventure in Queensborough began.

We bought the Manse in January 2012. For the first year and three-quarters, it was our house in the country, the place we’d get to for a weekend once or twice a month after a long work week at the Gazette, and for somewhat longer periods during the summer.

Those were the days of Raymond discovering, and me rediscovering, what life in Queensborough, a tiny village in very rural Eastern Ontario, was like. We learned about the importance of things like:

  • Vacuuming ladybugs and cluster flies and wasps and other seasonal winged visitors out of the windows (and everywhere else) in the Manse:

raymond bugs

  • Appreciating prizewinning giant watermelons at the Madoc Fair:

Raymond and the watermelons

Raymond and the newly painted oil tank

Red Truck Ray

  • Shovelling the driveway after every snowstorm:

Raymond shovelling

clothesline

  • Planting trees – this elm is the first of two (the other was a maple) we successfully planted in the Manse’s front yard:

Raymond elm tree

  • Doing yard work, when you have quite a large yard (and a lot of trees dropping leaves and needles):

Raymond yard work

Raymond helping the turtle

Raymond on carving duty

  • A hairdryer when the pipes under the kitchen sink freeze:

hairdryer on frozen pipes

Raymond tries our crokinole

To name just a few.

Among Raymond’s many adventures in living at the Manse these past six years have been:

  • Cooking in a kitchen that is ridiculously small, is serviced with ancient (midcentury Harvest Gold) appliances, and has essentially zero counter space. Oh! But it does have the washing machine. (Wait. What?) Here’s Raymond doing his best to produce a great dinner in that tiny space, as he does – very successfully – so many evenings:

Pantry December 2014

  • Cats: As regular readers will know, there are a thousand stories on that front, some happy, some heartbreakingly sad. All our cats (we have five currently) are rescues, and we love them very much. Here is Raymond with Teddy, who was born with a degenerative illness and did not live very long. But while she lived, she was very happy at the Manse, especially when she was in the lap of her beloved dad, “helping” him do his early-morning work:

Teddy loves her dad

  • Considering whether we could justify (or afford) the purchase of a gorgeous small Massey-Ferguson tractor for snowplowing and snowblowing and, you know, whatever else you need a multipurpose tractor for. (We decided we could neither justify nor afford it, but it was fun to dream):

Raymond and the red Massey Ferguson

Raymond at the A-frame

Raymond introducing Paul Wells, Tweed Library

  • Taking on the demanding volunteer job of treasurer of St. Andrew’s United Church in Queensborough; Raymond spends hours every week staying on top of the finances and the books. He also does many other volunteer jobs at St. Andrew’s, the only one of Queensborough’s four original churches that’s still open. Here he is (in checked shirt) doing one of those jobs – pouring coffee and tea at our famous annual Turkey Supper:

Turkey Supper 2016 2

The gang at the QCC booth

The Queensborough Community Centre booth at the Hastings County Plowing Match in 2016. The QCC volunteers are (standing, from left): Raymond Brassard, Dave DeLang, Ludwik Kapusta, Ann Brooks, Barb Ramsay, Joanie Harrison Sims, Elaine Kapusta and Frank Brooks; (seated, from left) Stephanie Sims, Susanna Sims and Tyler Walker.

Raymond and the chipmunk

Those are some excellent adventures!

So today I’d like to invite you all to join me in wishing a very happy significant birthday to Raymond, who is…

  • The keeper of the flag rotation at the Manse, keeping passersby guessing what special day it might be in some country or other based on the flag out front (in this case, the Scottish saltire):

Scottish flag at the Manse

Raymond on Campobello Island

And here he is at the statue of Greyfriars Bobby (a very good wee dog) in Edinburgh:

Raymond and Greyfriars Bobby

  • A willing participant each Christmas season in making the Manse the most Christmassy house of all. Here, for instance, is Raymond gamely installing the Yoda Christmas-light set I had decided I had to have as a decoration for the Manse’s front door:

Raymond putting up the Yoda lights

And here is the fabulous finished product:

Yoda lights at the Manse

Red Sox Ray

  • An avid cribbage player (in the rare junctures, like vacation, that he has time for it); here he is just a few days ago with his sister, Jeannie, and her partner, Bob, considering strategy as he thinks about which card to play next:

Raymond, Jeannie and Bob playing cribbage

  • A newbie chainsaw owner! (Hey, if you live in Queensborough, you kind of have to own a chainsaw.) This is kind of a starter version (and yes, he knows you have to take the blade protector off to actually saw something):

Raymond, chainsaw owner

  • The best cat dad ever. Here is handsome Raymond with handsome Roscoe the kitty:

Raymond and Roscoe

  • Finally, and most importantly, a proud and kind father and grandfather. Here he is with his children (clockwise from top left), Justine, Mathieu and Dominique, and grandson Henry…

Raymond and Roscoe

… and here he is with the newest grandchild, Frédérique (who is very interested in her Pépère’s beard):

Raymond and Fred

Raymond, you are the best. I (along with many, many others) wish you a very happy birthday. And to return to the song referenced in the title of this post, and in keeping with the midcentury vibe that I try keep going at the Manse, I’m dedicating this next number (from 1967 – a very good year) to you: the one I love.

The photographer and the bittern

Bittern by Lloyd Holmes 2

A stunning shot of an American Bittern, taken in the Queensborough area, by Lloyd Holmes. This is wildlife photography of the very first degree. (Photo courtesy of Lloyd Holmes)

The other day Raymond and I were in a newly opened local restaurant and, in casual discussion with the young woman who was our server, discovered that she had once lived in Queensborough. She had evidently loved her time in our little community, and had something to say about it that I thought was spot-on. I’m paraphrasing her, but the gist of it was: “There are so few people in Queensborough, and yet almost everybody does something cool and interesting.”

That’s something I’ve noticed too. It never ceases to amaze me how many people who live in or move to our area have remarkable gifts and talents: for painting, wood-carving, bookbinding, metalworking, gardening, music, photography, long-distance running, historical research, storytelling, cooking, graphic design, homebuilding, landscaping, chicken-raising, baking, kids’ programs, flower arranging, esthetics, pet grooming, maple-syrup-making, athletics, metal detecting, building restoration, and on and on and on.

Today I want to showcase the work of one of those people. And in doing so, I’m happy to say, I get to tell you a bit more about what seems to have become the unofficial bird of Meanwhile, at the Manse: the American Bittern.

https://atthemanse.wordpress.com/2012/10/12/i-identified-my-first-bird/

This was the best I could do to illustrate what I was talking about the first time I wrote about spotting a bittern in Queensborough – a photo of a page from our Audubon guide to birds. It makes you appreciate the quality of Lloyd Holmes’s photo that much more!

Longtime readers may recall that I first wrote about this bird five years ago, telling a story about spotting a very striking large, long-necked bird standing near a marsh area on the side of Queensborough Road. (That post, if you’re interested, is here.) At the time neither Raymond nor I had any idea what bird it was we’d seen, but we turned to our Audubon Guide to Birds of Eastern North America and soon learned that it was an American Bittern. “When an observer is nearby, it will often stretch its neck up, point its bill skyward,” the guide told us – and that was exactly the odd position we’d seen it in. Then about a year after that first sighting, we came across a baby bittern crossing a road as we were driving to Queensborough from Montreal, where we still owned a home. You can read that post, and see my terrible photos, here.

A final connection with the bittern is that until this year, one of them has inhabited a marshy area that’s more or less right in the centre of Queensborough. We’ve never seen that bird, but on many evenings we’ve heard it making its distinctive kitchen-sink-glug-type call. As I write this, however, I realize that we didn’t hear our bittern this past spring, and that makes me sad. I hope nothing has happened to him/her.

But on to the connection between the American Bittern and talented local people.

A little while ago, I received an email from Lloyd Holmes, who grew up in Cooper, the hamlet just north of Queensborough, and who now lives in the not-far-away community of Marmora. Lloyd’s been to quite a few Queensborough events recently – and believe me, there have been a lot of Queensborough events recently – and I featured some of his stunning photos of our annual kayaking event here.

“Have been enjoying some of the activities around Queensborough this past couple of months and check your blog occasionally to see what the latest has been,” Lloyd said in his email. He carried on with this delightful story: “I never check at any time without recalling memories of my childhood that included riding in the wagon behind the tractor while my father took a grist to John Thompson’s grist mill in Queensborough to have ground into a mix for hogs or dairy and then return home to Cooper.” Here, people, is the very mill (no longer in use, but nicely preserved) that Lloyd refers to; it is owned by John Thompson’s daughter, Elaine Kapusta, and her husband, Ludwick:

The Thompson mill

The historic Thompson mill in Queensborough that Lloyd Holmes refers to in his reminiscence. In the foreground you can see an old millwheel.

The email continued: “When we were young we almost snickered when our parents reminisced and said, ‘Those were the good old days,’ and now we say that same thing ourselves.”

Lloyd: I hear you, loud and clear.

But the best was yet to come: two amazing closeup photos of an American Bittern. The first is at the top of this post; here’s the second one:

Bittern by Lloyd Holmes 1

Now that, people, is what a bittern looks like. Light-years better than my photo of a photo from the Audubon guide, which itself was far inferior to Lloyd’s shot.

“(The) pictures were taken earlier this summer along the Cooper Road between Hazzard’s and Madoc,” Lloyd told me. “We don’t often see these birds and less often (are) close enough to get pictures of them. But even I get lucky once in a while.”

I happen to know that it was almost certainly patience, not luck, that allowed Lloyd to capture these amazing images. Here’s another story he told me after I’d replied to him, thanking him for the bittern photos and promising to share them here:

“I have a great time out there in nature trying to get these shots, and it is nice to have friends to share them with … One of the photos I will send you is of a female mink that I had found where she had a den of little ones and I spent a number of afternoons trying to get close enough to get some good pictures of her. I think it was the fourth or fifth day I was out there and had been there about 2½ hours and she was going out into Beaver Creek trying to catch some food for the den when, on her 11th or 12th attempt, she came back with a rock bass. I got pictures of her running through the rocks with the rock bass going back to the den. The most rewarding pictures are the ones you have to work the hardest to get.”

Let’s just say that I expect I am now not the only one eager to see those photos! As Lloyd says: “Some people like to see and read about our neighbours in the forest.” Count me in!

If you’d like to see more of Lloyd Holmes’s photos right away, please check out the website of the municipality of Marmora and Lake. Webmaster Jenn Bennett often posts his work there.  Click on the “Discover” link and then “Photos,” or just follow this shortcut here. There are some great ones of Marmora events; here, for example, is an excellent photo of the July 1 fireworks in Marmora:

Marmora fireworks by Lloyd Holmes

Fireworks marking Dominion Day (as I prefer to call it) 2017 in Marmora. (Photo by Lloyd Holmes)

And here’s a lovely one of the town’s Santa Claus parade last winter:

Marmora Santa Claus parade by Lloyd Holmes

(Photo by Lloyd Holmes via marmoraandlake.ca)

There are also more photos here of the kayakers in Queensborough.

But for me the highlight is what you see when you click on this link, which takes you to a gallery of Lloyd’s photos, primarily nature and wildlife scenes. I’m only going to show you one, and leave the thrill of discovering the others to you. But people, just look at this:

Red Fox and 5 pups Cordova by Lloyd Holmes

A stunning photo by Lloyd Holmes: a red fox and her five babies in the Cordova area north of Marmora. (Photo by Lloyd Holmes via marmoraandlake.ca)

Wow!

I think you will agree with me that Lloyd Holmes has a prime spot on the long list of Queensborough-area people who are cool, interesting – and extraordinarily talented.

Rain barrels are my new favourite thing

Rain barrel north side

I consider this new rain barrel and the spiffy way it’s set up at the northeast corner of the Manse a thing of absolute beauty. Now, if we could just get some rain to fill it up…

It seems that we in Queensborough are having yet another summer when one wonders if it is ever going to rain again.

Parched lawn

The parched lawn at the front of the Manse, July 2018. Which is exactly how it looked in July 2016. And in July 2012. This is getting worrisome.

The lawns are fried to a crisp, the vegetables and flowers in garden beds are looking haggard, and people are worrying about how long their wells will hold out. It’s been weeks since we had a decent rain, and most days throughout those weeks the temperatures have been close to or above – sometimes well above – 30C. (For my American readers, that’s high 80s/low 90s Fahrenheit.)

Honey Bunny and Sadie up close

How things looked during the Great Drought of 2016. Manse kitties Sadie (left) and Honey Bunny like to go outdoors on their leashes, but even they don’t look amused by the crackly grass.

This does not do much for my peace of mind. Every now and again you hear urban types blithering on about what a great summer we’re having. Yeah, great for them, because it’s all about lounging on the dock and splashing in the lake when they get to their cottages. To those of us who live in the country, however, regular rainfall is critical – for our crops, our wells and our quality of life generally. Having yet another drought so soon after the Great Droughts of 2012 (which I told you about here) and of 2016 (the story of which is here) – well, this is getting scary.

Here’s a brief aural respite, however. Seeing as how we’re dealing with our third drought in six years, I thought I’d try to cheer up my fellow sufferers. I recorded this audio clip on the Manse porch the evening the magical sound of rain finally came again, after many weeks of drought, in 2016. It was Saturday, Aug. 13.  I think you’ll agree it sounds wonderful.

All right, back to my tale. One thing these repeated droughts have brought squarely to my attention is the importance of rain barrels. Now, if you had told me back in the days when I was an urbanite, living in Montreal, that before too long I would be the owner of three rain barrels, with hopes for more to come, I would have thought you were nuts. When we bought the Manse and saw the extremely low-tech rain barrel that was parked on a back step, I toyed with getting rid of it as an eyesore.

Bare-bones rain barrel

The rain barrel that came with the Manse – a bare-bones specimen.

That would have been a really stupid move, and fortunately, I didn’t make it. Low-tech as it is – just a big plastic barrel, no top, no bug and leaf screen, no spigots for emptying out the water – that rain barrel has done wonderful service through these recent droughts in providing water for the Manse’s gardens and hanging baskets. I submerge my watering can in its contents, fill it to the brim, and the herbs, tomato plants, perennials and geraniums get a lovely drink of just-the-right-temperature rainwater. And because I’m recycling what comes from the sky, not a drop has to come out of the well.

This realization about the usefulness of rain barrels prompted me to get a second one a while back when the local conservation authority had them on sale. This barrel was considerably fancier than the one that came with the Manse: it had a top, a net to prevent debris getting into the water, and a spigot so you could get the water out easily or attach a hose.

Former rain-barrel position

This is not the way our second rain barrel should have been set up.

However, in the way we set it up, Raymond and I showed our naïveté when it comes to rain barrels. We parked it beside another back step on a raised platform – that second part we got right – but it didn’t dawn on us that a covered rain barrel with just a smallish (maybe five inches in diameter) net-covered hole in the top is not going to collect very much rainwater. What had we not figured out? Well (as I’m sure most of you have figured out), the rain barrel is supposed to be set up under the downspout of an eavestrough, so the rainwater that would otherwise cascade down onto the ground would instead be directed right into that hole in the barrel’s cover. Doh!

Because we had a pretty wet summer last year, this non-functional setup wasn’t an issue. The lawns and gardens were green, and lots of rainwater collected in our low-tech barrel. But with this year’s drought, and with the amount of water in our old rain barrel dwindling to practically nothing, I became mildly obsessed with setting up the new rain barrel properly. I had been twigged to the way it should be done by noting a setup at The Unconventional Moose, a fabulous gift shop that’s just a bit to the southeast of Queensborough on Highway 7 near Actinolite. Here’s what caught my attention there one recent day:

Rain barrel at the Moose

“Aha!” said I to myself. “That’s how we need to do it! With the eavestrough downspout running right to it!”

But not only did I want the setup rectified; I wanted more rain barrels.

Why? Well, the more rain barrels you have, the more rain you can collect, obviously. But also, the flow from the Manse’s various downspouts – there are six in total – has for years been making a mess of the sections of lawn they spill into. And to boot, that surplus water was going to waste. In the photo at the top of this post, you can see how messed-up the lawn at the northeast corner of the house looks thanks to downspout water – this soon to be rectified, of course, by the installation of the gorgeous new rain barrel you see in that photo.

Damage to lawn from downspouts

This shows the spots in the back yard that have been adversely affected by sometimes-torrential flow from the downspouts. Of course, it hasn’t been torrential recently.

My first thought, in considering investing in still more rain barrels, was how nice it would be to have real wooden ones. I spotted these beauties at a restaurant in Huntsville, Ont., last month, and was quite inspired:

Wooden rain barrels

When I saw these wooden barrels outside a Huntsville, Ont., restaurant, I decided that this was what I wanted for the Manse’s rain barrels. Sadly, it has not yet come to pass.

But a fair bit of research on my part determined that wooden rain barrels are well-nigh impossible to acquire in Canada. (If any reader has a source, I am still looking.)

So what do you do when you can’t find the perfect rain barrel? You check out what the usual retail suspects have to offer. On Canadian Tire’s website I found the one you see at the top of this post, and before many more days had passed, it was in my possession. And thanks to some fine installation work from a smart and talented young man from Queensborough, Tyler Walker, both the brand-new rain barrel and Rain Barrel No. 2 are now properly set up and ready to do their thing.

Old and new rain-barrel setups

Now all we need is some rain.

Blue dots on trees? I am now an expert

Tree of Life July 9, 2018

The beautiful red pine – the Tree of Life, as Raymond and I call it – across the road from the Manse this afternoon. Yes, it has been quite markedly trimmed by Hydro One crews – a move that was telegraphed by the blue dot you can see on its trunk, which appeared late this past winter. Fortunately for all in Queensborough, it’s still standing and it still looks glorious.

Call it coincidence – or maybe just another example of how easily we find and connect with each other in the Age of the Internet. At any rate, here’s a story about learning the meaning of blue dots on trees, and about how I was able to share what I’d learned.

Regular readers might recall that this past March I threw out a question in a post about blue dots on trees; that post is here. The question was: should I be worried about the spray-painted blue dots that had suddenly appeared on two Queensborough trees that are near and dear to me? Did they mean that the trees were at risk of being cut down?

The first tree was the magnificent Tree of Life (as Raymond and I call it), a red pine that is located on the property immediately across Bosley Road from ours. As we enjoy summer afternoons and evenings on the Manse’s front porch reading, writing and watching the world (or at least Queensborough) go by, we are always full of love and appreciation for this tree that is front and centre in our view.

The other tree was one that we own, on the Kincaid House property immediately adjacent to the Manse. I am still not sure what kind of tree it is, but when the blue dot sprayed on by Hydro One crews appeared last spring, I was worried what it might mean for this tall, stately tree.

Readers were quick and helpful with their responses to my question, several of them informing me that the tree-marking code is this: orange marking = cut it down; blue dot = trim the branches. For Hydro One, the tree marking and subsequent trimming or cutting are a way to protect power lines from being downed by falling branches or trunks in wind or ice storms.

But I was reminded just yesterday – in the example I mentioned at the outset, via those internet connections – that I never did tell you what happened with our beautiful trees and their blue dots.

The reminder came in a Facebook post from my friend Brenda Weirdsma Ibey, proprietor of a fantastic store in Peterborough called the Avant-Garden Shop and also the wife of Clayton Ibey, a friend of mine since high-school days at Campbellford District High School. Here’s Brenda’s post, which I was alerted to because she tagged me in it:

Brenda's Facebook post about the blue dots

Like me, Brenda had spotted blue dots on trees in the neighbourhood where she and Clayton live; like me, she had searched for information about what they might mean; and lo and behold she found my Meanwhile, at the Manse post from last March! You can see what I mean about coincidences and connections.

It’s Brenda’s last line – “I wonder if she ever discovered what it meant” – that’s given me the push I needed to write this followup post. So: thank you, Brenda!

Here’s the story of what I learned and what happened.

As already mentioned, readers correctly informed me that blue dots mean trim the tree and orange markings mean cut it down. However, I still didn’t know what that would look like in real life. How severe would the trimming be? Would Raymond and I, as owners of the Kincaid House tree, have any say in what happened to it? Would Hydro One ever notify us of its intentions? And most of all: would the Tree of Life be ruined? We were very worried.

But nothing happened for quite a long time after that post in March. We saw Hydro One crews busily working on other trees in our area, but for weeks and weeks there was no activity around the Tree of Life or our tree. Meanwhile, I was observing with some interest the felling of orange-marked trees. Here’s one of them, on Queensborough Road west of Queensborough. I am no expert on tree health, so perhaps one or more readers with some knowledge of the subject can tell me whether this old tree really should have been cut down:

Tree cut down by hydro

Ah. But then one afternoon in – what? late May? early June? – I wheeled onto Bosley Road from Queensborough Road after a long day at work, to discover to my horror a lot of large branches that had formerly belonged to the Tree of Life lying on the ground. My first reaction was shock and anger, but once I’d calmed down I basically just got very thankful that the magnificent red pine was still standing.

The next morning, I looked out a north-facing window at the Manse and saw two Hydro One trucks, one with a cherrypicker on the back, idling just to the east of the Kincaid House tree. As I hurried out the door and toward the trucks, they were already moving closer to our tree – and the cherrypicker, containing a man with a chainsaw, was being raised into the air.

“Excuse me,” I politely said to the first Hydro One chap I came across. “Are you guys about to trim that tree? Because I own that tree.” He directed me to the person in charge, to whom I explained that I completely understood the need to trim branches that are threatening hydro lines, but really and truly, shouldn’t someone have let Raymond and me, as the owners of the tree, know that a trim was being planned? He was very nice, expressed surprise that we had received no official notice, asked if I’d like to speak to his boss, and when I said yes, motioned the other guys to lower the cherrypicker. The truck moved off to another corner of Queensborough.

About 10 minutes later, a pleasant man wearing Hydro One gear knocked on the Manse door. He explained what we already knew about the need to protect wires, regular maintenance, yadayada. He told us we should have received a written notice from Hydro One, and was apologetic that we hadn’t. Basically we told him that, while we were annoyed at not having received the proper notification, we were okay with the crew doing what it had to do – but could they please cut the least amount possible?

And that polite and co-operative approach worked. The trimming didn’t start until after I’d left for work, but when I drove home again in the afternoon I couldn’t even tell that there’d been a trim. The crew had cleared away what it had cut down, and the tree looked great. (It turned out that the reason I saw all those branches from the Tree of Life on the ground the previous afternoon is that our neighbour had asked the crew to leave them behind rather than take them away.)

So it was a happy end to the story of the blue dot on the Kincaid House tree. Here’s a photo of it I took today:

Kincaid House tree post-trimming

Meanwhile, despite significant loss of limb, the Tree of Life still looks pretty great, as you can see from the photo at the top of this post, which I took just this afternoon. Mind you, when you view it from the side (i.e. from north or south), you can see that it most definitely took a hit. Here, have a look; this is the view looking north:

Tree of Life post-trimming looking north

And here’s the view looking south. Man, that tree is now really cut back at an angle:

Tree of Life post-trim looking south

But the happy news is that it’s still there. And I believe the lesson learned from this whole blue-dot process is that it’s important to have a conversation with Hydro One – head office perhaps, but most definitely the people on the ground who have the power and the potential to make some important landscape-altering decisions about the trees in your neighbourhood.

In our case, the story has a (mostly) happy outcome – and once again I thank Brenda for reminding me that I should share it with you. But had I not spoken to the crew before they started cutting, things could have been unpleasant.

So bottom line when you see blue dots on trees: stay vigilant, talk to the Hydro people – and stand up for your trees.

A historic day at Madoc Township Public School

The grads

The history-making Madoc Township Public School Grade 8 graduation class of 2018: from left, Riley Gunter, Lauren Harvey, Grace Madill, Bailey Perry and Autumn Stevenson. Behind them are their proud teachers; at far left is their proud principal, Leanne Pond. Good job, everyone!

Five bright, smiling young people made history today at Madoc Township Public School. And I am delighted to say that Raymond and I were there for the occasion.

The event: Grade 8 graduation. Which in and of itself doesn’t sound all that historic. I mean, there are Grade 8 graduations happening at schools all over North America, even at the moment that I type this.

But this Grade 8 graduation was special.

Graduation cake

The beautiful cake that was served to grads, families, friends and community members, along with other yummy refreshments, in the school library following the ceremony.

It was the first time there had been a Grade 8 graduation at Madoc Township Public school in – wait for it – half a century!

And it happened because, and only because, a year and a half ago the community of Madoc Township and surrounding rural areas (including Queensborough) took a stand against the planned closure of MTPS. The community joined forces, organized, spoke up, made its case – and, in a move that came as a huge but very happy surprise, won. The trustees who make up the public school board voted unanimously not only to keep our only school open, but to bring back, after 50 years, Grades 7 and 8. (You can read that whole saga, from beginning to end, if you click on “Madoc Township Public School” in the Categories section on the right-hand side of the home page of Meanwhile, at the Manse. But the story of the thrilling and surprising happy ending is here.)

Before and after this afternoon’s ceremony, Raymond and I spent some time looking at photos and displays about the history of Madoc Township Public School that are on the walls outside the school gym. This panel explains why the students in Grades 7 and 8 were moved from the school in the first place:

Queensboro/Millbridge

I remember that change very well; as a “Queensboro” student who began Grade 1 at MTPS in September 1966… Oh, wait. Let me interrupt that sentence to show you the evidence, also from the historic display:My Grade 1 class

Now then – where was I? Okay, right: as a student at MTPS who started in 1966, I remember it being a Grade 1 to Grade 8 school initially, but then the changeover being made when the kids from the Millbridge area in Tudor and Cashel Township to the north of us joined our classes, and kindergarten was added, and “the big kids” in Grades 7 and 8 began to be bused to Madoc Public School a few miles south of us. The fact that this allowed us (because I was one of those bused to MPS once I too became a “big kid”) to take classes in home ec (strictly for the girls) and shop (strictly for the boys; this is unthinkable 50 years later, and that’s a good thing) at the local high school, which is right beside Madoc Public School, was considered a big deal in those days. Today? Not so much. I suspect home ec is long dead, and students who want to learn auto mechanics and woodworking can do that once they get to high school. (Back then a lot of kids left school at ago 16 to work, because that was something you could actually do at the time. And so they probably wanted to get their shop skills as early in life as possible.)

But I digress. Let’s go back to today’s happy occasion!

Because it was such a historic event, the school very kindly invited the community to come and take part. Here is the invitation that went out on its Facebook page:Graduation invitation

When I read in the invitation that the students had chosen the theme “Fairy Tale Land” for the event – we learned this afternoon that the full name was “Fairy Tale Land/Happily Ever After” – I just thought, “Well. How perfect is that?” Because the story of our school not only still being open in June 2018, a year after it was slated to close, and graduating its first Grade 8s in half a century – well, if you can think of a more perfect storybook ending, you’ve got more imagination than I do.

As we entered the gym, we were immediately struck by how the students had decorated the stage in keeping with the fairy tale/storybook theme:

Stage is set for the grads

And then the simple but delightful ceremony began, with the grads proceeding in, to much applause from their proud parents, community members and fellow students; speeches from principal Leanne Pond, teachers, and school-board superintendent Cathy Portt, who hit the nail on the head when she called Madoc Township Public School “an enchanted place”; the presentation of the graduation certificates and an impressive array of awards to the students; a performance by the MTPS choir; and a truly inspiring speech by two of the grads, Lauren Harvey and Grace Madill.

In keeping with the storybook theme, I liked this artwork posted on the rear wall of the gym, featuring the handprints of each of the grads. Just as MTPS received a “happily ever after” vote of confidence a year ago, these five young people were today sent out into the world of high school and beyond with a gymful of pride, overflowing hearts, and confident hopes that they too will have happily ever afters.

Welcome to our Happily Ever After

Now, you may be wondering: why were there only five graduates? The answer is simple. When the school trustees made their surprise but fantastic decision almost exactly a year ago to keep MTPS open and add Grades 7 and 8, students from our area who were slated to be in Grade 8 in the 2017-18 academic year were finishing up their Grade 7 year at Madoc Public School – just like Grade 7s had been doing for the past half-century. Not at all suprisingly, many of those students, having already made the move and the adjustment to the “town” school – having made new friends, been on teams, and been fully involved in school life there – chose to carry on into Grade 8 at MPS. Only a small number opted to return to Madoc Township Public School for Grade 8. Both decisions were completely understandable, but I can’t help saying “Bravo!” to those who came back. The place those five young people cemented in the history of MTPS this afternoon is their excellent reward.

Meanwhile, I learned today that the Grade 7 class at MTPS this year is an extremely respectable size: 17 students! So next year’s Grade 8 graduation (which I hope I can attend as well, because some of my young Queensborough friends will be graduating) will be a much bigger affair.

But I kind of think the small size of today’s graduating class is perfect. It was an intimate affair, and it means there’s a lot of pride and history for each of those five young people to share and remember for their whole lives.

So here’s to you, Riley…

Riley

and Lauren…

Lauren

and Grace…

Grace

and Bailey…

Bailey

and Autumn…

Autumn

You made history today!

The congratulations and good wishes of our whole rural community surround you and go with you as you move on to the next stage of your life and education. We are so proud of you – and of our wonderful community school.