And speaking of snakes…

Harry Potter has a little chat with a caged snake at the zoo. Shortly after this scene, Harry inadvertently freed the snake who'd been bred in captivity. Harry had no fear of snakes; for some people, it's quite a different story.

Harry Potter has a little chat with a caged snake at the zoo. Shortly after this scene, Harry inadvertently frees the snake. While he has no fear of snakes, for some people it’s quite a different story.

Ophidiophobes, beware! You might want to stop reading right now. In fact, given the title of this post, I imagine you probably already have. But for anyone who’s still with me, first things first: is “ophidiophobe” not an awesome word?

In case you’ve never heard it before – and I confess I had not, until today – it means a person who has “an abnormal fear of snakes.” A person who (according to the oracle of our age, Wikipedia) “would not only fear them when in live contact but also dreads to think about them or even see them on TV or in pictures.”

I have my friend Jim Withers to thank for this latest addition to my vocabulary. Jim is himself an ophidiophobe, and he had some interesting things to say on the subject in a comment on last night’s post about the pair of garter snakes that Raymond and I recently met in the Manse’s perennial garden. (And because Jim was/is [he’s retired] one of the world’s great copy editors, I knew I could safely copy and paste the word from his comment into this new post, without having to check the spelling.)

One of the two snakes – the male of the pair, I believe – whom Raymond and I encountered in our garden at the Manse recently.

One of the two snakes – the male of the pair, I believe – whom Raymond and I encountered in our garden at the Manse recently.

Another ophidiophobe is our Madoc friend Brenda, author of the fresh new blog Right On the Doorstep, which I wrote about here. She used the topic as a post today in response to my yarn about Mr. and Mrs. Manse Snake – probably choosing not to post her thoughts here at Meanwhile, at the Manse because she couldn’t stand to spend any time in a place where there were snake visuals. (I had a couple of little videos of our friendly snakes.) Brenda describes her ophidiophobia as “my can’t-even-turn-the-page-of-a-book-when-I-know-there’s-a-picture-of-a-snake fear.” And I know what she’s talking about, because my sainted mother is the same way. Garter snakes like the ones that Raymond and I came upon were quite common around the Manse when my family lived there back in my childhood, and you can just imagine how enthused my ophidiophobe mother was about that. (Fortunately, because she wants nothing to do with “the computer,” as she calls it, she doesn’t read this blog. If she were to see last night’s post, or this one, she’d probably never come visit us at the Manse again.)

Anyway, let’s move on from the abnormal fear of snakes to the topic of “other kinds of snakes to be found in Queensborough.”

This train of thought was prompted by another comment on last night’s post, from Queensborough resident Marykay. She stirred all kinds of childhood memories with this rather chilling sentence: “It is the black snakes you have to worry about!”

This is a "western black snake," which according to my very-far-from exhaustive internet research is probably what we called "black snakes" (or maybe "water snakes") in my childhood in Queensborough.

This is a “western black snake,” which according to my very-far-from exhaustive internet research is probably what we called “black snakes” (or maybe “water snakes”) in my childhood in Queensborough.

Whoah! That sentence took me right back to when I was a six- or seven-year-old, listening to tales from the “big kids” in Queensborough about the snakes that would sometimes show up when one was swimming in the Black River, which runs through our village. In the stories the snakes were always huge and black, although I’m not sure now whether we called them black snakes or water snakes. (It could well be the latter; maybe I’m thinking “black snake” because it was the Black River. Then again, Marykay used that term “black snake,” so maybe that is what they’re called locally.)

I have to tell you, though, that despite having swum in the Black River probably hundreds of times in my childhood, I never once saw a black snake. (Or, for that matter, a water snake.) Do they really exist, or were/are they a scary rural legend?

I may not be an ophidiophobe, but I think I need to know. Because, as they say, forewarned is forearmed.

And in case you were wondering, “forearmed” sounds like this in Parseltongue:

(Which I know thanks to The Parselmouth). Geez, if I’d known that language back in the day I could have scared those “big kids” silly!

Meeting Mr. and Mrs. Snake

Mr. Snake giving Raymond and me a talking-to for messing with his environment.

Mr. Snake giving Raymond and me a talking-to for messing with his environment.

How do you feel about snakes? I have never been overly fond of them, I have to admit, though I know perfectly well that they are God’s creatures just like you and I, and that they do good things like eat bugs. I try not to be frightened of them, but when they suddenly slither into my field of vision – which admittedly is not very often, given that I spend most of my time in a large city – I can’t help but jump and run.

The tall grass was taking over the perennial garden at the side of the house. It had to go – snake or no snake.

The tall grass was taking over the perennial garden at the side of the house. It had to go – snake or no snake.

So when precisely that happened one recent morning at the Manse, as I was pulling tall grass out of the garden at the side of the house – well, I jumped and ran. And yelped, so that Raymond knew about the snake too. It was just a harmless garter snake, but a good-sized one – maybe 16 inches long. Yikes!

But it was a nice sunny morning in Queensborough and I was feeling rather good about the world in general, so I decided to try to be open-minded about Mr. Snake.

I tentatively approached the garden again, as did Raymond, and we watched him (the snake, that is, not Raymond) slither around. It seemed pretty obvious that he was checking out my grass-pulling handiwork; basically, I was destroying his happy little natural habitat, his hiding place. Several times he stopped slithering and put his head up and looked straight at us, as if to say,”Why are you messing things up here?”

(At least, I assume that’s what he was saying. My Parseltongue is a little rusty.)

And then he slithered (the video above shows him in action) behind a plant that is next to the cement front porch and … disappeared. I had a bad feeling that that meant his home was a hole inside or under that cement wall. And though by then I was coming around to rather liking Mr. Snake, I have to tell you I really hoped (and still do) that this inside-the-wall home did not allow him access to the Manse’s basement. Good lord, that’s the old partially dirt-floored basement that I spent a rainy day cleaning up recently, and the experience was scary enough as it was. If I had run into any snakes I would probably have had a heart attack on the spot, and would not be relating this yarn to you today.

Anyway, since Mr. Snake had wandered off, I recommenced my grass-pulling. I felt bad about doing that to his habitat, but hey, it’s my garden and I don’t want it all overgrown. And all was well for a while, progress being made – and then the snake was back, slithering around some more, checking things out again.

And then we understood why. Because suddenly there wasn’t just one snake. There were two.

The second one slithered around a bit too, but not as much and not as quickly as the first one. And it was considerably fatter, as you can see in the video clip below. There could be no mistaking it: this was Mrs. Snake. And Mrs. Snake is in a family way. And that explains Mr. Snake’s agitation about us messing with what they doubtless consider their home.

Which is all kind of sweet and charming, in a snakey sort of way. I wish Mr. and Mrs. Snake well with the new brood and all.

But I sincerely hope that my ridding the side garden of grass – because I did eventually get the job done – will entice them to pull up stakes and head out. I’m happy to know of the existence of Mr. and Mrs. Snake and all the soon-to-arrive little Snakes; but I have to say I’d rather they not make the Manse their headquarters.

Where’s my Hasenpfeffer?

A menu built around Hasenpfeffer, thanks to the renowned James Beard. Hungry?

A menu built around Hasenpfeffer, thanks to the renowned James Beard. Hungry?

I was starting this post a while back when I was interrupted (though not rudely) by a sudden pronouncement from Raymond that made me switch gears. It was after I had been speculating on the springtime blackfly situation in Queensborough in posts here and here, and thought I was finished with the topic. But then Raymond suddenly announced that he is allergic to blackflies, a potentially problematic situation that I decided merited a post of its own. It’s here.

So now, back to Hasenpfeffer. Where were we?

James Beard's Menus for EntertainingYou might recall from previous posts, like this one, that I have a great fondness for vintage cookbooks. I picked up yet another one at the Gore Street Flea Market in Perth, Ont., as we were driving to the Manse from Montreal recently. It was James Beard’s Menus For Entertaining, a tome from 1965 (the golden midcentury era!) in which Beard, the famous cook and bon vivant, gives menus and recipes for all kinds of luncheons (don’t you just love that word “luncheon”? I think we should all use it more often. Eleanor Roosevelt was always talking about attending or giving luncheons, and what’s good enough for Eleanor – one of my all-time heroes – is most certainly good enough for me) and dinners and breakfasts and late-night meals for guests.

I was happily leafing through it one recent day at the Manse, by turns made hungry by the recipes and reduced to chuckles at the rather old-fashioned tone of it all (not to mention the funky washed-out colour photos of the food, the place settings, and sometimes the rotund Mr. Beard himself clearly enjoying himself amongst all that fine nosh). And suddenly I came upon a menu that pulled me up short. It was built around none other than – Hasenpfeffer.

Hasenpfeffer! Surely that word will transport you, as it did me, straight back to childhood mornings in front of the black-and-white television (in my case, at the Manse), watching Bugs Bunny in Looney Tunes episodes. Hasenpfeffer featured in an episode called Shish-KaBugs, in which Bugs’s arch-enemy, Yosemite Sam, is unaccountably working as a cook for some king or other (who has a weird semi-Australian accent) and the king announces that he is tired of the same old same old and wants HASENPFEFFER!!!!

And do you know what Hasenpfeffer is?

It is hare stew. And that of course is how Yosemite Sam finds himself yet again pursuing Bugs Bunny, for dinner purposes. Needless to say, the pursuit is unsuccessful. As always.

I guess it had never really crossed my mind – growing up in a household (the Manse) where even lamb was considered exotic (too exotic for the likes of us) – that in the real world there really was such a thing as Hasenpfeffer, and that real people would actually eat it. But there it was, in black and white (on a perfect-for-the-era harvest-gold background), in James Beard’s book. The Hasenpfeffer menu also includes Cream of Pea Soup, Potato Dumplings, Champagne Kraut and Linzer Torte. If you ask me it all sounds delicious – except for the Hasenpfeffer.

Anyway, for those of you all set to run out and get yourself a hare or two and cook it up in a stew, I am helpfully providing the recipe. You can thank me later.

If your mouth is just watering for hare stew, has James Beard got a recipe for you!

If your mouth is just watering for hare stew, has James Beard got a recipe for you!

And to make your life better still, here is a fun edited version of Shisk-KaBugs. Go on – relive those memories! All together now: “WHERE’S MY HASENPFEFFER?!?!?”

You just never know, or: happy surprises (updated)

I don't know about you, but I think this brown-and-white basin/ewer/etc. set that we found at Kim's Kollectibles in Madoc is very pretty indeed; and wouldn't the ewer (pitcher) look beautiful with a cluster of narcissus and/or daffodils in it?

I don’t know about you, but I think this brown-and-white china basin/ewer/etc. set that we found (on sale!) at Kim’s Kollectibles in Madoc over the long weekend is very pretty indeed; and wouldn’t the ewer (pitcher) look beautiful with a cluster of narcissus and/or daffodils in it?

Our blooming narcissus plant in the Manse's garden.

Our blooming narcissus plant in the Manse’s garden.

Good evening, readers! Tonight’s post is coming to you a tiny bit earlier than last night’s, when Raymond and I had been out for an absolutely delightful dinner with some friends from our church here in Montreal, the Church of St. Andrew and St. Paul. It was late when we got in so I did a quick post featuring little more than a snapshot of a narcissus plant that we practically watched go into bloom over the Victoria Day weekend at the Manse in Queensborough. (Remember those old slo-mo films of flowers bursting into bloom? On OECA – the Ontario Educational Communications Authority, now TVOntario? Yes you do. At least, you do if you are somewhere around my age and grew up in Ontario.)

Anyway.

As I said, that narcissus post was a quick one, just to get my (self-imposed) daily post requirement fulfilled before a late bedtime. But what a nice and surprising response I got to it! Which goes to prove this: you just never know.

The response came in the form of an email from Ernie Pattison, one-half of the Pattison-brother duo/trio (Ernie and Gary Pattison, and Gary’s wife, Lillian) behind the wonderful things (the Old Hastings Mercantile and the Old Omsby Schoolhouse “Educated Dining” and Tearoom ) that are happening in the tiny hamlet of Ormsby, 45 minutes or an hour northwest of Queensborough, in the heart of North Hastings County. I’ve written about all that here, so I won’t go over it again except to say that you must go visit the Old Hastings Mercantile and the Old Omsby Schoolhouse Tearoom (and “Educated Dining”) sometime soon.

What Ernie was writing about was narcissus. Actually, narcissus and closely related daffodils. In North Hastings. Read on (I don’t think Ernie will mind):

“In the early 1960s my neighbour at The Ridge [Katherine here: The Ridge is a small farming community near Coe Hill], Bob McGeachie (who passed away about 13 years ago), planted hundreds of daffodils and narcissus bulbs in a little roadside field across from our house. The narcissus are the last to bloom every May and there are hundreds of blooms on right now. The daffodils, about forty varieties, bloom through April and May every spring and are visited by many people each year. I cut back the sumac every year to allow the hundreds (thousands?) of bright, cheerful blooms to peek through the wild grass. I am sending a photo of a collection of the daffodils that I picked this year. There are some great colours including pink daffodils. We hand out little bouquets to all the moms at the Tea  Room on Mother’s Day.”

Isn’t that fantastic? A field of narcissus and daffodils, of all colours, blooming their heads off way up there in North Hastings County for all to see and admire, and all thanks to a good guy who just went and planted them.

I love that story.

Ernie sent along a lovely photo of some of this year’s crop of daffodils and narcissus in a makeshift vase that was in reality an old (like, really old), pretty china ewer (pitcher), which had been placed inside a matching wide, shallow china bowl that was doubtless the washbasin for a 19th-century family; the ewer was the source of the water poured into the washbasin. Unfortunately the format the photo came in means I can’t reproduce it here, but let me tell you this: it gave me an idea! Happy update: Today Ernie’s brother Gary sent me the photo in a different format, and here it is:

Daffodils picked for a frield at The Ridge, near Coe Hill. Don't they look beautiful in that vintage pitcher? (Photo courtesy of Ernie Pattison)

Daffodils picked from a field at The Ridge, near Coe Hill in North Hastings County. Don’t they look beautiful in that vintage pitcher? (Photo courtesy of Ernie Pattison)

As it happens, on the Victoria Day weekend Raymond and I – okay, I – purchased a really pretty old china basin/ewer/etc. set at half price from an antiques/collectibles store in Madoc that we like a lot (and that I’ve mentioned here before), Kim’s Kollectibles. (I had admired and been tempted by the set at full price a few months before, so when it was on sale at half price, how could I resist?)

And that set is the photo atop this post – which, admittedly, would be much nicer if there were narcissus and daffodil stems in the ewer. But I will leave it to your imagination, and I will feel happy that thanks to our new and not-yet-met-in-person friend Ernie Pattison we have an excellent idea for using that set.

Not to mention a great reason to head north of Queensborough – next spring and every spring after that – and go look at some stark yet beautiful countryside, where daffodils and narcissus bloom. Thanks to the late and thoughtful Bob McGeachie.

A sign of spring at the Manse since forever

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The sun and nice weather have finally returned, and to celebrate I thought I’d do a quick little post featuring a happy springtime flower that burst into bloom over the last weekend that Raymond and I were at the Manse. It’s narcissus, and it has been planted in the perennial garden at the front of the house; but when I was a kid growing up at the Manse there were a raft of narcissuses (narcissi?) growing wild in a corner of the yard down by the little white garage. It’s a flower that, it seems to me, one doesn’t see all that often these days – which was another reason why I was happy to see it blooming. A flower from my past, you might say, blooming happily in the present. Happy long-awaited spring!

Local artists and writers, there for the finding in the digital world

This is the beautiful, just-launched website Artistry in Union (artistryinunion.com) featuring the work of Queensborough artists Jen and Ed Couperus.

This is the beautiful, just-launched website Artistry in Union (artistryinunion.com) featuring the work of Queensborough artists Jen and Ed Couperus. Check it out to see Jen’s carvings and Ed’s burled bowls, and to find out more about them and their work.

Tonight I want to point readers in the direction of two very recent arrivals on the proverbial internet: a website featuring the work of our Queensborough friends Jen and Ed Couperus, both incredibly talented wood-carvers; and the new blog of our Madoc friend Brenda Skinner, a very fine writer and photographer.

Jen and Ed’s site, Artistry in Union (artistryinunion.com) has beautiful photos of examples of their work: Jen’s carvings, mostly of animals and scenes from nature; and Ed’s splendid wooden bowls. There’s also a section about what inspires them in their creative work, and it features a lovely photo of the two of them taken, I believe, very close to Queensborough. Jen and Ed do beautiful work (I wrote about it once before, here); in addition to checking it out on their new website, you can come and see it and meet them in person at this year’s Tweed and Area Studio tour; details here.

rightonthedoorstep.wordpress.com

Meanwhile, our friend Brenda Skinner, whose charming little book (called Utter Peace and Tranquility) about life in a pretty corner of Northern Ontario I wrote about here, has started a blog of her own, called Right On the Doorstep (rightonthedoorstep.wordpress.com). In it Brenda – who now lives with her husband, Peter, in Madoc; Raymond and I have had the pleasure of having them as guests at the Manse – combines her acute observations of the natural world, her photographic skills, and her memories of what sounds like a rather charmed existence in their former “up north” life into daily posts that are lovely to read and to look at.

And with that, I bid you good night – and urge you to spend some time this weekend checking out Artistry in Union and Right On the Doorstep!

This just in: news tidbits from the Manse

One of my "finds" from visiting multiple yard sales in Madoc and area last weekend: a new addition to our collection of vintage board games at the Manse. This is the exact same edition of the Parker Brothers game that my siblings and I played when we were growing up at the Manse, back in the early 1970s. I can't wait to play it!

A vintage-board-game news update: One of my “finds” from visiting multiple yard sales in Madoc and area last weekend was an addition to our collection of games at the Manse: a 1970s edition of Masterpiece. It is the exact same edition of the Parker Brothers game that my siblings and I played when we were growing up in that same house.

It’s a bit of this and a bit of that tonight, dear readers. I thought there were some things I might have left dangling in earlier posts that I should update you on; and then there are little bits of news and developments from Queensborough and area that I wanted to share. Here goes:

How were the blackflies?
After I expended considerable verbiage last week on what the blackfly situation might be when Raymond and I visited Queensborough this past long weekend – there were posts on the subject here and here and here, and lots of good comments from readers – I thought I should let you know what transpired when we got to the Manse. Let me put it this way: my old Queensborough friend Graham, who had issued dire warnings about how bad the blackflies would be, showed up on the front porch on sunny Saturday morning to announce: “I think they’re pretty much past for this year.” And they were. There were blackflies, for sure, and they went straight for Raymond (because he is so sweet, as I’ve mentioned before; the bugs love Raymond), but they truly were no big deal.

Another photo of beautiful lilacs taken on the Victoria Day weekend, though I will confess it was not in Hastings County: this is on a back road between Mott's Mills and Toledo, Ont., taken on our way back to Montreal.

Another photo of beautiful lilacs taken on the Victoria Day weekend, though I will confess it was not in Hastings County: this is on a back road between Mott’s Mills and Toledo, Ont., taken on our way back to Montreal.

A local lilac celebration
I’ve done a couple of posts – here and here – in the past week about how gloriously beautiful the lilacs were last weekend, and I made mention of a Lilac Festival in the village of Warkworth, just over the Hastings/Northumberland county line. And a Lilac Festival is a good thing, but as our Queensborough neighbour Sally has pointed out, there’s also a lilac celebration happening in nearby Madoc this Saturday (i.e today, when you read this): a Lilac Luncheon and Bake Sale at St. Peter’s Presbyterian Church there (which, you can be pretty sure, is one of the very few St. Peter’s Presbyterian Churches in the whole world – I mean really, a Presbyterian church named for the founder of Roman Catholicism? That is kooky!). Anyway, the Lilac Luncheon and Bake Sale runs from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., and if you’re in the Madoc area (which, sadly, Raymond and I are not): Go!

A healthy sign of life at St. Andrew's United: our excellent minister's name is now on the sign at the front of our historic little chuch building!

A healthy sign of life at St. Andrew’s United: our excellent minister’s name is now on the sign at the front of our historic little chuch building!

A step forward at St. Andrew’s United Church
At a recent service at St. Andrew’s in Queensborough I commented to our friend Terry, a stalwart of the church, that it was too bad that the sign on the front of the church (donated by the late Pauline Harris and her brother, Jack McMurray, in honour of their parents, Clayt and Blanche McMurray, who ran one of the general stores in Queensborough and were pillars of the community and church – I remember them well, and fondly) did not include the name of our current (excellent) minister, The Rev. Caroline Giesbrecht. Well, Terry said he thought he could do something about that, and sure enough, this past weekend, there was Caroline’s name! It’s a nice sign of life for our faithful little church and congregation.

The rhubarb plant in our back yard is flourishing, is it not?

The rhubarb plant in our back yard is flourishing, is it not?

And finally…
The rhubarb plant that I first discovered off in a far corner of the Manse’s back yard last early spring is back! (“Last early spring” is, by the way, a Bob Dylan turn of phrase [from If You See Her, Say Hello], and I use it deliberately as an homage on Bob’s 72nd birthday, which is today. Bob Dylan changed my life. And probably yours.) Anyway, the rhubarb plant is flourishing! If you go here you can read my post about how all the kids I grew up with in Queensborough loved to pick rhubarb and eat the sour/sweet stalks (sprinkled with salt) raw. Even though I don’t particularly like rhubarb, I love having this plant growing wild at the Manse. It reminds me of the good old days. And what does that old Carly Simon song say? “These are the good old days.”

Let’s have a listen to Carly, from 1971. The good old days: