A mysterious nighttime visit

Horse poop near the Manse

On a crisp late-fall morning, we awoke to an interesting surprise: piles of horse poop! You can see four of them in this photo showing the north side of the Manse. We’d had some large four-legged visitors in the night. And even though our bedroom (the right-hand window on the second floor) looks right onto this spot, we didn’t see or hear a thing.

I’m sure that regular readers of Meanwhile, of the Manse will have long ago figured something out: that there is never a dull moment in Queensborough.

Oh, I know our little hamlet may appear supremely tranquil most of the time. I know that when you drive through you may see only one or two other vehicles, one of them very possibly a piece of farm equipment; or you may see none at all. I know that the most human activity you might spot is someone (maybe me) raking leaves from her lawn, or “Sheriff” John Barry mowing the grass along a roadside and keeping the place looking tidy.

Ah, but those of us who live here and keep tabs on things – and that would be everybody, of course – know that there’s always something of interest to keep an eye on and talk about.

I mean, think about the early spring, when whitewater kayakers from all over the place flock to Queensborough for hot coffee and homemade pie after they thrill us all by going right over the dam in their tiny craft:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Think about our church suppers and skating parties and the laughter-filled summer day camp for kids up at the Queensborough Community Centre. Think about the springtime thrill you can get when you hear a chorus of peepers in the marshy area that’s close to the centre of the village. Or the fun, a little later in the year, of watching two big families of Canada Geese parading the young’uns down by the Black River. Or of spotting the otters that are known to frolic in the river. Or – speaking of wildlife – a deer walking right into town:

No, there’s never a dull moment. Why, don’t you remember the time I told you about when the cows came to visit?

Cows come to Queensborough

One time when some cows came to visit Queensborough. (Photo courtesy of Anne Barry)

Now that’s something you don’t see every day – in Queensborough or anywhere else.

Which leads nicely into my very latest example of how there’s never a dull moment in Queensborough. Because do you know what we saw when we all woke up this past bright Saturday morning? I’ll tell you what: horse poop all over the place!

I kid you not, people.

I spotted it as I was opening the curtains on the north side of our Manse. In several spots in the big open yard next door were dark piles. At first I thought it was the work of moles, or voles, who are not uncommon here, creating piles of dirt on the surfaces of lawns as they tunnel their way underground.

But closer inspection of the dark piles next door and the one on the front lawn of the Manse revealed otherwise. This was poop! From large animals! And once you started looking around, you realized there were plops of it all through town, in streets and on grassy areas. What the deuce?

Was it the cows again, making a return visit under cover of darkness while we all slept? No, I think not. I think (and I am not alone in this theory) that it was something rather more interesting: horses! Because those piles of poop look to me distinctly like horse poop. If you don’t mind an agricultural closeup, I’ll show you and let you decide:

Horse deposit

Now, I have to tell you that I am thoroughly amused at the idea of a large group of horses roaming through downtown Queensborough of a Friday night (or very early Saturday morning) and leaving several deposits as evidence of their visit. I actually think it’s hilarious, because – well, because it’s further proof that there’s never a dull moment in Queensborough. I gather a few residents did not respond to the midnight visit with quite the same equanimity and amusement as I did, but hey – what are you going to do? It’s almost winter, and the horse manure will be good fertilizer for our lawns as it works its way in under cover of snow.

And besides, I am tickled to death by the idea that a whole herd of horses – I mean, there must have been a lot of them, given the number of piles of poop – tromped into Queensborough right under our snoring noses and (as far as I know) nobody saw a thing! How long did they stay? When did they leave? Did someone round them up, or did they just decide that since the stores were closed they might as well head on back home?

I’m a pretty sound sleeper, for which I am a bit sorry. Judging by the location of the poop, several of those horses were practically outside our bedroom window. One would think they would have made some whinnying-type noises, but Raymond and I didn’t hear a thing. Wouldn’t it have been something to wake up in the night and see a bunch of fine-looking draught horses (because I think that’s what they were; there is a farm just up the road where several beautiful draught horses live) under our window?

Horse poop outside the Kincaid house

Another view of the nighttime deposits on the property next to the Manse.

Then again, the fact that we didn’t see this exciting event just adds to its allure. Makes it a bit mysterious, you know. The Herd of Horses That Came In The Night – it’s got kind of a ring to it, doesn’t it?

Ah, Queensborough. Where you just never know what might happen next.

The Cat Who Lived

Teddy on the hassock

The Cat Who Lived: our Theodora Roosevelt Brassard (or just Teddy if you prefer), at home on one of the Manse’s vintage hassocks. Isn’t she beautiful?

Anyone even mildly familiar with the Harry Potter stories will know that Harry is sometimes known as The Boy Who Lived, because he is the only wizard to have survived the Killing Curse (sent his way by the evil Voldemort). Well in this week’s instalment of Meanwhile, at the Manse, I want to tell you about The Cat Who Lived. She’s not quite as famous as Harry Potter – not yet, anyway – but her story is much dearer to my heart. Which is saying something, because I am a huge fan of Harry Potter.

The Cat Who Lived is the Manse’s very own Theodora Roosevelt Brassard – Teddy for short. She is one of the two kittens whom Raymond and I adopted at the end of this past summer from the Cat Care Initiative cat-rescue operation and shelter in Campbellford. The other adoptee was Honey Bunny, and here she is:

Honey Bunny in the tunnel

Tortoiseshell Honey Bunny can be hard to spot in pictures because her colouring makes her blend into the background. Here she looks out at us from the bottom level of her nothing-but-the-best-for-our-cats leopard-print at-climbing tower and scratching post.

Like most of the cats at the Cat Care Initiative, Teddy and Honey Bunny – who are close to the same age, to wit about five months as of this writing, but not sisters – came from a feral-cat colony. Volunteers rescued them and socialized them until they were ready to be adopted, and that’s where Raymond and I came in:

eddy and Honey Bunny on adoption day

Raymond and me with our new kitties on the day we adopted them from the Cat Care Initiative. (Photo by Irene Lawson)

Why did we choose Honey Bunny and Teddy from the other cats and kittens up for adoption? Well, we thought they were both beautiful – but then, all cats are beautiful. Teddy also struck us as exceptionally sweet, which has definitely proved to be the case. And Honey Bunny – well, we chose her partly for her name, believe it or not. “Honey Bunny” was Raymond’s pet name for Bayona, the big-bundle-of-love cat whom we had in Montreal and whose sudden death a few years ago left a great big hole in our lives. (You can read about that, and see lots of photos of Bayona and Sieste, who went on to become the First Official Manse Cat, here. Sieste died of old age last spring, which broke our hearts; that story is here.) When we learned that the striking tortoiseshell cat who looked up so lovingly at Raymond as he held her had been given the name Honey Bunny, we looked at each other and decided it was a sign. We were meant to have her.

Here are the girls on their way home in the car:

Teddy and Honey Bunny on their way to the Manse

They must have been wondering what their new life would be like! “Can we get out now?”

Both kittens proved to be playful and cuddly and full of beans, with Honey Bunny soon impressing us with her unceasing energy, her acrobatic skills and her smarts. Have you ever seen a cat play fetch before? Well, here you go:

(Honey Bunny can keep Raymond amused with that game for hours.)

But Teddy? Well, Teddy was just the sweetest kitten ever, with beautiful soft fur made for petting and a propensity to sit in your lap and purr while helping you with your work:

Teddy is a good helper

Teddy helps Raymond with his work on the National Newspaper Awards.

But before too long we realized that Teddy was a little bit fragile. For one thing, her balance didn’t seem to be particularly good; she had trouble jumping into laps, and when she tumbled (as cats will do when climbing and playing), she sometimes fell awkwardly – uncharacteristic for cats, who are almost always graceful. One time when she fell she seemed to have something like a seizure; she twitched oddly for a few moments and couldn’t seem to get her legs under her to get up. We were hugely relieved when she was back to normal after a few minutes of being held and petted. But several weeks later, when she fell again, the result was a lot worse and a lot scarier. That time her twitching and struggling were much greater, and even hours later she absolutely could not walk – she could barely stand up. Her hind legs dragged under her, and it was sickening and terrifying to watch. Her eyes were glazed and she seemed completely out of it. We thought she was going to die.

I stayed with her all that night, waking frequently to check to see if she was still breathing. She was, but not much more than that. In the morning – it was a Sunday – we drove her to the animal hospital, worried sick.

I’ll spare you all the ins and outs of the story, save to say that the eventual diagnosis was that Teddy was suffering from a neurological illness that she’d acquired while still in her mother’s womb, and that is very common in feral cats. It begins to show up when they’re about three months old, which was exactly what had happened with Teddy. The kindly doctor said the best-case scenario was that she’d just be a wobbly walker for the rest of her life, but that there was a strong chance that the neurological problems would progress and cause other physical problems. There is no cure.

Well, Teddy got a bit better in the next few days. Her walking improved somewhat. But she wasn’t eating much, and she didn’t seem to be drinking any water at all – not a good sign. And in a very unpleasant turn of events, she forgot how to use the litter box. A followup visit with the doctor revealed that she was losing weight, and that she had developed some pain in her spine that hadn’t been there on earlier visits. Things were not looking at all good, and the doctor told us – in the gentlest possible way – that she might start to suffer and that the kindest thing we could do for her if that happened would be to put her down.

You can imagine how we felt. Teddy and Honey Bunny had captured our hearts the day we met them, and they had become part of the family immediately. And Teddy being the sweetest cat ever…

Things did get worse. Teddy could barely move, and pretty much stopped trying. She cried in pain when I tried to pick her up. She ignored the cat food and refused to touch water. She ceased grooming herself. It was heartbreaking to look at her.

Teddy and Honey Bunny share the bed

This was about all Teddy could do when she was feeling so sick and lethargic. Her sister Honey Bunny was very good about snuggling up with her and even washing her when Teddy was too weak to do it herself.

Last Tuesday I called the animal hospital and made an appointment for her to be put down. And then I hung up the phone and sobbed.

And then… well, then something happened.

When I came home from work that evening and went to see Teddy – feeling miserable that I had had to schedule the end of her sweet little life – she greeted me with interest. She got up and wobbled around. She wobbled after me and she wobbled after Raymond, wherever we walked. Her eyes were brighter than they had been in days. She went to the food dish! And ate a little bit!

And then peed on the floor. But at that point we were so happy with this sudden change in her condition that it didn’t matter. (Oh, okay. It mattered a bit to Raymond.) We cleaned it up and carried on watching with delight as our little cat seemed to perk up by the minute.

Was it a last gasp, the final spark that creatures (including humans) often display just before the end of life? We thought it very well might be. But the next morning, Teddy was still bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. She stayed that way all day, and the next, and the next, and – well, needless to say, the appointment at the animal hospital was joyfully cancelled. Teddy ate with relish, drank water, gained weight, walked better and better all the time, and even started to show some interest in cat attractions like rolling balls and dangling strings.

It is quite something to be certain you are going to lose someone you love to illness and death, and then have them restored to you. I really can’t tell you how happy we are, but you can probably imagine.

Teddy may never be the kitty she once was. She doesn’t jump or climb anymore, and she’ll probably always be wobbly when she walks:

And while her toilet habits are much improved from a week ago, she still forgets to venture to the litter box sometimes when she needs to pee. (If anyone has any ideas about how we can help her get better at this, we’d sure love to hear them.) She may well not live a long life, and we will always have to be careful with this fragile little creature.

But Teddy is back. As I write this, she is sitting purring in my lap, supervising my work. She’s just had a great big feed. She’s about to launch into a bath.

She is one happy kitty. Almost as happy as we are. Here are Teddy and Honey Bunny, signing off from the Manse. More adventures await tomorrow!

%22Good morning!%22 say Teddy and Honey Bunny

In which Henry visits the corner named just for him

Henry on the front porch

Henry, who is almost 2½, takes in the view from the Manse’s front porch along with his proud Pépère, Raymond. Come and see us again soon, Henry!

This past weekend was a landmark one at the Manse. Why? Because Raymond’s little grandson, Henry, paid his first visit!

Henry and his parents live in the Eastern Townships of Quebec, which is a long way from Queensborough. And his parents are busy people, working six and sometimes seven days a week. So it’s not often they get a chance for a long road trip, and we’re just so delighted that it finally came.

Vintage Fisher-Price toys

Some of the vintage Fisher-Price toys that live in Henry’s Corner of the Manse.

For me, the best part – aside from getting to spend time with Henry and his folks, of course – was introducing Henry to the part of the Manse that is named for him. That would of course be Henry’s Corner, the sunny nook outside one of the upstairs bedrooms that, when I was a kid growing up at this same Manse, housed the toybox and toys of my siblings and me. In a bit of an hommage to those long-ago days, I’ve devoted the corner to our ever-growing collection of midcentury toys and games, the very things that Melanie, John, Ken and I played with back in the 1960s and ’70s. I am especially proud of the vintage Fisher-Price collection; those toys are hard to beat, especially – as I’ve noted before, in a post here that was devoted to the topic – the original Fisher-Price garage, the absolute best toy ever, in my humble opinion.

Henry took great delight in grabbing my hand several times over the course of his visit and asking me to accompany him upstairs to Henry’s Corner. There he would examine the various vintage toys on display and choose one to bring downstairs for some quality playtime. What a good boy! He helped me relive my own childhood!

Henry and Teddy with the bus

Henry and Teddy the cat with the vintage Fisher-Price school bus. I like the fact that Henry is a bit of a blur in this photo; as a human perpetual-motion machine (like most kids his age), that’s just about right.

Henry and the Fisher-Price Garage

Henry investigating our early-’70s Fisher-Price garage – way cuter and more fun than the modern version. Gotta love that pinging elevator!

With the Fisher-Price garage

And you have to get the newly elevated cars out of that elevator! (Hey: why don’t real parking garages have car elevators? That would make them a lot more fun.)

In addition to playing with the fun stuff in Henry’s Corner, Henry also enjoyed a walk around Queensborough on Saturday morning – a crystal-clear, crisp, sunny fall day. It was a joy to show him and his family around our pretty little hamlet, and share its history and our own stories about Queensborough life. I thought I’d show you some photos of our tour:

Down at the dam

Henry, his dad Sean, and Raymond at Queensborough’s most scenic spot, the waterfall and the historic mill on the Black River. The plaque you see is one erected by the kayakers who enjoy travelling down the river when the water is high in springtime, coming right over the dam, and then enjoying the homemade pie and hot coffee that Queensborough volunteers have to offer. The kayakers used the plaque to pay tribute to the owners of the property, Elaine and Lud Kapusta, who organize the Treats on the Black River event every spring.

Henry and his mum down by the river

Henry and his mum, Justine (Raymond’s daughter), down by the scenic Black River.

Coming back from St. Andrew's

Henry and Sean on their way back from our visit to St. Andrew’s United Church.

Henry and Pépère on the swings

Pépère (grampa Raymond) and Henry enjoy the swings at the Queensborough Community Centre, the village’s historic former one-room schoolhouse.

Checking out the checkerboard

Henry and his dad check out the checkerboard/chessboard that’s carved into a rustic bench at the Queensborough Community Centre.

Checkerboard at the QCC

A closeup of the checkerboard (or chessboard, if you want to get all cerebral). I’ll confess that until this visit with Henry I hadn’t even realized that this cool thing was a part of the bench.

Having fun on the swings

If that isn’t an image of pure joy, I don’t know what is.

The visit was wonderful, but brief; by midafternoon Saturday, Henry and his folks had to head eastward for another family visit in Ottawa on their way back home. But I want to tell you about the lovely thing that happened just as they were getting into their car to leave.

Our neighbours Chuck and Ruth were coming around the corner in their white pickup truck, heading off for a dump run. They pulled over, of course knowing (having heard many stories from his proud grandfather) that this little boy must be Henry, and Ruth jumped out. And she had a present for Henry! It was a little Matchbox white pickup truck – “just like mine,” she told him. Now, Henry loves trucks, and especially pickup trucks; the fact that there are so many full-size ones in the Queensborough area made the visit especially memorable for him. And to be given one of his own just as he was leaving – what a thrill!

His parents were tickled too. “People are so friendly here!” his dad commented as they were pulling out.

They sure are. Ruth and Chuck weren’t the only ones to go out of their way to make Henry feel at home; our friends Elaine and Lud had also come to greet us on our walk around town and invite us all in for coffee.

I think Henry (and his parents) left with a good impression – as well they should have. Queensborough is a beautiful, friendly place. Come back soon, Henry! Your corner awaits.

From the icy Northwest Passage to farm life in Ivanhoe

Gauen Cemetery historic-site sign

The newly erected historical-site sign along Highway 62 in the farm country just north of the central Hastings County hamlet of Ivanhoe. What’s it all about? Something very cool. Read on!

People, have you ever put the phrase “Northwest Passage” and “Ivanhoe” together in the same thought or sentence? My guess is that the answer is no, regardless of whether the word “Ivanhoe” conjures up for you the name of a novel by Sir Walter Scott or a hamlet in central Hastings County. So you may be surprised to learn that there is a very direct connection between the two, and I’m talking Ivanhoe the hamlet now – a place perhaps best-known as the home of the Ivanhoe Cheese Factory, one of the last of the dozens, if not hundreds, of cheese factories that once dotted Hastings County back when it was a full-on dairy-farming, cheese-producing place.

Now, readers of Meanwhile, at the Manse who happen to live in the QueensboroughMadoc-Tweed-Ivanhoe area will probably know what I’m about to get into here, because this very interesting story has been well-covered in our weekly newspapers recently. But since most of you live considerably outside the borders of Hastings County, I thought I’d share this very cool bit of local history. I mean, it doesn’t get much more Canadian-history than the Franklin Expedition’s search for the Northwest Passage, does it?

As most of us who can remember a bit of our Canadian history know, Sir John Franklin was head of a British expedition that in 1845 set off to try to find a way through the Northwest Passage, the elusive Arctic route that would have made 19th-century transportation between Asia and Europe phenomenally easier than it otherwise was (what with that long and pesky trip around South America and the Straits of Magellan and all that). Franklin’s ships, the gorgeously named Erebus and Terror, got stuck in the ice, and all 129 men aboard died.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I have always found the story of the Franklin Expedition and the Northwest Passage to be quite haunting. To imagine those poor men slowly dying of cold and starvation (and let’s not even get into the cannibalism angle that their desperation drove them to) in that vast frozen emptiness, all in the great cause of discovery and exploration – it gives me shivers, and has ever since I was a kid growing up here at the Manse in Queensborough, when I first learned the story in history classes at Madoc Township Public School.

The famous – and also haunting – song called Northwest Passage by Canadian folk-music legend Stan Rogers probably also has something to do with that frisson that I feel. I’ll get to that song in a bit, though I’m sure many of you are familiar with it and it’s already running around in your head.

Anyway, as you probably remember, the fate of the Franklin Expedition was not known right away, which is hardly surprising; at a time when any form of communication was slow even when it was’t scarce, there certainly would have been no way for the men on the stranded expedition to let the world know of their plight. And so rescue missions were sent out. And that’s where the Ivanhoe connection to the story comes in. I will let the plaque at the site marked by the sign on Highway 62 tell the story (and if you’re having trouble reading it, just click on the photo for an enlargement):

Gauen Cemetery plaque

Now isn’t that something? A chap who served as a carpenter’s mate on a ship sent to find signs of the Franklin Expedition, and that mapped the Northwest Passage – a huge accomplishment – became an immigrant to Canada, a farmer at Ivanhoe, and one of the founders of the Ivanhoe Cheese Company. And he and his wife are buried on their farm, a place that is still being farmed all these years later.

And now, thanks to the work of the Madoc Lions Club, Gay Lea Foods (owner of Ivanhoe Cheese) and the Municipality of Centre Hastings, their graves have a historical marker and a plaque explaining the significance. You can watch the ceremony at which the tiny historic cemetery was dedicated this past September, in a video filmed by my friends at CHTV cable TV Madoc, here.

I think this is all very, very cool.

Here are some more of my photos of the site, in case you are not able to visit it yourself:

Gauen Cemetery

The small fenced-off cemetery where Henry Gauen and his wife, Mary, are buried. It’s right on a farm that is still very much in operation, and were it not for the sign pointing it out, most people driving by would certainly miss this interesting historic spot.

Henry Gauen

Henry Gauen himself, who became an important person in early central Hastings agricultural and business life. This photo is part of the plaque at the Gauen cemetery.

Franklin mission photo at Gauen cemetery

A painting about the Franklin Expedition and subsequent search, also from the plaque at the Gauen Cemetery. It shows a scene a long, long way from Ivanhoe.

Grave markers at Gauen Cemetery

The graves of Henry and Mary Gauen. Note how on Henry’s is marked “McClure Arctic Expedition,” Robert McClure having been the commander of the ship Investigator on which Henry sailed as part of a mission to find the Franklin Expedition. This is not something you find on many Hastings County grave markers!

I just think this is an amazing piece of local history, and I also think it’s wonderful that this tiny cemetery – where Henry Gauen, carpenter’s mate on a long and desperately dangerous mission to find the Franklin Expedition, lies buried – has been preserved and, now, suitably marked and honoured.

So hey, in the spirit of things, let’s listen to a group of young men from the University of Waterloo perform that haunting song by Stan Rogers about the Northwest Passage. And while you listen, think of Henry Gauen, who went from sailor and Arctic explorer to Ivanhoe farmer and cheesemaker. I’m sure he would agree with me when I say it seems like a safe and happy ending to an adventurous life. Tracing one warm line, so to speak: