A deerfly song just for me, courtesy of my teenage hero

Joey Edwards

Joey Edwards: DJ, friend, and composer of a special song about my deerfly battles. (Photo courtesy of Joey Edwards)

Wow! Thank you so much to all of you who took the time to comment on my post of a couple of days ago. The “Glad to see you back” sentiment was overwhelming, and sure made me feel good. As anyone who’s undertaken the job of producing a blog knows, it’s a lot of work and takes a lot of time. (Especially when your internet is sometimes dodgy, as it can be here in Queensborough.) That’s the main reason – actually, the only reason – you hadn’t seen an instalment of Meanwhile, at the Manse for several months: as my father, The Rev. Wendell Sedgwick, always used to say, “So much to do and so little time in which to do it!”

Hat filled with dead deerflies

My first post in a long time here at Meanwhile, at the Manse was about the plague of deerflies we’re experiencing in Queensborough this summer. Here’s the deerfly catch on the sticky strip I attach to my walking cap – just one day’s worth.

Not all of those quick and kind responses came in the form of comments appended to my blog post about the Great Deerfly Menace of 2019. Some came in person and via email. And one of those emails – which was waiting in my inbox very early the morning after my deerfly post went up – came from none other than Joey Edwards!

Readers with long memories – and those who, like me, were pop-music-loving teenagers in the Hastings County area in the early 1970s – will recall Joey Edwards as the evening disc jockey (and this was when there actually were discs, i.e. records, to jockey) on CJBQ-AM radio out of Belleville. One of the most fun things that’s ever happened in the lifetime of this blog was when, almost five years ago, Joey made contact with me here, having spotted a reference I’d made earlier to his goofy, hilarious, best-music-ever-filled radio show, of which I was a huge fan when I was growing up here in the middle of the last century. From way off in a new life and career in Beijing, Joey has stayed in contact since then, and I’m pleased to say that thanks to Meanwhile, at the Manse, other fans of his radio work have been able to find and correspond with him too.

Anyway: Joey must have seen my post very soon after it hit the internet, because by the time I opened my email the next morning, there was already a message from him. And not just any message, people. It was a little song, just for me! About the walks I’d written about in which I enjoy the beauty of nature around Queensborough but truly hate the deerflies that come with it, especially this summer.

Like I said, it’s a little song, just one verse long. Here are the lyrics:

Katherine talks to Mother Nature
With a special request
Please Mother Nature
Can you tell your deer flies
To take a permanent rest!

Which is cute enough on its own, but the special effects on the recording are what make it. So now, without further ado, please allow me to share with you Katherine’s Deer Fly Ditty, by Joey & The Keep-on-Yuckin’ Band:

If this delightful gift is my reward for a long-in-the-making new Meanwhile, at the Manse post, then I sure am glad I sat down in front of the laptop once again. Joey, I cannot thank you enough. But right now – gotta go. I’ve got a walk to take. And some deerflies to fight off.

The deerflies from hell in Kilometre 4

Hat filled with dead deerflies One walk’s worth of deerflies on a sticky strip that I wear on my walking cap.

Hello, everyone! After a months-long hiatus that has been filled with a whole lot of Queensborough community work plus the day job that pays the bills here at the Manse, I am back! And I have many things to tell you about: an amazing art-themed event coming up in Queensborough next month; the ridiculous system that we Queensborough people have to use to get rid of our trash and recycling; the major road-repair project going on just west of our hamlet; some fantastic improvements to the landscape in Queensborough; and my terror-of-renovation paralysis. To name just a few. But today I want to talk about – wait for it – deerflies.

Because the deerflies have been really, truly terrible this summer of 2019, as anyone who’s been outside in rural Ontario will surely agree. “Never seen them this bad before,” I’ve heard quite a few people say.

Now, I suppose an obvious way to avoid being bitten and bothered by these very annoying insects is just to stay indoors. But who wants to do that, when summer is so beautiful in Queensborough?

For me especially, being outdoors is a big thing these days, because I’ve taken up a walking routine. Four or five afternoons a week you can find me walking the Queensborough “block” – not the “downtown” Queensborough block that you can easily cover in less than 10 minutes, but the big block that takes you eastward out Queensborough Road toward Moore’s Corners, then south till you get to Bosley Road, and then west and north along Bosley till you arrive right back at the Manse where you started. It’s a five-mile/eight kilometre route, which I cover in a tiny bit over one and a quarter hours, mixing it up every other day by starting out on Bosley Road and walking in the other direction.

My walking route My five-mile/eight-kilometre walking route. The wooded area in the bottom right corner is where the deerflies are thickest.

Normally that hour and a quarter is a very pleasant time indeed, good for my brain and spirit as well as my body. I listen to the breeze and the birdsong, wave to the motorists who meet or pass me (and who almost invariably give me a big, friendly wave in return), say hello to the various dogs along the way (Lacey, Jugs, Mimi, Bella, Lily, Magnum and China, among others), observe the wildlife (bunnies, turtles, butterflies, ducks, frogs, once even a fox) and the cattle, horses and sheep grazing on local farms, and quietly meditate on the life and beauty that surround me.

Deerfly strips My secret weapon for getting rid of at least some of the deerflies. You can find it at farm-supply and hardware stores.

But for the past few weeks, the deerflies have significantly intruded on my walking pleasure. As you can see from the photo at the top of this post, there are a lot of deerflies on my route. And of course that photo – one day’s haul of deerflies caught on the sticky strip I wear on my walking cap, an essential deerfly-survival tool that I have my Queensborough friend and neighbour Herb to thank for introducing to me (you can read about that here) – only shows the deerflies I actually vanquished that day. The ones dumb enough to get irreversibly stuck on my cap are a small proportion of the ones that fly in zippy circles around my head and body, eager to alight and suck my blood via a painful bite.

However, there is quite a bit of satisfaction in bringing an end to a significant number of deerflies using this handy tool each day. And it makes for rather a dramatic look; as my friend and neighbour Tory commented yesterday when she saw my fly-filled cap at the end of my walk: “It’s like art!”

This brief video from yesterday’s walk will give you some idea of what the deerfly situation is like. Those little things that zoom in and out of view in the blink of an eye? They are, of course, the deerflies.

The video was taken along a stretch that I call Kilometre 4, a not-very-imaginative title for the final kilometre on the 4K Bosley Road portion of my walk. (That is, on the days when I start by going south from the Manse on Bosley. It’s actually Kilometre 5 when I walk in the other direction, but in my mind it’s always Kilometre 4.)

The start of Kilometre 4 The beginning of Kilometre 4, at the Rathwell farm as you head south from Queensborough along Bosley Road. Beware: deerflies ahead. In spades.

This is the section that has the fewest homes and open fields, and the most wooded areas. And those wooded areas make it Deerfly Central.

Midway along Kilometre 4 The old split-rail fences make Kilometre 4 a scenic part of the walk. But it’s hard to enjoy the scenery when you’re beating off deerflies.
The woods that harbour deerflies These woods harbour the varmints.

If you come across me walking that section during these high-summer days, you may be hard-pressed to pick me out amid the black swarm of deerflies that will be circling me from head to ankles. Mercifully, once I emerge from that stretch they peter out, at least a bit.

The end of Kilometre 4 Always a welcome sight: where Bosley Road ends at Queensborough Road is also the end of Kilometre 4. When you get here, you are out of the woods when it comes to deerflies – literally as well as figuratively.

I am not much for insect repellant, but I have discovered that spraying my arms, legs and back of my neck with Deep Woods Off at least keeps the deerflies from alighting and biting, and that helps a lot. They still swarm and annoy, but at least I arrive home more or less unbitten and unbloodied.

My jingly bells to let bears know I’m around.

The other thing I seem to have discovered is that deerflies are attracted to sound – or at least the sound of tinkling bells. On my walks I carry a little bracelet with bells attached, and I jingle it when I’m along the quietest and most wooded stretches of the walk. It’s because I don’t ever want to meet up with a bear, particularly a mama bear feeling protective of her cubs, and I am reliably informed that making noise will warn the bears of human presence (because they don’t want to meet me any more than I want to meet them) and keep them steered clear. You might think that the chances of meeting a bear on my walks are slim, and they probably are. But bears are not infrequently spotted in the Queensborough area and, you know, it only takes one.

But back to the deerflies and my accidental discovery: on one particularly horrific deerfly day, I noticed that they seemed to be a little less thick around me in the periods when I was not jingling the bells. Now, my first thought that was that this was only because the places where I use the bells are also the most wooded places, where the deerfies are thickest. I dismissed my observation.

On the next walk, however, I noticed the same thing. And to test it, I tried jingling the bells a little bit two or three times when there were few or no deerflies about. Instantly, more appeared. Have I made an astounding, groundbreaking scientific discovery, do you suppose?

On the last couple of walks, I refrained from using the bells entirely. And you know what? While the deerflies were still very much in evidence, they weren’t as thick as they had been previously. Which is a very good thing. On the other hand, there’s a tradeoff, in that to make this new system I’ve discovered work, I don’t get to use my bear-repellent method. In the overall scheme of things, I think you’d probably agree, deerflies are a better thing to run into than a bear.

Fewer deerflies My hat at the end of yesterday’s jingle-free walk. You’ll notice that there are considerably fewer deerflies.

Then again, the decrease in the deerflies could simply be due to their season coming to an end. To which I think many of my readers in rural Ontario will say: can’t come soon enough.

“So what’s happening in Queensborough?”

Welcome to Queensborough, fall 2018

Welcome to beautiful Queensborough, where things are always happening! And one of the best things about our hamlet is the work that the volunteers on the Queensborough Beautification Committee do to enhance our community’s welcome and street signs.

“So what’s happening in Queensborough?” People ask me that question all the time.

It comes from members of my extended family when we gather at times like the recent Thanksgiving weekend. It comes from colleagues at work. It comes when I attend events in far-flung parts of Ontario, and well beyond. It comes in emails and social-media messages from across Canada and all over the world.

And here’s the thing: the people who ask me that question already know what my answer will be. (It’s always just one word: “Lots!”) Why? Because the news has got out that Queensborough is a happening place. I am modestly proud of the part that Meanwhile, at the Manse has played, over the almost seven years of its existence, in spreading the word about Queensborough. Bust mostly I am proud (and not at all modestly) of the work that the people of this tiny, beautiful place are doing to make it punch way above its weight when it comes to interesting events and widespread recognition. I would go so far as to say that Queensborough is one of the better-known population-75 places (okay, maybe our population’s a whopping 200 or so when you count – as we should – the Greater Queensborough Area) on the entire planet. And that is something!

Regular readers will doubtless have noticed that Meanwhile, at the Manse has been a bit quiet lately. I apologize for that; my excuse, such as it is, is that I’ve been awfully busy. But that’s part of the deal with living in Queensborough, isn’t it? There’s always something.

So let me fill you in on what’s been going on. Late summer and early autumn weren’t quite as busy as the whirlwind few months we had last spring, but there’s still lots to share with you.

St. Andrew's Turkey Supper 2018 – enjoying the meal

Enjoying the meal: some of the hundreds of people who came out to enjoy the St. Andrew’s United Church Turkey Supper in late September.

I believe I’ll begin with the annual Turkey Supper at St. Andrew’s United Church in Queensborough, which took place in late September. Now, regular readers will know that our St. Andrew’s suppers (which I’ve written about many times, notably here and here and here) have a long tradition of success, attracting crowds of people from all over the place who are eager to enjoy a splendid meal in the congenial atmosphere of our pretty, historic country church. But this Turkey Supper was something special.

St. Andrew's Turkey Supper 2018 – lineup of cars

Raymond outside St. Andrew’s United Church surveying the very impressive lineup of cars that brought people to the Turkey Supper. And there were just as many lined up in the other direction!

On a day that turned from grey and gloomy to gloriously sunny just in time, hundreds of people turned out. As usual, there were lineups even before the doors opened at 4:30 p.m. What was a little less usual was that the people just kept coming. And coming. And coming. Normally by 6:15 p.m. or so – the supper runs until 7 – almost everyone who’s going to come has already showed up and is seated at the communal tables, enjoying the meal. This year, there was turnover after turnover in the church hall, with seats in the waiting area – the church sanctuary – filled by new arrivals as soon as they’d been emptied by those who’d been called in to the meal. There was still a churchful of people waiting well after 6 p.m.!

St. Andrew's Turkey Supper 2018 – waiting to be called 2

The thing about sitting in the St. Andrew’s sanctuary and waiting for your ticket number to be called so you can go in and enjoy the Turkey Supper (or, in the spring, the Ham Supper) is that it’s a marvellous opportunity to catch up on the news with friends and neighbours. Which is exactly what everyone in this picture is doing!

The men and women who were working their butts off (to use a not very churchy term) to keep the turkey and trimmings coming out of the kitchen, and the places set, and the dishes done, began to worry that we might run out of food. But in the end, we had exactly the right amount: every visitor ate heartily and well, the church members and supporters who had worked so hard were able to do the same once the crowds were gone, and there was even a bit left over.

Pie at the Turkey Supper 2018

As always, the selection of homemade pie at the Turkey Supper was impressive – and delicious. Queensborough is justly renowned for its homemade pie.

And when all was said and done, almost $3,500 was raised for the ongoing work of St. Andrew’s! That is a very big deal for a small country church. Everyone who came out to the dinner, and everyone who roasted turkeys, baked pies, peeled turnips, set places, and washed and dried mountains of dishes deserves huge thanks – not just for a job well done on that particular evening, but for keeping a truly great Queensborough tradition alive.

Okay: what else? Well, let’s talk about the Orange Hall!

Welcome to the Orange Hall

The main entrance to the former Orange Hall at 24 King St., Queensborough, as it looks these days. It’s a far cry from the ugly and decrepit look the front of the building boasted for decades before Jamie Grant and Tory Byers purchased it.

When last you heard about the Orange Hall – from me, at least – it was early June and we were basking in the success of the Black Fly Shuffle (a community dance) that had just been held there. It was the first time in half a century that a public event had happened in that building, one of the oldest in our hamlet and a place that, back in the day, regularly played host to dances, concerts, travelling shows, wedding receptions and all kinds of other socials. After decades of disuse that saw the building fall into extreme disrepair, it was purchased and saved by Jamie Grant and Tory Byers, a couple – from the perspective of my advancing age I think of them as a young couple – who are bursting with energy and creativity. What they did to repair and restore the Orange Hall in such a short time brought smiles and wonderment on the evening of the Shuffle to those who’d last been there 50 or more years ago. To me, looking on and thinking hard about how important that evening was, it brought (well-concealed) tears of joy. The restoration of the Orange Hall is a huge step in the revitalization of our community.

But hey – that was almost five months ago! Things have happened since then!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Jamie and Tory went on to purchase the large empty lot that is immediately east of the Orange Hall. (That lot is much more empty since a shocking fire in 2012 destroyed a beautiful historic brick house that had been on it.) They also were able to buy the smallish 19th-century house that’s just to the east of the empty lot. Taken together, this will allow them to do a lot more with the Orange Hall, which came with only the land that it sits on and, as a result, no plumbing (because no land for a septic tank). With the empty lot added in, all that’s changed, and the possibilities for the building have opened up immensely. In addition, in very short order Jamie and Tory bought and spiffed up the little house next door to the empty lot, and now it’s as cute as all get out. And they brought in a gazebo for the lot in between! They (and we) have visions of concerts in summer evenings, kids’ activities, all kinds of fun community stuff on this centre-of-town property that they’ve brought back to life.

So what’s next in Queensborough? Well, in just a couple of week’s it’ll be Halloween, and I’ve already told you what a bang-up job Queensborough does on that front. On Oct. 27 – the Saturday before Halloween – the annual Family Halloween Party takes place at the Queensborough Community Centre. Again, I’ve told you about it previously in this space, but this event is getting bigger every year – thanks in part to so many young families having moved into the Greater Queensborough Area in the past few years. So many kids! So much potential for big fun at the QCC on the 27th! The Halloween Party has turned into one of the social events of the year, and you don’t want to miss it. Especially if you have kids.

Queensborough events

The draft – emphasis on draft! – lineup of events for 2019, as discussed at last week’s meeting of the Queensborough Community Centre committee (and marked up with my own scratchings). As you can see, we have a busy year ahead!

And then what? Well, I’m glad you asked. Just a few days ago Raymond and I were at the monthly meeting of the Queensborough Community Centre committee, of which we are both members. The main item on the agenda was planning events for 2019, and I think it’s fair to say it’s a heck of a lineup we’ve got. I mean, really (in chronological order, starting in January): a chili cookoff; our annual community potluck supper, which this year will also be a Games Night; hamburgers, hot dogs and homemade pie served up by the Black River during kayaking season in the early spring; the Earth Day trash bash, to clean up the roadways in and around Queensborough; an Easter egg hunt; the St. Andrew’s Ham Supper; the ever-popular Pancake Breakfast in May; a Queensborough-themed art show (Queensborough having been a mecca for artists for much of its history); a kids’ softball tournament; the annual children’s summer drop-in program at the community centre; a new fall harvest event, complete with fireworks and – get this – a street dance (!); the St. Andrew’s Turkey Supper; a followup to our hugely successful pie-making class, this time teaching pie newbies how to make a world-beating apple pie; the family Halloween party, of course; and Christmas carolling throughout Queensborough, to be followed by an evening of Christmas skits and other fun.

An ambitious lineup for a tiny hamlet? It sure is.

Can we pull it off? Of course we can! We are Queensborough – a place filled with community spirit and dedicated volunteers.

The only question that remains is: won’t you join us?

Watch this space, the local media, and the Facebook pages of the Queensborough Community Centre and St. Andrew’s United Church for details on each event. Please join us for as many of these events as you can; if you live here and can help out with some or all of them, please do!

So what’s happening in Queensborough?

I feel like my old standby answer, “Lots!” is no longer sufficient. We’ve moved past that.

What’s happening in Queensborough? More than ever!

Summer memories made in Queensborough

Painting at QCC 3

Look at these amazing (and very intent) young artists! They were taking a lesson from local artist Linda Myrie at the Queensborough Community Centre‘s summer drop-in program. Read on to see a photo of their finished artworks.

As I write this post, the summer of 2018 is fading into memory. It is Labour Day evening, and all over Queensborough and everywhere else, children are being put to bed in good time so they can be awake early to catch the bus on the first day of school. I’m willing to bet that every single one of them has a little knot of nervousness in their stomach, perhaps enough to keep them awake for a bit. They’re wondering what the school year has in store for them. What will their teacher be like? Will the classes be hard? Will all their friends from last year still be around? By the time they jump off the bus tomorrow afternoon, at the end of Day 1, they’ll be happy and relaxed and feeling comfortable about it all. But this evening? This evening, they’re a little bit anxious about what lies ahead. And you know what? Their teachers are feeling exactly the same way. I can say that because I’m a teacher – and I’m already fretting about the close-to-sleepless night I’ll probably have, thinking about what tomorrow has in store.

Before the end of this last day of summer – not officially, but the start of school always makes you feel that summer’s over –  I’d like to tell you about a fantastic thing that happens every summer here in Queensborough. And it’s all about kids.

Summer drop-in schedule

The flyer that went out to Queensborough-area households in June, letting them know about the summer drop-in program. Pretty great lineup of activities for kids, isn’t it?

For more than 10 years, volunteers with the Queensborough Community Centre Committee have operated a children’s summer drop-in program. It takes place Tuesday and Thursday afternoons throughout July, and kids can attend a single session or the whole shebang at an extremely modest cost: $15 per child for all eight sessions, with a maximum of $30 per family no matter how many kids they have; or $5 per single session.

The drop-in program was the brainchild of tireless Queensborough volunteer Elaine Kapusta, who spent her professional life in education as a teacher and principal and thus brought a world of knowledge and ideas to the proceedings. But over the years more and more of the heavy lifting has been taken on by other volunteers from the community – including young people who started at the drop-in centre as wee kids!

Raymond and I are often travelling in July, and thus in the years since we moved to Queensborough I haven’t had much of a chance to check out the summer program. But our vacation schedule was a bit different this year, and so one bright afternoon in mid July, I headed up to the community centre to have a first-hand look.

The community centre – our hamlet’s historic former one-room school – was a happy blur of noise and bustle when I walked through the door. The activity that day was painting; a long table had been set up, and on both sides of it, kids were ranged in front of miniature easels, working away at their canvases. Some of the younger ones were at separate smaller tables, where their parents, other adult volunteers and the drop-in centre’s tween- and teenaged counsellors and counsellors in training were helping them. Leading the proceedings was Tweed artist Linda Myrie, one of an impressive array of visiting presenters for the program. Everybody was having a good time – and here are the results!

The kids with their paintings

Good work, guys! Queensborough drop-in program participants with their paintings. Photo courtesy of the Queensborough Community Centre Committee

I was impressed with a whole bunch of things during my visit:

  • How many kids there were. The place was full.
  • How focused they were on their painting activity.
  • How well-organized everything was – everything from painting materials to snacks was on hand as needed, and volunteers would appear whenever one of the young artists needed a bit of help or encouragement.
  • How much fun everyone was having!

This is just a wonderful setup for the kids in our community – and not just the littler ones who come for the fun. It also provides paid summer jobs to the counsellors – most of whom are “graduates” of the drop-in program – and, for the counsellors in training, experience that may well lead to that paid summer job in future years. Here are the 2018 crop:

Drop-in counsellors and counsellors in training

This year’s drop-in program counsellors and counsellors in training were (from left) Kira Davidson, Bradon Shaffer, Evelyn Stephens and Brook Gylytiuk. Photo courtesy of Elaine Kapusta

There was a day very early in the summer when I was out on the front porch of the Manse working on something or other, and I suddenly realized that there’d been a steady stream of early-teen kids going by on their bikes or on foot – about one every 20 minutes or so. What was up? I wondered. And then I realized: they were going to their interviews for counsellor positions at the drop-in program. What a terrific experience for these kids!

The budget for the drop-in program is not huge. The money to operate it comes from generous donations from community organizations – the Tweed Festival of Trees, the Madoc and Tweed Kiwanis Clubs, and the volunteer-run Madoc thrift shop, which raises money for a host of community causes – as well as from individuals. Meanwhile, it’s the hard work of dedicated volunteers – Joan Sims, Stephanie Flieler, Lisa Whalen and Jamie Gordon – that keeps it all running.

Thanks to the Queensborough Community Centre’s Facebook page, I can show you a few other photos of the fun that the kids had at this year’s drop-in program. There was first-aid-training day…

First aid at drop-in program First aid 2

… and a visit from some wild creatures that belong to Tyrannosaurus Pets in Belleville…

Giant snake at drop-in program

hedgehog at QCCJoanie with the giant snake
Meeting a varmint

And perhaps best of all, the traditional Water Day that concludes the summer drop-in program – a day for the kids to get outside in their swimsuits and, thanks to water balloons and water everywhere, get really, really wet:

water day 1

water day 2

Here’s what one parent posted on the QCC Facebook page the day Water Day was announced there:

Noah has been talking about it all morning!!! Woke up to his smile and “Is it camp day?” this morning. You have all been doing such a great job with this program! Thank you!

I’m sure that this mum was speaking for all parents of the kids who were able to enjoy the drop-in program this summer, and in summers past. It makes me so proud to know that, thanks to an inspired idea by Elaine and so much dedication by her and the other volunteers through the years, our tiny hamlet is able to offer this marvellous experience to our children.

As we bid farewell to summer 2018, I know that a whole bunch of Queensborough children and teenagers are eagerly awaiting the drop-in program of 2019. Way to go, Queensborough!

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!

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.