Welcomed home from afar by bunnies and bats

Home from Scotland

The Saltire (Scotland’s national flag, showing the cross of St. Andrew) flew outside the Manse for a day as we celebrated our return home from a wonderful trip.

Hello, people! It’s been a long time since my last post. There’s a reason for that: I took a vacation! Raymond and I tore ourselves away from beautiful Queensborough for a few weeks and made a long-hoped-for visit to Scotland. It was absolutely marvellous, and at the risk of being one of those people who bores you to death with their travel photos, I’m going to share a few before I tell you my welcome-home-to Queensborough story. Here’s how we spent much of July:

Champagne cocktails, Grand Central Hotel

A good start to the adventure: champagne cocktails as we look out onto the main hall at Glasgow’s Central Station.

Eilean Donan

Eilean Donan, pretty much your classic Scottish castle – one of lots of castles we visited.

Robert the Bruce at Bannockburn

The statue of Robert the Bruce at the site of the Battle of Bannockburn, where he famously defeated the English in 1314. Of course we had to visit, especially since we live close to the Hastings County hamlet named for it.

Raymond and Greyfriars Bobby

Raymond with the statue of Greyfriars Bobby in Edinburgh. We were both touched by the story of the wee terrier who stood guard over his master’s grave for 14 years, until his own death.

Portree, Skye

The harbour of Portree, Isle of Skye.

Stairway inside the broch at Dun Carloway

The stairway inside a 2,000-year old broch (high-walled fortification) at Dun Carloway on the Isle of Lewis, Outer Hebrides.

Gardens, Balmoral

In the gardens at Balmoral Castle, where the Queen stays every August.

Raymond at the wheel of the Discovery

Raymond at the wheel of the Discovery, the ship used by Capt. Robert Scott (“Scott of the Antarctic”) on his 1901 expedition to Antarctica. The ship spent two years trapped in the ice there, but eventually made it home and is now moored in Dundee, where it was built.

Sheep in Barra

Sharing the single-lane roads with sheep on Barra, Outer Hebrides.

Drawing room, Royal Yacht Britannia

The state drawing room aboard the Royal Yacht Britannia, permanently docked in Leith, Edinburgh’s port. Love the midcentury furniture!

Isle of Harris, on the way to Lewis

The stunningly beautiful Isle of Harris, Outer Hebrides.

William Wallace monument

The gothic monument to William Wallace, better known (thanks to Mel Gibson) as Braveheart.

Breakfast menu, Ardhasaig House

Breakfast menu at the charming Ardhasaig House Hotel, Isle of Harris.

Raymond and the printing press

Raymond the journalist revisits his professional roots thanks to an 1860 printing press at the National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh.

Cuillin, Skye

The Cuillin peaks, Isle of Skye.

Edinburgh Castle from Princes Street

Edinburgh Castle from Princes Street on a very wet day indeed. We both bought raincoats.

Drummond Castle Gardens

Drummond Castle Gardens, Muthill, Perthshire.

The Lewis Chessmen, National Museum of Scotland

The Lewis Chessmen, carved in the 12th century and discovered in the 19th on a beach in Uig, Isle of Lewis. Their amazing story is told here.

Oban, Scotland

The pretty town of Oban, from which we set sail on a five-hour ferry ride to the Outer Hebrides.

As you can see, we had a pretty great time, learned a lot of Scottish history, and saw some of the most beautiful scenery imaginable. It was a wonderful trip.

And now, as promised, here’s my story about what happened when we got home to the Manse.

We pulled into the driveway just under 24 hours after we’d got up that morning in Edinburgh. Exhausted but hungry, we were sitting down to a plate of spaghetti topped with Raymond’s Famous homemade spaghetti sauce (always on hand in the freezer) when I happened to look out a front window.

“Look! A bunny!” I called out in delight. A wee brown bunny with storybook white cottontail had hoped into the front yard for a nibble on our grass.

A second later, it was joined by another one.

And then another one.

And then another one!

Four little bunnies! They only stayed a minute, then hopped away in a southerly direction. We’ve never before seen bunny visitors on our lawn. It felt like they’d come just to say welcome back to Queensborough.

(Though I did learn the next day that it’s a banner year for bunnies – I believe Eastern Cottontail is the proper name – in Ontario. Well, so much the better!)

A little later, as we were putting away dinner’s residue and outside darkness was beginning to fall (along with our eyelids), I glanced out the kitchen window. To my astonishment, I saw a bird that I am fairly sure was a bat zoom in the jerky way that bats do over the south section of the Manse yard. And then there was another. And another. Wow!

When I was growing up in this house, bats were part of every summer evening. As my siblings and I and the neighbourhood kids played softball or tag or hide and seek in the Manse’s front yard, there would always be bats swooping overhead. Aside from the scary (false) stories that some of the big kids would tell about them getting caught in your hair, we never gave them any mind. But ever since Raymond and I bought the Manse, I’ve been struck by the utter absence of the bats. Of course, it’s not just in Queensborough; thanks largely to something called white nose syndrome, brown bats are considered an at-risk species in Ontario. Which is bad news not just for the bats, but for humans who live in places (like Queensborough) where summertime means mosquitoes. Did you know that a single brown bat can eat up to a thousand mosquitoes an hour? (More amazing facts on bats here.)

For years I’ve been hoping for a bat sighting at the Manse. Unless my eyes deceived me, we got it on the very evening we returned from three astounding weeks away.

The bunnies and the bats are a long way from the castles, lochs and mountains of beautiful Scotland. But there couldn’t have been a better welcome-home gift.

There was no lawn on that lawn

I took this photo while walking home from work one recent evening. It’s the front lawn of an elementary school in our neighbourhood – a place where children play, and play hard, as was the Manse lawn back in the day. This is pretty much exactly what our front lawn looked like back then. My mother was not impressed.

This evening our little corner of Montreal was mightily enlivened by the sound of children cavorting in the alley behind our house. It has been a stinking-hot day here, and while I’m not much for air conditioning (I think it brings evil summer colds, and I hate freezing to death in the office all summer long), tonight’s one of those nights when those who have it are lucky. Obviously the large family in the house immediately across the alley from ours doesn’t, because when we arrived home from work the mum was using a garden hose to spray down her own children and quite a few of the neighbours’ besides. The kids were absolutely loving it, squealing and laughing as they ran through the cold stream of water and got thoroughly, thoroughly soaked. That mum was the most popular person on our alley tonight, let me tell you.

It reminded me of spring and summer and fall evenings long ago in Queensborough. Our house and big yard, plus the fact that there were four kids in residence, plus the fact that our father was always willing to try to fix a kid’s bike, and that our place was less, shall we say, fraught than some of the homes those kids came from, made the Manse a magnet for pretty much all of the neighbourhood youngsters. We would play baseball and tag, ride our bikes around, and laugh and shout and carry on until it was time to come in – a sign of that would be the bats swooping (harmlessly and, in their own way, rather beautifully) through the darkening evening air – and get ready for bed.

I have nothing but happy memories of those evenings rampaging around in the Manse yard with my siblings and so many other kids from around the village. But there was one side effect that mortified my mother: because of the constant activity, our lawn not-so-gradually became utterly bereft of grass. It was just one very big patch of dirt. A great playground, but not so great if you’re worried about the Manse Committee’s perception of how you’re keeping the place up.

Of course we kids couldn’t have cared less, and I don’t think it was much of a concern for Dad either. (Dad was not much for aesthetics, ever.)

The front lawn today. Back in about 1970, my mother would have thought she’d died and gone to heaven if she’d seen it. Instead, what confronted her when she looked out the front windows was a large patch of bare dirt.

And now it’s all academic, because the grass has grown back very nicely indeed. Helped by the fact that for some years there hasn’t been an entire village’s worth of kids playing on it every night of the week.

Which makes for a lovely, verdant lawn. But it’s maybe a little too quiet out there of a summer evening.