Also – the year of the mosquito.

mosquito1Remember how I announced in last night’s post that it seems to be the year of the bumblebee here at the Manse? Well, bumblebees are not the only flying insects in very large supply this year. Not to put too fine a point on it: the mosquitoes are insane.

Yes, I know it was just a very short while ago that I was complaining about blackflies. And indeed, they were terrible. But people, they came and went and are now only a distant memory. The mosquitoes, on the other hand, arrived at what to my mind was an unseasonably early juncture – while the blackflies were still with us, making outdoor life a double misery. And they arrived in large numbers. And they show every sign of planning to stay for while. I hate mosquitoes, as I suppose does everyone. Raymond really hates them, as he does basically all bugs but especially those that sting and bite.

But here we are, out in rural Ontario in the middle of what looks to be a banner year for mosquitoes. Got any coping tips, people?

And hey, do you suppose bumblebees eat mosquitoes?

A happy (and fragrant) surprise: a lilac bush grows at the Manse!

Lilacs at the Manse 1

My discovery this afternoon upon returning to the Manse after a couple of days in Montreal: lilacs!

If you live in Southern or Eastern Ontario – or, I suppose, in many other parts of eastern North America, and maybe some parts of the west too – you will know that the lilacs are just coming into bloom everywhere. And isn’t that a wonderful springtime event?

Also, if you happen to be a longtime reader of Meanwhile, at the Manse, you will know that I love lilacs, and have publicly pined (here and here and here, for instance; that last one has some good Al Purdy stuff in it, by the way) to have a lilac bush here at the Manse, as we did when I was a child growing up in this very same house.

In response to that public wistfulness on my part about the lack of lilacs, some good friends from this area have very kindly offered a cutting to transplant from their plenteous supply. It is an offer that we are definitely going to take them up on, though we are still pondering where might be the best place to plant the cutting.

But meanwhile, at the Manse (so to speak): we have just discovered that we already have a lilac bush!

Mind you, I had my suspicions last year. Raymond and I went through an extended period last spring when we had a lot of obligations in Montreal (where we then lived) and for several weeks straight weren’t able to spend any time in Queensborough. That was inadvertently clever on our part, because we managed to completely miss the blackfly season. But when we finally did get back here, I noticed what I thought were the end-of-season remains of some lilac blooms on a bush that is part of a lot of general bushiness under the old Manitoba maple in our back yard. I was far from sure, however, and given that whatever the blooms had been they were way past done for the year, I kind of forgot about it.

Lilacs at the Manse 2

I took this closeup photo partly so you could admire the deep purple colour of our lilac blooms, and partly so you would know (because of the corner of the Manse you can see in the background) that the lilac really is right here in our back yard. Yay!

But hey, one of the pleasures of living in a place full-time is that you discover things you don’t when you’re only an occasional visitor. And I have just discovered that, yes, we really do have a lilac bush at the Manse! Nestled under (and kind of hidden by) that weedy but venerable Manitoba maple; and tucked away in the back yard as opposed to blooming proudly and happily in front of the house, as the lilac bush of my childhood did; and not very big and probably in need of pruning or transplanting or some such attention – but nevertheless, a lilac bush of our own! And the blooms smell just as lovely as one would hope.

So that is a happy spring surprise at the Manse. I am very proud of my newly discovered lilac bush, and will do all I can to ensure that it flourishes. And if we can add more lilacs thanks to our friends, well – the property will be the better for it. Because lilacs kind of define spring, don’t they?

The great outdoors, full of blackflies

Gardening in the bug jacket

This is me, weeding the Manse’s flower garden and dressed to kill in Raymond’s bug jacket. It looks pretty ridiculous, but it saved me from the blackflies. (Photo by Raymond Brassard)

Longtime readers might remember that in the first spring that Raymond and I were owners of the Manse, back in 2012, I wondered whether the blackflies would be as bad as people told us they would be. In response to that post I got no end of comments assuring us they would. And while I had no reason to doubt those assurances, Raymond and I somehow managed (through sheer dumb luck) to schedule what were then only weekend visits to Queensborough so that we by and large missed the blackflies, not only that year but also last year.

Ah, but all that has changed this spring, because now we live here in Queensborough full-time, and not in Montreal. Now we get the not-so-delightful opportunity of experiencing the blackflies full-on. And man oh man, it is something.

As I‘ve reported before, Raymond is a) allergic to blackfly bites (in that they swell up and are generally a lot more bothersome for him than they are for most people); and b) incredibly attractive to biting insects of all sorts. (I am sure it is because he is so sweet.) So let’s just say he has not been spending a lot of time out of doors of late.

But there’s work to be done on the Manse’s lawn and gardens, and somebody has to do it. And since I generally rather like that kind of exercise, and was initially labouring under the delusion that the blackflies couldn’t be all that bad (could they?), I took it on. My illusions were utterly shattered on a warm afternoon a couple of weeks ago, when I raked up the last of the winter debris from the back yard – my head surrounded by a black cloud of blackflies the entire time. It was horrible! Good lord, you expend as much energy trying (in utter futility) to wave the bugs away as you do actually doing the work you’re there for!

I dove into the swarm again today when I undertook some overdue weeding of the front-yard flower garden. Of course they found me within five minutes – and I realized that I was going to have to cave, that I couldn’t do the work unprotected. A few days ago, Raymond had bought a bug jacket at the Madoc Farm Supply store – a one-piece black mesh thingy that covers your head, arms and the top half of your body. And even though it’s size XL and I’m not, I threw it on. My head was still surrounded by clouds of blackflies – and, much as it pains me to say it, a few mosquitoes – but it gave me great pleasure that the little buggers couldn’t get at me:

Blackfly gear

Now, I’ve said before and I will say again that I am certain the blackflies weren’t this bad in Queensborough when I was a kid growing up here at the Manse. People around here scoff at that notion, saying basically ’twas ever thus when it comes to blackflies. But the last time I spent a spring in Queensborough (before now) was 39 years ago, and 39 years is a long time. It seems to me that if people have been enduring blackflies like this for, say, 35  years, or even 25, it might seem like forever. (I can see why it would.) But my mum and other members of my family back me up on my contention that blackflies were not such a pestilence then. They were – as they are still – up at the Sedgwick family’s ancestral farm in Haliburton County, which is a fair way north of here. But (in our collective recollection) not so much here. And I have heard other people say that blackflies (in monster quantities, not just a few flying around) have moved further south than they used to be. Could that be because of climate change? It is maybe because there are no longer lots of bats flying around Queensborough (as there were in springtime in my childhood here) to eat them up? Is it because Queensborough is less populated and busy than it once was?

People, I don’t know what’s going on. What I do know is this: the Madoc Farm Supply can probably expect to make a sale of a size-small bug jacket in the fairly near future.

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?!?!?”

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:

This just in from Raymond: “I’m allergic to blackflies.”

This is what Raymond won't be doing this coming weekend: outdoors work in the Manse's yard. But he sure worked hard during our big cleanup the last time we were there, which is when I took this photo.

This is what Raymond won’t be doing (because of the blackflies) this coming weekend: outdoors work in the Manse’s yard. But he sure worked hard during our big cleanup the last time we were there, which is when I took this photo.

Tonight I was going to leave off the blackfly theme of the past two posts (here and here) and write about – well, you’ll have to wait for another day to find out.

Oh, all right. Hasenpfeffer.

But I’m putting the Hasenpfeffer on hold because I have breaking news to share. I have just learned something from Raymond that keeps the blackflies-at-the-Manse saga alive. He is – wait for it – allergic to them.

As he just announced (rather offhandedly, actually) to me a few minutes ago while he was watching Jerry Remy and Don Orsillo report the Boston Red SoxTampa Bay Rays game (Red Sox 8, Rays 2) on his iPad.

To which I said: WHAT?!?!?!?!?

Because contrary to my hopes that the cold spell would have knocked this year’s blackfly crop out, and my (possibly delusional) insistence that the blackflies in Queensborough have never been all that bad anyway, there seems to be some pretty solid evidence (see comments here and here) that the blackflies are not only out, but out in force, at the moment. This very evening our Queensborough friend Marykay reported that she was outside watering her plants, “not in my Darth Vader gear [protective hats and other stuff] and they are terrible!!!”

It was when I was reading aloud that rather alarming comment to Raymond a few minutes ago that he casually informed me that he is allergic to blackflies. Good lord.

Regular readers will know that the reason Raymond and I have been waging fierce battle against wasps at the Manse is that he is allergic to them, too. Deathly allergic, basically; a wasp sting means he must get to the ER very, very quickly. (Needless to say, EpiPens are at the ready when we are in Queensborough. And this potentially fatal allergy is another reason why I think there should be a hospital emergency room in central Hastings County.)

But until about the third inning tonight I was blissfully unaware that he is allergic to blackflies too. And this as we’re about to spend the Victoria Day long weekend in what people in Queensborough seem to be suggesting is Blackfly Central!

Fortunately, Raymond’s blackfly allergy is nowhere near as severe as his wasp allergy. Blackfly bites make him puff up a lot, that’s all – he says. But still, this is going to mean there won’t be a lot of outdoors time for Raymond this weekend.

Especially because he is the biggest bug magnet I have ever seen. He and I can be sitting outdoors for half an hour and I won’t even have noticed that there are bugs – blackflies or mosquitoes or whatever – and will be utterly unscathed. And Raymond will have bites all over.

That’s what it is to be sweet, I guess.

Okay, now I’m worried about the blackflies.

Part of the lineup of clothing and accessories from Lee Valley to protect a person from blackflies. Let me put it this way: if I find myself needing something like that, it's time for a drive into town for some indoor shopping!

Part of the lineup of clothing and accessories from Lee Valley (leevalley.com) to protect a person from blackflies. Let me put it this way: if I find myself needing something like that, it’s time for a drive into town for some indoor shopping! (And not for bug clothes either. Books, maybe. Or, I don’t know … hassocks!)

Worried about the blackflies? Well, not really worried worried. I mean, they aren’t exactly life-threatening. But the comments in response to my post last night, wherein I inquired whether Raymond and I should expect blackflies in bothersome quantities when we’re at the Manse this long weekend, suggest I was hallucinating when I said that I don’t remember blackflies being any kind of a springtime problem in the years when I was growing up in Queensborough.

Our friend Dave even emailed me a link to the bug clothing sold at Lee Valley. Now that’s enough to make a person worry!

You see, despite my best efforts not to be a “cidiot” (or is it “citiot”?) – a classic term that I learned from one of our North of [Highway] 7 friends – I have lived in cities and towns of some size for quite a few years. I have got used to living bug-free, or pretty close to it, in spring and summer.

I am beginning to think I have grown soft when it comes to bugs.

Mind you, I am not worried about the summertime mosquitoes. As I explained to my friend Graham in response to his comment mentioning them, the mosquitoes in Queensborough can’t possibly compare with the ones up in Haliburton County, where my family has a farm. And I can still handle those mosquitoes even after my years of city living, though it involves tactics like not spending much time outdoors in the evenings, keeping the lights off in the house as much as possible, staying clear of the woods, and for the love of God keeping a fan on in one’s bedroom at night. (It is astounding how much wreckage one lone mosquito in one’s bedroom can do to a night’s sleep. The fan drowns out the noise and blows them away.)

But blackflies in any quantity are something I’ve lost skill to deal with or tolerance for, if indeed I ever had that skill and tolerance. One handy thing is that blackflies (unlike mosquitoes) are a strictly outdoor phenomenon, so maybe that just means less yard work and so on until the blackfly season passes.

Or maybe we will be pleasantly surprised to find that the blackflies steer clear of the Manse property!

Yeah, right.