Tree identification: not my strong point

We just acquired these Audubon field guides (thanks to an Christmas gift card from my mum) to help us identify the birds and trees at and around the Manse. I think I’d better start studying the one on the right sooner rather than later.

Okay, before we go any further, I must (with some chagrin) correct myself. Faithful readers might recall that a few days ago I did a post about a big old maple tree in the back yard of the Manse that had gone from looking like “The Tree of Death” (as Raymond christened it in the very early spring) to a gloriously verdant very-much-alive (though still very old) thing. I said in the post that I think the tree looks like an old lady all dressed up and dancing, having the time of her life.

I still think that. But I stand corrected on one thing: that tree is not, repeat not, a maple.

I wrote the post in Montreal, relying on this photo and my memory (and assumptions, evidently). When we were back in Queensborough this past weekend, one of the first things Raymond did on a very sunny and beautiful Saturday morning was lead me round to the back yard and point out close up the error of my ways vis-à-vis what kind of tree the Old Dancing Lady is.

Not that either of us has figured out what it actually is, you understand – just that it’s not a maple.

I will have to start studying our new Audubon Field Guide to Trees. Either that or go the easy route and just ask someone who knows. Ed, are you listening?

The ash tree

The ash tree. We thought it was dead, but it is very much alive. Lovely.

There are trees all around our property of about half an acre in Queensborough. Beautiful trees. Unfortunately, most of the nicest ones are not on our property; they are immediately adjacent. We get the benefit of the proximity of these trees, but we can’t claim them as our own. Such is the case with the Tree of Life across the street (my post about it, complete with awesome photo by Raymond, is here) and two huge and beautiful evergreen trees in the southwest corner of the place – just over the fence line. Early in the spring I was feeling rather blue about the fact that the trees on the adjacent properties were nicer than the ones we have on our own. I was particularly glum about one of our own trees, due south of the Manse, visible from the pantry window. It looked utterly dead through the winter, utterly dead in the early spring, utterly dead even in the late-mid-spring. We were sure we’d have to bring in the tree removers to cut it down and take it away.

But it is alive! When we were at the Manse a week and a half ago, its branches were covered in small green shoots. Yes, there are some dead branches that will have to be cut away, but this tree is very much with us.

Our wise-to-Nature neighbour, friend and Manse-watcher Ed Couperus dropped by on our last visit and helped us identify all manner of plants in the small perennial garden at the front of the house – and also the trees. When we expressed our wonderment at the tree we had been convinced was a goner, Ed explained (in his laconic way): “It’s an ash. They’re the last to bloom in the spring.”

We have much to learn. can expect an order soon for the Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Trees – Eastern Region.

Meanwhile, I’m just happy about how beautiful our ash tree is. Our ash tree that is alive.

People are so nice.

Where recently an unsightly pile of rotten old logs stood, beside the Manse’s freestanding (and rudimentary) garage, there’s now a clear and nicely raked spot, thanks to our excellent neighbour Johnny Barry. We have such good neighbours!

Neighbours in Queensborough have been wonderful about offering help if needed. So many people have stopped by the Manse when they’ve seen us there, introducing themselves if they’re someone we don’t know, or – in the case of people I knew, or sort of knew, when I lived there long ago – reintroducing themselves. And pretty much everyone has said, “And if you ever need anything…” Which is really nice – especially in a village that’s a 15-minute drive from any stores, which would be most inconvenient if you were in the middle of a recipe and realized you’d run out of eggs or butter. It seems like it’s the kind of place where people really do borrow (and happily lend, if needed) a cup of sugar.

Help has come in other forms too. Of course there’s our friend and neighbour whom I’ve mentioned often, Ed Couperus, who keeps an eye on the house for us and knows what to do should anything be amiss. Ed is just fantastic. And then there are our neighbours Chuck and Ruth Steele, who live in the house that Lois and Carl Gordon once lived in and that was once the manse for the village’s Anglican Church. They have been so gracious, and Chuck has offered his help in liaising with a neighbour, and putting his chainsaw into service, in regard to a problem tree branch that’s leaning on our clothesline and making it unusable.

A porchful of lawn-cleanup bags, which neighbours Penny and Mike very kindly hauled away for us.

And then there are Penny and Mike, whom Joan Mandzy introduced me to. They very kindly offered to take away all the bags of leaves, grass and twigs that I’d raked up in Round 1 of the Great Manse Lawn Cleanup. That saved us a great deal of trouble, and was so much appreciated.

And finally there’s our neighbour around the corner, Johnny Barry, who came one sunny day just as I was wondering what on earth I was going to do about getting the lawn cut regularly, and offered up his services and that of his riding mower. Couldn’t have come at a better time, and the lawn is now in good hands. And there was a bonus: I mentioned in conversation with Johnny at one point that we were trying to figure out how to get rid of a fairly sizeable pile of old and pretty rotten logs that was near the garage, probably the remainder of a tree that once stood on the property. Since we don’t have a pickup truck or a trailer (unlike all the sensible people in Queensborough), we didn’t have many options. When we arrived at the Manse this past Sunday for our very brief overnight visit, lo and behold the logs were all gone, and the area all nicely tidied up. In addition to the lawn having been mowed! And we could barely manage to get Johnny to take any money for it.

We have a whole bunch of great neighbours. We are very lucky in Queensborough – in very many ways.

The monumental task ahead

We’ve got comfortable chairs. We’ve got reading lights. We’ve got a rudimentary dining-room set, beds and bedding, and a coffee maker. The house is livable, in a bare-bones sort of way. But that’s not the end goal, is it? At some point we have to plunge in to a huge, messy and expensive renovation project. Yikes …

Perhaps it’s because it’s been a busy week and I’m pooped, but tonight I feel daunted thinking about what a vast amount of work needs to be done at the Manse. Essentially in our first visits we have focused on making the place comfortable (or at least as comfortable as possible under the spartan circumstances) so that when we (and, we hope, visitors) come in future, there are beds to sleep in and chairs to relax in and light and heat and – possibly most important of all – coffee. And toast.

So that busy work was all well and good. But it’s pretty much done now, and sometime soon we are going to have to face the fact that this house needs a major, major renovation. Walls and floors and ceiling tiles pulled out; new plumbing; new electrical work; maybe new ductwork; reconfiguration and repurposing of rooms; new appliances; paint; ceilings; floor refinishing; eavestrough repairs and replacements; a new roof on the front porch; transformation of the back porch (which is really a shed) into a screened-in porch; and I haven’t even touched on the possibility of new insulation, or more historically sympathetic windows, or the possible need to (yikes) replace the main roof. And there’s much, much more. It will take a lot of time, and a lot of money.

I suppose one just has to take it one step at a time, right? As our Queensborough friend and neighbour Ed Couperus – himself a very talented and experienced renovator – said to us the other day, we have to start with the basics: plumbing, electrical, ductwork. Everything else follows. But of course to do those three things properly, you have to have an overall plan, so that the new plumbing, electrical and ductwork fit into it. You need to know where you need plumbing, for example: where will the bathrooms be? Where will kitchen sinks be?

And once you start, it’s kind of hard to stop. One thing leads to another. And of course there are the unexpected problems (read: expenses) that crop up along the way.

Okay, now I’ve got myself worked up into a state of sheer terror. Someone please tell me that we will come out the other end of this renovation/restoration exercise with our sanity intact, and a nickel or two left to rub together!