How the news gets around

Simple and effective: a sign at the centre of town gets the word out that volunteers are needed for a bee cleaning out brush by the river, to make way for a new park.

As I was reading in the shade on the Manse lawn around lunchtime the other day, my old friend and neighbour Graham Gough wheeled in to say hello. We had a good old chinwag about area schools (Graham is a teacher), how his mum and dad are doing, and of course the local news. Which included the fact that Graham’s next-door neighbour had been taken away by ambulance the previous evening; Graham had not yet heard what the upshot was, but of course was worried.

And that’s how news gets around in a tiny place: person to person.

That evening as Raymond and I were heading out of town, we stopped by the home of John and Anne Barry because I had some lawn-mowing business to discuss with John. Anne was out front chatting with another Queensborough resident who had stopped by on her way back into town after being away for the day. It turned out the visitor was the sister-in-law of the man who’d been taken to hospital, so I of course asked if either of them knew how he was doing. I learned that he had suffered a fall, but it didn’t sound like things were at all dire, so that was good. But I found it interesting that neither of the women even questioned how I would have acquired this very recent information. It seems like it’s just taken for granted that people will know and take an interest in what’s happening in town, and care about the well-being of their neighbours.

Graham’s visit with the news about a neighbour’s health situation made me think of the old days when my father was the minister and our family lived in the Manse. You never knew who might come and knock on the door with news. And all kinds of news came in that door, believe me: sometimes happy news, but more often it was an unfortunate – or even tragic – situation where the minister’s help was needed. Someone had had a heart attack; someone had died; someone had committed suicide. (Pretty much the worst.) A hunter had not returned from the bush, and his wife was sick with worry. (Dad went out to help with the search, and the man was eventually found safe and sound.)

The news in Queensborough pretty much has to travel by word of mouth. Obviously there is no newspaper dedicated to such a tiny community (and if there were, it would probably be a monthly at best). Elaine Kapusta, with a little bit of help from me, is working at getting a Queensborough website up and running, but that will take some time and I don’t know if it will necessarily be a conduit for news – though certainly we would want to post upcoming community events there.

So the word gets out via face-to-face conversations and phone calls, and the occasional sign posted around town. Like the “No Burning” (because of the extreme dry weather) sign that’s currently posted just west of town. It’s old-fashioned, but it gets the message across. Or quite often there will be a hand-lettered sign outside the Community Centre announcing yoga sessions, or a kids’ day camp. And then there’s the sign in the centre of town informing folks about (and inviting them to) a brush cleanup bee for the new riverside park. People might have chosen not to come and take part, but no one could say they didn’t know about it!

The tree stump is gone. Time for a new tree.

What the big old stump looked like as it was being cut down to size, and before the remains were ground into sawdust. It was right smack in the centre of the front of the front yard, and thus a bit of a blight on how the property as a whole looked. (Photo by Elaine Kapusta)

I made a very quick pass through Queensborough yesterday on my way home to Montreal from the family farm up in Haliburton County. I wanted to check in on the Manse, and besides, the Queensborough variation on the long route from Gelert, Ont., to Montreal is as quick as any. I have to say the place was looking absolutely great. The gardens by the front verandah are flourishing (though I pulled out several overly healthy milkweed plants that I’d missed in my last round of weeding), and the lawn looks terrific, thanks to the care of our friend Johnny Barry. Johnny had also cut and cleared away a lot of brush from the back yard. And best of all was that he had undertaken the very big job of taking away all the sawdust that was left when the great big stump (all that was left of a lovely maple tree that once graced the front yard) was recently ground up. (You can see a video showing the grinding process, with a cameo by Johnny on his riding mower at the end, in my post here.) Johnny told me it had taken three trips to get rid of all the sawdust.

I had expected to see a great big hole in the ground where the stump (and later the sawdust) had been. Instead I was surprised and delighted to see that the ground was all smoothed over, with a bunch of topsoil added, and had even been seeded with grass seed. Johnny’s work again! We are so happy to have him looking after this sort of stuff on the property.

The smoothed-over site of where the stump was. All the sawdust was carted off by our neighbour and friend Johnny Barry, who also had topsoil put in to fill the hole. And he put grass seed in, so soon it should look like the rest of the lawn. Fine work!

So this coming weekend when we’re in Queensborough, our prime mission will be to buy a new maple tree, the biggest one we can afford (because, as my brother John says, we don’t have forever to wait for it to grow), and arrange to have it planted. Even so, neither Raymond nor I will live long enough to see it grow into the size that the old maple was in my childhood. But it will be a good feeling to know that it will happen, and that we will have brought it about. And you can be sure that our new tree will get a great deal of love and care as long as we are there to love and care for it.

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A classic Queensborough moment

Step 1 in the process of getting rid of the large maple-tree stump that was front and centre in the front yard of the Manse: using a special chainsaw with an extra-long blade to cut it down as close to ground level as possible. (Photo by Elaine Kapusta)

The exciting news is that the stump of the long-dead (and much-mourned) maple tree that was the best thing about the front yard of the Manse back in the day is that it is no more. Gone. I have already reported on how the plan was to chainsaw it down to as close to ground level as possible, after which the stump-removers would come in and grind the remains away. (This was all very kindly and helpfully arranged for us by our friends Elaine and Lud, who had some tree stumps of their own to deal with; we got a package deal.)

(And by the way, the very important next step is to plant a new maple tree in its stead, so that as soon as possible we will again have a beautiful tree in the front yard.)

Where once there was a stump, now just a huge pile of sawdust. (Photo by Elaine Kapusta)

The final part of the deed was done yesterday, and last night Elaine sent photos of the stump-grinding in action, which really is something: a remote-controlled operation that results in a whole lot of sawdust where a stump once stood.

Elaine also sent us a short video, which is cool in that it shows the remote-control unit that gets rid of the stump, but also in that it has some great colour commentary and good fun in it: stump-grinding going on, neighbours watching, and our excellent friend Johnny Barry, who has been so great about looking after the lawn and the grounds for us, making a surprise appearance at the end. Everyone having fun, and all for a good cause: that’s the way we do things in Queensborough. Here’s the video; enjoy!

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.