“Lovely as a tree.”

Manse looking southwest 16 Oct 2017

Here at the Manse, we are so fortunate to be surrounded by a variety of trees, both on our own and our immediate neighbours’ properties.

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree…

You all know that one, I’m sure – or at least some version of the first two lines. It came into my head this evening as I was downloading photos of the trees here at the Manse. The autumn foliage in the Queensborough area has in general been less than spectacular this year – probably due to the cool, wet summer and then the sudden burst of extreme heat just around the time the leaves had started to turn – but in the closing days of the foliage season some trees are looking pretty great. And one of these, I am happy to report, is the maple tree that Raymond and I proudly planted a few months after we bought the Manse 5½ years ago.

It’s funny to go back and look at the photos of that planting day in November 2012, to see how scrawny our maple was then – even though we’d taken the advice of my brother, John, and bought the biggest and fastest-growing one we could afford because, you know, none of us is getting any younger and it would be nice to see it turn into a tree of some size in our lifetimes. Here’s the view of our tree from the front porch of the Manse that grey late-fall day:

The maple on the day it was planted

Day 1 of our newly planted maple tree. It didn’t look like much then!

And here’s the same view (a little zoomed in on the tree) from this bright fall afternoon:

Autumn Blaze maple with the Tree of Life in background

Our beautiful maple tree (with the equally beautiful Tree of Life behind it to the right, across the street).

As you can see, our maple tree has grown and flourished. And the fact that it’s a variety called Autumn Blaze means that it looks spectacular come September and October – more so, I think, this year than in any of its autumns past.

So yes, poems may be lovely – but can they ever be as beautiful as a tree? That’s the question American poet Joyce Kilmer (“Joyce” in his case being a male name) asked (and answered in the negative) in his poem published in 1913 and memorized by countless schoolchildren since.

In reading here about the history of the poem – which is simply called Trees – I learned that Kilmer was inspired by the view from the window of his writing room in his family’s home in rural New Jersey. His son, Kenton, recalled many years later that their “well-wooded lawn” contained “trees of many kinds, from mature trees to thin saplings: oaks, maples, black and white birches, and I do not know what else.” Kenton Kilmer also said: “Dad never meant his poem to apply to one particular tree, or to the trees of any special region. Just any trees or all trees that might be rained on or snowed on, and that would be suitable nesting places for robins. I guess they’d have to have upward-reaching branches, too, for the line about ‘lifting leafy arms to pray.’ Rule out weeping willows.”

That description of the Kilmers’ “well-wooded lawn” reminded me of what Raymond and I are fortunate enough to enjoy here at the Manse. As you can see from the photo at the top of this post, which I also took this afternoon, not only do we have our maple but also the elm tree that we planted post-Manse purchase (it’s in the right foreground of the photo; it’s lost almost all its leaves now, but has also grown and flourished beautifully in the five years since it was planted), as well as huge yet-to-be-identified (by me, at least) evergreens at the rear of the property (actually in our neighbour-to-the-west Julie’s yard, but we can enjoy their beauty too) and a beautiful birch (behind Raymond’s red truck) and quite a few colourful deciduous trees on the property of our neighbours to the south, Brian and Sylvia.

And on the right of my photo you can just catch a glimpse of the branches of the two huge evergreen trees that fill out the northeastern section of the Manse property, and that tower over the house. Here’s a summertime photo I took of them when I wrote a few years ago about my (probably needless) worry about their proximity to the Manse:

Very large trees very close to the Manse

The two huge spruce trees – Norway spruce, I believe – that tower over the northeast corner of the Manse.

These two trees – which I once identified as red spruce, but which I believe are actually Norway spruce – are making their presence felt in a very different way than our Autumn Blaze maple this season. Like every other coniferous tree in our area this year, they have produced cones like it was nobody’s business. (Rather like the apple trees – another kind we’re lucky enough to have on our property – were drooping with their bumper apple crop last year.) The spruce trees are absolutely loaded with cones, as you can see in this photo:

Lots of cones on those trees

And better still in this closeup:

Cones closeup

And you can probably figure out what this means for us down below:

Cones on the ground

Yes indeed: a lot of cone-picking. This is how our lawn looks after two clean sweeps of the cones have already been made this season. And there are still hundreds left to fall!

But despite our trees sometimes being work – as in picking up many lawn bags’ worth of cones, not to mention fallen leaves – I have to say I am always appreciative of their beauty, and of how much they contribute to our lives and landscape. Like Joyce Kilmer, I love living in the midst of a “well-wooded lawn.” Would I swap poems for trees? Let’s just say I’m happy I don’t have to. Here’s Joyce Kilmer’s sweet little poem in full.


I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

– Joyce Kilmer

Beautiful irises, and they are ours, all ours!

Manse garden, a spring Saturday with iris

The first iris of the season, on the first morning it bloomed. I took the photo early last Saturday, a stunningly beautiful spring day. I am proud to note that the photo kind of shows off the rest of the garden too. (Not to mention the Tim Horton’s cup on the arm of the Adirondack chair in the background. Did I mention that it was early?)

This evening as I was watering our young maple tree and elm tree, and my recently planted phlox, a neighbour stopped by and complimented me on our flower gardens. And you know, I just beamed with pride. Because I am proud of the Manse’s perennial gardens. I can take no credit whatsoever for them being there; that praise goes to the green-thumbed parishioners of St. Andrew’s United Church who took charge of the gardens back when the Manse still belonged to the church. (That is, before Raymond and I bought it in January 2012.) But now that we live here full-time, I’ve given over as much time as I can find to weeding and looking after the gardens, and they are looking nice, if I do say so myself. (Well, actually, my neighbour said so too. So there.)

And so this evening, because I am feeling chuffed about the gardens, I give you some photos of the irises. Our very own irises! The first one bloomed early last Saturday morning, and you can see it in the photo at the top of this post. But more have come since; here’s a photo I took just this evening of the latest arrivals:

More Manse irises

And of course it’s not just about the irises. Our herb garden is looking very healthy, and those newly planted phlox are coming along nicely. And did I mention that I have plans to plant peonies? Meanwhile, Raymond is busy laying in the bags of black earth and sheep manure to help things along.

This gardening thing kind of grows on you, doesn’t it?

Overnight dandelions. And mushrooms. Things grow so fast!

Mushroom crop 2014

Quite the collection of mushrooms, wouldn’t you say? But here’s the crazy thing: these mushrooms appeared from out of nowhere overnight – and I am not making this up.

“Well,” I said to Raymond one evening this past week as we returned home to the Manse from a stroll: “It seems we don’t have a mushroom crop this year.”

(Because last year we had a mushroom crop on the Manse’s front lawn right where the big old maple tree used to stand in my childhood here – the mushrooms emanating, no doubt, from the fungus-y roots of the remains of that old maple after its stump had been cut down and removed.)

Ha! Guess what showed up the very next morning? Of course you have guessed it: a new mushroom crop! Overnight! How does that happen?

And in other overnight news: this past Friday late afternoon/early evening I finished the last bit of raking up of winter leaves and debris from our yard. My final section was the northwest corner of the back yard, and I covered it completely, despite the distraction of being surrounded by a cloud of blackflies for the entire time. So when I was finished, about 7 p.m., I was pretty familiar with that patch of ground. Next morning, about 7 a.m., what do I see? In that same place? Why, a whole bunch of healthily blooming dandelions, where none had existed a mere 12 hours before:

The overnight dandelions

The dandelions that showed up Saturday morning, where none had existed on Friday night.

This spring thing is amazing. When I watch the perennials in our flower garden, it’s like time-lapse photography without the time lapse; they are growing before our eyes. But even by those standards, the overnight crop of mushrooms and dandelions was amazing.

You know, what with the interesting things that go on with the plants and the birds, I am pretty sure I could get used to this rural-living thing.

The Manse’s mushroom crop is flourishing.

I would say those mushrooms are thriving, wouldn't you? They adorn the front yard of our Manse. I think you probably should not eat them. (Photo courtesy of Sally Gale)

I would say those mushrooms are thriving, wouldn’t you? They adorn the front yard of our Manse. I think you probably should not eat them. (Photo courtesy of Sally Gale)

Thanks to Sally Gale of Queensborough for sending us this rather startling photo of the Manse mushrooms! It made me laugh out loud.

Raymond and I first discovered our inadvertent new crop on our last visit to the Manse, and I did a post about it here. It seems the rotting remains of the old maple-tree stump below the surface are encouraging the growth of fungi. And boy, are they ever growing! To the point when friends passing by on a walk to the playground at the Queensborough Community Centre are moved to take photos!

Do you suppose there’s a category in the produce competition at the Madoc Fair for front-yard mushrooms? Maybe we could win a first-place ribbon!

“Just adding to the story…”

A snapshot my brother John took of a great photograph that he is lucky enough to own, a picture by well-known Canadian photographer Simeon Posen of: the Manse!

A snapshot my brother John took of a great photograph that he is lucky enough to own, a picture by well-known Canadian photographer Simeon Posen of: the Manse!

I received a nice Easter gift today from my brother John. It was a snapshot he had taken of a photograph, an artwork that he has owned for several years and that features none other than: the Manse! The photograph is by well-regarded Canadian landscape and architectural photographer Simeon Posen, whose biography and gorgeous portfolio you can see here.

John acquired the picture more than a decade ago, when it was in a show at Toronto’s very famous Jane Corkin Gallery (now called the Corkin Gallery), a pre-eminent place in the photography world. I don’t know if the photograph had or has a name, but John wouldn’t have needed a name to recognize what the picture was the instant he first saw it at the gallery; it is, after all, the house he grew up in. (How Simeon Posen happened to find little Queensborough and the Manse is anybody’s guess.) And now John owns it. And I knew that, and have admired – and yes, I’ll admit it, coveted – the photograph every time I have seen it at John’s house.

(One thing that makes me love the photo is the evidence it gives – thanks to the large shadow in the foreground – of the huge and beautiful maple tree that adorned the front yard in our childhood days but decayed and died and was cut down several years ago. You can read here about how Raymond and I got rid of the carcass, and here about the new maple tree we planted in its place.)

Anyway, yes, technically I knew that this very interesting and close-to-home piece of art existed, but in the general hustle-verging-on-frenzy of this past Manse-owning year had quite forgotten about it.

So what a pleasant surprise as I was waiting for the 80 bus home from work here in Montreal this evening to get a text from John with his picture of the picture, and a brief message saying “Just adding to the story.”

It is such a good story, is it not?

Will this be the year that the renovation gets started?

Is that not a handsome Manse? The house looking its best, May 2012.

Is that not a handsome Manse? The house looking its best, May 2012.

Welcome to Meanwhile, at the Manse’s first anniversary!

Growing up at the Manse: Dad (Wendell), Mum (Lorna) and left to right me, Melanie, John and Ken.

Growing up at the Manse: Dad (Wendell), Mum (Lorna) and, from left, me, Melanie, John and Ken, circa 1967.

I began this blog a year ago today, the day that my husband, Raymond, and I became the owners of the former United Church manse in tiny Queensborough, Ont., north of Highway 7 and on the edge of the Canadian Shield. It is the house in which I spent what I consider the formative years of my life – from age 4 to age 15 – because my father, The Rev. Wendell Sedgwick, was the minister of the United Church of Canada‘s Queensborough Pastoral Charge and the job came with, well, a manse to live and raise your young family in. You can read my very first post, explaining the whole thing, here.

And if you read the “About” post at the top of this page, you’ll see that Raymond and I had great visions of getting the interior renovation/restoration that the Manse needs under way. One year later, what have we accomplished? Not so much.

Will this be the year?

Raymond with our new clothesline, put in by our friend and neighbour Ed.

Raymond with our new clothesline, put in by our friend and neighbour Ed Couperus.

Mind you, it’s not like we haven’t done any property improvements since January 2012. We have done something that we are very proud of, planted two trees – an elm and a maple. (And in the process removed the huge sad stump that was all that remained of the great big maple that shaded our front yard when I was a kid at the Manse.) We have had the rotted old clothesline post replaced and now have a brand new clothesline.

Newly painted red oil tank and new (to us) red truck.

Newly painted red oil tank (in the background) and matching new (to us) red truck.

We have done a lot of grounds cleanup, with help from our friend and neighbour John Barry. We’ve had the eavestroughs repaired, and installed ice guards on the roof. We have done a little bit of gardening. We have cleaned out the garage. We have pulled up old (dating from my childhood) carpeting. We have painted the oil tank bright red. And we have done battle with the ladybugs (indoors) and the wasps (outdoors and, sometimes, indoors – and Raymond is very allergic).

But we’ve also done a lot of just enjoying our quiet place in Queensborough, sitting out on the front porch in the nice weather and taking in the view and the birdsong. We’ve identified birds. We’ve cooked meals, both for ourselves and for a few visitors. We’ve taken lots of drives along the quiet country roads throughout the area, exploring places both familiar (to me, at least) and new. We’ve met lots of great people, and learned a lot about the history of – and current events in – our little neck of the woods.

We’ve been soaking it all in.

The other day Raymond and I were discussing what might be at the root of our not having got started on the renovation. (Aside, that is, from not having a spare couple of hundred thousand dollars.) The thing seems to be that everything is connected to everything else. For instance: the house needs electrical work: outlets are few, three-prong outlets even fewer, and there are some wonky switches. But it doesn’t make any sense to have an electrician go into the walls until we’ve made a decision on the insulation and the plaster. The insulation is: sawdust. Vintage (very), and funky, and environmentally friendly, and not inefficient. But is it really sufficient? It will have settled since it was installed when the house was built in 1888. Do we top it up with something? Do we remove and replace it? And if we remove and replace it, can we do that without trashing the original plaster walls, which I do not want to do? But are the original plaster walls in good enough shape to keep? Some are; some (now covered with wallpaper or panelling) may not be. But even if they’re not in good shape, should we replaster them or replace them with drywall? And – what was that about the electrical work again?

You see what I mean? It feels like it has to be a whole-house project, one thing at a time, and – very importantly – everything done in the right order. You can’t be going back and replacing insulation after you’ve got final interior wall finishes in place. Or, well, you can, but it’s stupid and it’s costly.

You know what it is? Intimidating.

It’s so much easier to just sit in the sunshine on the front porch watching Queensborough go by…

Back to the Manse – it’s been too long.

The Manse's dining room set up for a late dinner – which is what we hope to be enjoying, and where we hope to be enjoying it, just about exactly 24 hours from the moment I'm writing this.

The Manse’s dining room set up for a late dinner – which is what we hope to be enjoying, and where we hope to be enjoying it, just about exactly 24 hours from the moment I’m writing this. I know it looks pretty plain and ordinary to all of you (and those window blinds and curtains have really got to go, and don’t get me started on the wallpaper), but to us it will be a welcome sight.

It has been almost a month since Raymond and I were last at the Manse, the day our new maple tree was planted in the front yard. I think it may be the longest stretch between visits since we bought the house last January. I miss our Manse! But by late tomorrow night we will be back, and it will feel so nice (once we get the heat turned up and the water turned on) to be there.

Storytelling by the fireplace at a previous Christmas event at O'Hara Mill. That's our friend Grant Ketcheson telling a tale. (Photo from ohara-mill.org)

Storytelling by the fireplace at a previous Christmas event at O’Hara Mill. That’s our friend Grant Ketcheson telling a tale. (Photo from ohara-mill.org)

The main reason for our visit this weekend (aside from the fact that it’s high time to check in on the Manse) is that we are overdue for a visit to the O’Hara Mill just north of Madoc, and a Christmas event is being held there Friday, Saturday and Sunday – chestnuts roasting on an open fire, hot cider, and live music and storytelling in the setting of a pioneer log house lit by candles and oil lamps. Pretty nice, eh?

The warmer months are when the O’Hara Mill is really busy. It was already in operation as a conservation area and tourist attraction when I was a little kid growing up in Queensborough, and my siblings and I went on many a school trip there. But in the years since a group of dedicated volunteers has turned it into a much more impressive setup, with several pioneer buildings, a working sawmill, gardens and nature trails, all manner of artifacts (and interpreters to explain them) and many special events. You really have to admire what volunteers can do.

So the visit to the O’Hara Mill will be a highlight, but it will be so nice just to be back at the Manse for a bit. For peace and quiet and Queensborough. And hopefully no mice.

Goodbye and good riddance to the burn barrel

Still life with burn barrel: this is a closeup of the rusty old thing last summer, just after Mike Tregunna of the Tregunna Tree Farm had installed a nice stone cover over the Manse’s old well (at right), thus making it safe for humans to be around it (i.e. not fall in).

Surely you know what a burn barrel is! No? “Burn barrel” is not a turn of phrase that rolls trippingly and easily off your tongue? Okay, well, us too.

But everyone else in Queensborough certainly knew what the old rusty oil drum perched on the cement covering of the Manse’s no-longer-used well was. Some even had some amusing stories about it, like how a previous occupant of the Manse (a minister, obviously; we are the first non-ministerial folk ever to live there) had decided to burn some stuff in it during a particularly dry period, and how the neighbours had suggested that it maybe wasn’t a particularly good idea, given that the burn barrel was positioned (oddly) immediately beneath the overhanging branches of a tree – a very dry tree, in that spell.

So yes, a burn barrel is for burning stuff, presumably leaves in fall, but what do I know? Maybe other things at other times of the year as well. None of which sounds particularly good for the environment, if you ask me.

Landscape with burn barrel: I took this last spring, before the leaves had really come out. You can see how the burn barrel is not adding to the overall allure of the place.

So basically we wanted to get rid of our burn barrel, because a) we weren’t ever going to use it for its intended purpose, and b) it was so rusted out that it practically was separated into two halves horizontally. In other words, not adding to the scenic beauty of the Manse’s landscaping. But the fact that the bottom half was filled with heavy ashes, and that the two halves were sure to separate and maybe disintegrate if one tried to do something with it, made moving it pretty much an impossible prospect for us on our own.

Very fortunately for us, Mike Tregunna, the excellent proprietor (with his wife, Gillian) of the Tregunna Tree Farm outside Tweed and the man responsible for the new elm tree and the new maple tree that now grow at the Manse, had offered – out of the blue! – to take away “that burn barrel over there” when he planted the maple recently. He put his tools and his miniature front-end loader to excellent use: loading up the burn barrel (in two pieces), driving it over to his truck, transferring it there, and then driving off into the distance (the dump?) with it.

The burn barrel meets its end: now in two pieces, it’s on its way from its resting place to Mike Tregunna’s truck, and thence – disappeared from the Manse. Thanks, Mike!

It was a kind and unexpected offer, and we were very happy and grateful to take him up on it. It is actually quite something how often people in the Queensborough area have offered to help with stuff like that, just out of the blue. It is very much appreciated, and it warms the heart. Okay, maybe not as much as if we were having a roaring leaf or trash fire in the burn barrel – but you get the picture.

After long years, a maple tree grows (again) at the Manse.

Jake Tregunna guides our new maple tree into its newly dug spot as his dad, Mike, drives the little loader (cute as a bug’s ear) that holds it.

The remains of the old maple tree, a huge stump being chainsawed down before it was ground away. (Photo by Elaine Kapusta)

This morning the raison d’être for our visit to the Manse this past weekend was accomplished: a nice big (25-foot) maple tree was planted. It is our replacement for the beautiful old maple that graced the front yard in my childhood but that subsequently succumbed to something, was cut down, and by the time we bought the Manse a little under a year ago was present only in the form of an unsightly stump. (You can read about – and see a video of – the stump being taken out here. It was quite an undertaking – and not cheap. Though what is cheap when it comes to doing the right thing with an old house?)

As I believe I’ve reported before, my brother John’s advice on the maple-tree front was to “buy the biggest one you can afford, and get a fast-growing one.” The idea being that we are none of us getting any younger, and if we want to see a nice big maple tree in front of the Manse once again in our lifetimes, well, giddyup.

So that’s what we did, and we were so fortunate to go tree-hunting at the fantastic Tregunna Tree Farm outside Tweed. Mike and Jillian Tregunna had some nice big maples at a great (read: non-big-city) price, partly because they are so big that they kind of have to be transplanted very soon or they will no longer be transplantable. So we arranged way back last early summer for the maple – which was to be transplanted in the late fall, the best time for it, Mike said; and for good measure while we were there bought a Dutch-elm-disease-resistant elm tree, which Mike planted some months ago (details and photos here.)

This morning, before the maple was planted, looking out from the Manse…

We’ve been eagerly anticipating the arrival of our maple for months, and today it finally happened. Mike and his son Jake drove up in their big truck just after 9 a.m. and set to work. First question: where does it go? My answer: as close as possible to where the old maple was, without interfering with the elm. Mike’s first plan was to try to put it right where the old tree had been, but he soon discovered that the roots of that tree ran too wide and deep. So the new maple went in about five feet to the south.

… and after. A view forever changed. Or at least for a long, long time – the life of a maple tree.

Let’s just call this one “Manse. With maple, once again.”

Raymond and I watched and took pictures through the whole operation – which took place on a stunningly mild day for mid-November; a sign? – and felt quite pleased with ourselves. The new tree is a fast-growing variety called Autumn Blaze, and Mike assures us it will live up to its name in the fall. And he gave us lots of helpful suggestions about fertilizer and watering (none of which needs to happen till the spring), and told us to give him a call if we had any questions. I think we’re in good hands on the tree front.

Once all the work was done and Mike and Jake had left, Raymond and I just stood and looked at our maple tree. “That’s something,” I said, stating the obvious. “It’ll be here long after we’re gone,” Raymond replied – in an upbeat, not triste, way.

Indeed. I like to think of our new maple and elm trees as a vote of confidence in the future of the Manse. Whatever else might happen, I think we have left our mark.

… and a lilac bush …

Is there a prettier sign of spring than blooming lilacs?

Behind the gang of kids – my siblings, cousins and assorted others, not to mention Finnigan the dog – in this photo from way back, and in front of the maple tree, you can see the lilac bush that used to be in the Manse’s front yard.

We used to have a lilac bush inside the fence of the front yard at the Manse. (If you squint a bit you can see it in the vintage photo at right.) I loved the colour and the smell of the blooms in spring. I could never decide which was prettier: the dark mauve of the unopened buds, or the lighter mauve when they opened up. Perhaps a mix of the two.

Anyway, that lilac bush, like the glorious giant maple tree that made the front yard so beautiful, is long gone. (There is a small lilac bush against the fence in the back yard – at least, I think that’s what the bush is; its blooms came and went so quickly this past spring that we didn’t even see them to confirm.)

So I think it’s time to replace it. But while I’m writing about lilacs: Have you ever heard that a lilac bush on an old property is a sign that someone is buried there? (Presumably a long, long time ago, in rural places where community cemeteries hadn’t yet been established.) I’ve heard that a few times over the years, and I wonder if there’s any truth to it. Anyone know anything about that? I’m thinking my friend Lindi Piece, an expert on historic architecture and an inveterate explorer of historic buildings and properties, might. Lindi?