Death, beauty, nature, gardening: a Queensborough miscellany

tomato plants

I am just delighted about the heirloom tomato plants that Raymond and I put into our garden early this evening. Don’t they look nice beside the soon-to-blossom peonies (a gift from our Montreal friends Johannah and Tracy) and our bright-red oil tank?

It has been another in a string of sunny, hot days here in Queensborough, though today the heat was moderated by a lovely soft wind that had the added bonus of steering the bugs away. As I drove home from work along Queensborough Road late in the afternoon, I was luxuriating in the beauty of the rural countryside.

And then I saw the turtle.

Regular readers will know that Raymond and I are among the many local residents who do everything they can to make sure the various species of turtles that inhabit our region get safely to the other side of the roads that they are bound and determined to cross during the warm months. I’ve told you before (like here and here) about how Raymond in particular has taken on as a mission the business of helping out the turtles. But we both travel with shovels and gloves in our vehicles – the gloves for picking up the smaller turtles, the shovels for moving the big snappers – and I’ve done my share of this turtle crossing-guard work too.

So when I saw a smallish turtle-shaped object at a big curve on Queensborough Road, I of course slowed down – only to realize with horror that the turtle was on its back and probably dead. I pulled over, hoping that the poor thing only needed to be righted after a glancing blow from a vehicle, and that it would be okay. But it was not to be; there was the pool of blood trickling away from the body of that innocent little painted turtle with the gorgeous markings that you can see here:

Dead turtle, Queensborough Road

A sight you don’t want to see: a beautiful painted turtle, killed on the road.

Poor, poor turtle. I only hope that the driver who struck it did so accidentally and without deliberate intent to harm; I am told (though I hate to think it’s true) that some cruel people actually try to hit the turtles when they see them. I personally hope that those people burn in hell, though I suppose that’s not a very Christian thing to say.

I decided that one thing I could do for the little turtle was to get its body to the side of the road so it wouldn’t be struck again and again, and crushed and mangled. What I saw when I turned it over with my shovel wasn’t very pretty, but I gently carried it to the tall marshy grass where it had probably been hoping to lay its eggs, and bid it farewell. And carried on with the rest of my drive back to the Manse, feeling deeply sad.

But you know, there are things to make a person feel better. Like seeing the flower baskets that our friends at the Queensborough Beautification Committee have once again hung all over the village, and that look absolutely splendid:

Queensborough hanging baskets 2016

This past weekend, the volunteers with the Queensborough Beautification Committee once again installed hanging flower baskets on the made-in-Queensborough street signs. They are beautiful!

And then there were the irises that have bloomed in the Manse’s front garden:

Manse irises

And also, the 2016 crop of geraniums in hanging baskets that Raymond had bought this afternoon from our reliable supplier, the garden centre at Madoc Home Hardware, and put up on the front porch:

flower baskets 2016

Two of this year’s geranium baskets (along with a wasp trap to protect Raymond) on the Manse’s front porch.

And the satisfaction of planting (with Raymond’s help) the two heirloom tomato plants – Brandywine and Black Vernissage – and that we’d bought at the Whole Darn Town of Madoc Yard Sale a couple of weekends ago. You can see the results of our planting session in the photo at the top of this post.

Also, there was the interesting surprise, as we prepared the ground for those plantings, of a pair of recently shed snake skins!


Perhaps Mr. and Mrs. Garter Snake whose acquaintance I made a few years ago have not disappeared after all.

And finally, as Raymond and I sat on the front porch post-planting session, admiring our garden and our flowers and pretty little Queensborough generally, came the crowning touch: the first appearance of the year of a hummingbird at our feeder. These tiny things are so lovely, and they seem so friendly. I wish I had a picture of Mr. Hummingbird to show you, but you all know how fast and flitty hummingbirds are.

None of these good and happy and pretty things made me forget the sad end of the turtle; but they all – perhaps especially the snake skins, left behind as the snakes enter a new phase of life – reminded me of the wonder of the cycle of the seasons and of the natural world. Death is just a part of that cycle, isn’t it? But so is renewal, and new growth. And the return of the hummingbirds. Life is good.

But people, please please please be careful about the turtles when you drive!

The year of the bumblebee

One of our bumblebees

See that fuzzy dark blob in the lower foreground? That’s one of our friendly local bumblebees, doing good pollination work on a shrub in the front yard of the Manse. (By the way, do you know how hard it is to take a good picture of a bumblebee? They move faster than you’d think!)

If you’ve borne with me here at Meanwhile, at the Manse through the past couple of summers, you’ll probably recall me reporting multiple times on the wasps that were plaguing us. Raymond is highly allergic to wasp stings, so it’s no fun at all when lots of them are buzzing around the Manse – or, as happened one ghastly afternoon early last summer, inside one of the bedrooms. This year, I am extremely happy to report (and I am touching wood as I do so), the wasp activity has been minimal. I gather they like hot, dry weather, and perhaps all the coldness and wetness of this past neverending winter and late-arriving spring has put a damper (so to speak) on them. To which I can only say: good.

Big fat bumblebee

Here’s another big fat bumblebee that I captured in flight in Queensborough the other day.

But I’ve noticed what seems (to my unpractised eye, anyway) like more activity than usual on the bumblebee front. There are a lot of them around. I’ve always liked bumblebees and the happy, slow buzzing sound they make as they do good work for us all by pollinating our plants and flowers, so to me this is a good state of affairs. (Also, I gather they’re not much for stinging, which is excellent news for Raymond.)

In the front yard of the Manse there is an elderly shrub that at this time of year, after coming out of winter hibernation, has a lot of pink flowers on it. (Of course I haven’t the vaguest idea what it is, being the rookiest of rookie gardeners; I’m hoping knowledgeable readers might enlighten me on that front, so here is a photo of it that I took this evening:

Front-yard shrub

Can you name this shrub? (Because lord knows I can’t.)

Anyway, that shrub is absolutely alive with bumblebees these days. There’s a constant buzzing in it, as three or four of them at a time bumble along from bloom to bloom, pollinating their heads off. As we all know, the disappearance of bees and thus of their essential-to-all-life pollinating work is an alarming situation, so I have nothing but good will toward the bees busily buzzing in our front yard.

In other words: Go bumblebees go!

Saying goodbye is sad.

RDC à vendre à Outremont

À vendre à Outremont: the kitchen of our lovely little condo, a couple of nights before it goes onto the real-estate market. We are very sorry to have to leave it. Even though our new home is Queensborough.

Raymond and I have had a wrenching couple of days. We’ve been back at our home in Montreal, preparing to put it up for sale, meeting real-estate agents, etc.

Have you ever had to sell, or at least leave, a home in which you have been very happy? If you have, you’ll know what we have been feeling.

We knew it had to come. After all, we did very deliberately make the decision to move away from Montreal to a whole new life at the Manse in bucolic little Queensborough, Ont. And we love Queensborough. And we love our Manse, despite its many challenges. (Wasps and whatnot.)

But we were happy in our almost nine years at our cozy condo in a nice part of Montreal. There are a lot of wonderful memories there. And as we were reminded over these past couple of days, it was (and is) a very easy and comfortable place to live: all the appliances work beautifully (and there is a dishwasher!); it is warm and undrafty; the internet is faster than fast, unproblematic and way cheaper than here in Queensborough; and so on and so on. Let’s just say that it is a less challenging place to inhabit than is the drafty old 1888 in-need-of-renovations Manse.

And just before we left, after we’d got the place looking thoroughly tidy and spiffy in advance of open houses for prospective buyers, we really felt appreciative of what a very nice place it is.

There were tears in my eyes when I left today. Raymond hid it well, but he was pretty sad too. A glum start to the day indeed.

As we drove westward to Queensborough, I thought about how sad I had been for the very same reason on a summer day many years earlier. It was the day just before my 15th birthday when my family – my father the minister and my mother the saint and us four kids – moved away from the Manse. I remembered how it had felt on that long-ago day to walk through those empty, memory-filled rooms for what I thought was the last time ever. And it felt very close to the bone.

Thanks to the infinite patience and love and indulgence of Raymond, though, I am now back in that house that I left just before my 15th birthday. Will I ever get such a second chance with the sweet little condo in Montreal? Almost certainly not. And that continues to make me sad.

But when we arrived at the Manse late this afternoon, spring was in the air. We could hear birdsong, and melting snow dripping through the eavestroughs. And then there was a gentle and pretty sunset over the village; I looked out the window, and the rays of the setting sun were making the historic white-frame Anglican church look (as it often does) like something out of a painting. (Or a greeting card.)

And as the sun set, my spirits rose. Raymond’s seemed to as well. The cat was happy we were home. So was the Manse.

And so were we.

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.

Should we expect blackflies?

blackflyI am thinking – hoping, actually – that this sudden bit of cold weather we’ve had here in Ontario and Quebec will wreak some serious havoc with the blackfly population that might choose to call Queensborough home. Raymond and I are planning to be at the Manse this coming long weekend, and we could certainly do without blackflies in the mix. (Lord knows we have enough on our hands on the flying-pest front with the wasp situation.)

There were no blackflies around on our last visit, a couple of weeks ago, but our neighbour Sylvia – who was out doing yardwork, as was I – told me they’d arrive in a week or so, making outdoor work a lot less fun.

The funny thing is that I have no recollection of there being a lot of blackflies in Queensborough when I was growing up at the Manse in the 1960s and ’70s. I mean, they certainly were around at this time of year, but I don’t recall them being in such numbers as to cause the misery that only swarming blackflies can cause. My father would talk about how bad they were when he was working (on his “days off” from being the United Church minister in Queensborough) up at the Sedgwicks’ ancestral farm in Haliburton County; but Halburton is a fair bit further north, and we all know about the blackflies of Northern Ontario. But blackflies just didn’t seem to be a thing, particularly, in central Hastings County back then.

Am I wrong? Is my memory playing tricks on me? Raymond and I certainly didn’t experience blackflies last spring at the Manse, but perhaps we just weren’t visiting at the right – or I guess actually that would be the wrong – time. People in the area kind of roll their eyes and laugh at me when I express surprise about there being serious blackflies. Perhaps global warming – or something – has changed the situation since the long-ago days of my childhood.

Anyway, of more immediate interest this very chilly May evening: is the Victoria Day long weekend in Queensborough likely to include a big dose of blackflies?

Trailer envy

Just look at these fine trailers that two of our Queensborough neighbours have. How practical! I am deeply envious.

Just look at these fine trailers that two of our Queensborough neighbours have. I am envious.

Good internet acces (with wi-fi) is pretty high on the list of things that would make our stays at the Manse easier and more enjoyable. Also up there: a permanent end to wasp sightings, and a wood stove to cut down on the oil bills. But do you know what Raymond and I really, really want?

A trailer.

Raked-up dead leaves and one of the fallen branches (thanks to the ice storm) in the back yard last weekend. A trailer would make hauling it away so much easier!

Raked-up dead leaves and one of the fallen branches (thanks to the ice storm) in the back yard last weekend. A trailer would make hauling it away so much easier!

When we bought the Manse and started spending weekends in Queensborough, we felt a little out of place as one of the only households for miles around without a pickup truck. Since then, of course, Raymond has rectified the situation with the purchase of a far-from-new (but bright-red) truck. But lately we’ve realized that we are also ill-equipped in that we don’t have a two-wheeled trailer to hitch up to that truck. Everybody else seems to have one, and it makes perfect sense that they should: what could be more practical for hauling all the stuff you rake up from your yard this time of year (including fallen branches from the recent ice storm) to the dump? After our raking marathon at the Manse last week we have 20 big bags full of debris stashed in the garage, and that means two or more trips in the little truck to get rid of it all. If we just had a trailer like everyone else, we could do it in a single run.

(A trailer would also, of course, make it much easier to bring home nice old pieces of furniture that might catch one’s eye at the auction sale.)

If you had told me a couple of years ago that one of things I would be wanting most in life was a trailer, I would have thought it was crazy talk. But rural life just – well, it changes one’s perspective on what’s important.

In a whole lot of ways.

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…