Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Into the Wonderful Woods

 Dateline: Cattaraugus County, western New York state

  My passion for forests continues apace. There's been something about this summer. Maybe it's the contrast with flat Florida but I've fallen in love anew with western New York's wooded hills. The mist rising on a rainy morning....

and swirling around the trees on the hidden path I recently discovered further up our lane. 

(No public footpaths here - you have to rely on the goodwill of the landowners, though if you're not hunting their deer, they most probably won't mind.) Though I didn't need to go far the other evening to peer through the dusk at the forested end of our back garden and see in the distance a small herd of deer silently flitting, ghost-like, through the trees. 
   Last weekend our local nature centre had a guided walk about forest health and management. At least that's what it was meant to be - they spent most of the time reminiscing about old neighbours and who-had-owned-what-and-when, who had sheep, who had cows (all this bit used to be farmland) and who had driven horse-drawn sleds up the old rock -strewn paths to collect maple syrup. 

But never mind, it was a beautiful sunny day, the forest looking its absolute best.

That might be a shell off a hickory nut, which sounds so American.

As does "trailhead" - you think you're out in the wilds of the Rockies or something.

Well who needs the Rockies when you've got Cattaraugus County's Enchanted Mountains?

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Rural Americana

 I had long wanted to pay another visit to what's locally known as the Springville Flea Market. It's some 45 minutes drive northwards from us, in a country town on the way to Buffalo. It's actually much more than  a flea market. As you approach, cars line the road and people walk, weighed down with bags of produce - corn, melons, giant courgettes aka zucchini and summer squash. The forecourt - actually a bumpy slope - is full of haphazardly parked pickup trucks, kids and dogs weaving among them. I asked a man in a cowboy hat what sort of dog he had - a large, odd-looking beast with lithe body and long floppy ears. "A coon hound".  Atop the slope, red wooden buildings that seem unchanged for decades. Children retrieve rabbits in cardboard boxes pierced with holes, a large turkey sits in a cage, goats, sheep and tiny calves in dank pens. The animal auction in a room with tiered wooden seats around a small ring, started and ended early. Alongside the buildings stalls of perfect, plump plums, peppers and peaches. 

"We don't have so much today", the stallholder said. "We sent some of it south to help those people." I assume she meant Louisiana, reeling after Hurricane Ida. 

  And behind the buildings Amish ladies in their white caps and long blue Victorian dresses sell doughnuts of exquisite lightness. Or, if you prefer it, there's a truck selling that staple of American fairgrounds, fried dough.

And stretching to the horizon, on tables and on the ground bric-a-brac of all kinds from bedsteads to broken hoovers to dolls houses to bicycles to antique fire extinguishers, interspersed with stalls of bargain toiletries, toys and pristine baseball caps saying "Jesus My Boss", sadly made in China. A  magnificently- moustached auctioneer wielding a portable microphone rattles his staccato spiel to a small crowd, "everything must go!"

There are plants too and herbs and lettuces and tarps spread on the ground with unidentifiable objects, "Everything on here for a dollar!"   Something tells me we should have arrived at the crack of dawn to get the real bargains.

  And  in the middle of it all, a white van stands draped in a massive banner suggesting we do something unprintable to the current President of the United States. Around it memorabilia extolling the virtues of his predecessor. 

  I catch a bit of conversation: "Afghanistan - yeah - well I say we should never have gone in there in the first place. But...."  

Saturday, August 28, 2021

Wet Blanket Summer

 Nothing new to report here. Thunderstorms, torrential rain, mugginess - well all right, no hurricanes but we might as well be in Florida. There's been a little bit more sunshine the past few days and the jungle is still looking perky...

....though unfortunately that's only served to bring out my nemeses, the lawn-mowing enthusiasts with which we're surrounded. It seems they've fine-tuned the radar which compels them to start up their deafening noise (turned into surround sound by all the echoing hills) as soon as I escape to the garden for a bit of respite and relaxation. 

Yesterday was a case in point. I'd made my coffee, opened my vintage Inspector Morse novel and settled into the air chair on one of the few days when it's been dry enough - when all of them started up at once. Like maddened hornets amplified a hundred times, up and down, up and down they chugged remorselessly. The French have a law about not making garden noise at certain times when people want to relax - like lunchtimes and Sunday afternoons. I doubt that would wash in America. As I've often said, it beats me why people in this country prefer vast expanses of sterile lawn to flowers and trees. Or why they have to mow every time it's not raining. Will the world end if the grass grows an extra inch or two? It's not as if they use it for anything - I don't know, keep goats or play football or croquet - or polo perhaps - they've got enough acres. Someone told me it's to do with imagining they're Lords of the Manor - or something. Another theory of mine is that, with some kind of subconscious pioneer instinct,  they like to be able to  see the enemy approaching.  Well no sooner had they stopped and I was looking forward to some peace, than I heard the first rumble of thunder. You can't win. 

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Garden in the Rain

 There's nothing like a rain-washed garden...

Except when it's rained non-stop for weeks. A watery sun just out for long enough to take a few snaps. Meanwhile friends in Ohio are having a drought. No chance of that here. Everything's getting and taller and stragglier and more out of hand but at least I don't have to water.

With the way the world's going we need a bit of cheering up.

Never mind that, having built a Fort Knox around the blueberry bushes to keep the deer, turkeys, woodchucks and other birds out, the berries nevertheless disappeared. Those blinking chipmunks again. That's how they repay me for all the peanuts I've dished out. Fortunately they don't eat flowers.

And despite everything I'm quite (in the British sense) happy with the jungle this summer.

So, though, are the mosquitoes, which are just loving this weather.

You can't even step outside before you hear the ominous whining  - and they always get you on the one minuscule part of you you forgot to spray.

While their allies the Japanese beetles go for the flowers.

My neighbour and I have been discussing the merits of Japanese beetle traps. You hang a funnel-shaped plastic bag topped with an air-freshener-type scented disc and watch the brutes lured by the aroma plummet into the depths of the bag and drown in the rain water. Sooner or later the animal rights people will be on to it because of the Japanese beetles' emotional distress - and they are immigrants to boot. But I'm wary of using chemicals on the flowers for this very good reason: 

We've got quite a tally of Japanese beetles so far, but, says my neighbour, it could just be attracting more of 'em.

Thursday, August 12, 2021

Florida in Buffalo UPDATE

 Our closest metropolis, here in western New York, Buffalo, is proud of its botanical gardens, which I've just visited for the first time. I'd never seen them but had driven past, remarking on some slight similarity with Kew. 

Which they weren't of course but they still had a lot of charm.

Funny thing though - as we went through the hothouses, suitably masked as per regulations, even though there was hardly anyone else there, as per regulations,  a lot of the displays were of sub-tropical stuff, palm trees of various kinds and such which grow like weeds in Florida. So it wasn't really news to us. Take Spanish moss which drapes over the live oak trees everywhere in the south like this... 

Here it was draped for show like washing over rails.....

Looked as though it had been specially blow-dried too. And I've spent a lot of time digging surplus ones of  these up from the side of our Florida house

Though one could say that seeing them out of context makes them seem that bit more special. 
There was a medicinal plant area too and I was much taken with the disclaimer....

In particular that the information given had not been "evaluated" by the Food and Drug Administration. Well you can't be too careful - someone might just grab a handful and cook it up and then sue because it didn't cure them - or worse. 

But it was all worth it for the cacti.  I'd never seen such a display. Giant toothbrushes....

Something that looked like a spiky Christmas pudding

Nature was certainly having fun with these!

Not to mention bunny ears

Another of the giant puddings - or perhaps a coronavirus....

"Drunkard's Dream" - you couldn't make it up.

And this one was a Medusa's Head.

When I was about six year's old I stroked someone's pet cactus because it looked furry. I'm still pulling the spines out.  Despite that, I never really understood the fascination before but I think I do now. 

Friday, August 6, 2021

A Shot or a Jab?

Which would you prefer?

  In Britain we call vaccinations "jabs" but when I used this expression to someone here,  they recoiled in horror - "A what? Oh - er you mean a shot?" Which makes me think how things have changed over the past few months. In February, down in Florida,  we dragged ourselves out of bed at 6am to get on the web and desperately fight for the tiny number of vax slots available at Publix supermarket - those with slower internet connections didn't have a prayer, competing with thousands upon thousands of other hopefuls. We signed up for text alerts from counties all over the state, we hovered anxiously over our phones waiting for the call -  and when it came we danced in celebration. I had friends who travelled four hours and back in a day to get their precious Pfizer or Moderna in  some far-off town, which, by some fluke, had availability. When hubby and I finally got our shot slots we queued in a long snaking line in a redundant shopping mall - finally reaching a huge, cavernous hall with rows and rows of people rolling up their sleeves like a scene from a dystopian film. How we wanted to hug that nurse! How grateful and privileged we felt and how secretly smug that we were so tech savvy that we'd managed to snag number 8,000 in the Sarasota County queue when others were lamenting, "I'm only number 63,000!" And now no one wants their miraculous free gift any more. I drove past our equivalent of the local council offices and saw a person dressed, I do not joke, as a coronavirus, ball, spikes and all, pathetically waving a banner screaming, "Get your vaccinations here!"  They could have added, "Purrrleeeeeeze!" Any queue was conspicuous by its absence.

  I have two practical suggestions. Number one: pretend it's still scarce and exclusive. That will get 'em interested. Number two: start calling them jabs. It sounds far more exciting.

Sunday, July 25, 2021

The Stupidest Robin's Latest Batch


(See below) The babies are growing bigger and stronger the poor geranium is getting smaller and weaker. I should think they are about ready to fly though they seem in no hurry. They probably enjoy their regular shower and fertiliser bath gel.  I can't wait to reclaim my property so I wish they'd get a move on. I just wonder what inappropriate place their mother is going to pick next time.