Friday, July 12, 2019

About That Mountain Laurel...

(See below). Wondering where I saw it? It was an unexpected place. Don't think the rugged wooded hills of Pennsylvania. Think green lawns, celebs and strawberries and "Quiet Please!" Yes, I saw it in Wimbledon.
Of course Wimbledon is only strawberries, celebs and "Quiet Please" for two weeks in the year. The rest of the time it's a leafy London suburb backing onto a magnificent area of open land in one corner of which is Cannizaro Park. I mentioned its fabled rhododendrons on a previous post but  that time I didn't notice the mountain laurel.

And it was doing a lot better than my Cattaraugus County versions which, thanks to the local deer population, haven't flowered for several years and a are barely a foot tall.

The rhododendrons were past their best and it was an overcast day but this one still looked pretty good.

Out on the Common there was a blast from the past. A genuine ice cream van. I don't know if it played a tune but there it was. I'm surprised they still allow them - you would have thought elf and safety would have done for them a long time ago.

(Though apparently some British ice cream vans are notorious for gang warfare. Well the Glasgow ones at any rate.  No one told me that when I was six years old and racing after the music with my hot little hand full of sixpences.) Meanwhile the Common and the pond - this being a couple of weeks before the tennis started - presented a peaceful, bucolic scene, the grey clouds adding to the perfect picture of a suburban British summer.

It really does look like a village green. You wouldn't think you were so close to London.
Now we're back in Cattaraugus County, I note my Wimbledon neighbours are complaining about all the people cashing in on the tennis, offering their front gardens for parking. One woman on the neighbourhood website has at least been honest "Yes, we charge for it and no, not a penny goes to charity. It's to pay for our holidays."  I might mention that any house near the tennis courts with enough front garden for parking spaces is going to be worth at least a few million. Pounds.
  Meanwhile the American TV commentators here have been remarking how exciting Wimbledon Village has got over the past few years. "There are even some good restaurants." Cheek. Wimbledon beats  Flushing Meadows hollow and always did.

Monday, July 8, 2019


Regular readers will know my frustration at living in western New York for several years now and never once seeing a bear.  Even some friends who came from Britain and stayed in Allegany State Park for just one week managed to see one. Correction: not one but a whole family trotting across the road in front of them. Friends, neighbours, sisters-in-law, they've all seen them - raiding their bird feeders, standing at the end of their drives, trying to get in through their kitchen door (well I'm not sorry I didn't see that one.) Bears have been in the local paper, raiding the Park and Shop in Olean among other things. And now another friend shows me this:

Captured on the rural equivalent of CC TV just about to make off with the bird feeder. All we ever get on our camera is a grey blur. Oh well. Maybe some day...

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Back At Last ...and Oh Deer

Dateline: Cattaraugus County, western New York

  It's always an adventure coming back to our western New York home after a few weeks away. One time I encountered a large, fat woodchuck waddling across the porch. He had been used to having things nice and quiet. He looked at me, froze briefly, did a double take and waddled off again at double speed. This time we'd been expecting a jungle - it's never a good idea to be away in June, when everything puts on a manic growth spurt.

What we didn't expect was that it was just as muddy and wet as it had been when we left a month ago. And the jungle was twice as big as it had ever been in the past. I shouldn't have put all that Miracle-Gro on the flower beds; the weeds must have thought it was Christmas Day.
  And while the weeds flourished, morphed and mutated, the real flowers seemed hardly to have grown at all. As I walked despondently around the garden, assessing the extent of the debacle, I began to see why. Everything had been neatly nipped off at the top. Yes, the deer had been helping themselves. They'd omitted to disguise their footprints in the mud. What I can never understand is why deer don't eat weeds. It's part of the perversity of nature. And with thunderstorms forecast every day, the air muggy and the mosquitoes whooping it up, gardening is not a happy prospect.
  But tomorrow is the Fourth of July, a day of rest for my American friends. Hubby has hoisted his beloved Betsy Ross flag - the one with the thirteen stars for the thirteen original states, the first one made for George Washington et al by a lady called Betsy Ross.

He's furious that a few people with nothing better to do have been in the news objecting to the flag, claiming it's racist because it dates from slave-owning times and because some right-wing nutters espoused it. And the usual suspects have jumped on the bandwagon. (Well a few nasties liked to fly the Union Jack too. That doesn't mean we should get rid of it).
  "My ancestor fought in the Revolutionary War and the Betsy Ross flag was HIS flag and no one's going to tell me not to fly it!" hubby pronounced. And I suspect he's not alone. The Wall Street Journal  lamented today over "another sign of our current political insanity."  Yep.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

A Little Travel Break

The blog had hoped to report on its travels but has found itself with limited internet access. Normal service will resume some time next week. Keep watching this space!

Thursday, June 20, 2019

An Unexpected Mountain Laurel

The blog is on some more travels, so there will be a short break. Meanwhile, this mountain laurel is, I have to say, a far more vigorous specimen than my poor straggly deer-eaten ones in western New York. I spotted it - guess where?

Watch this space!

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Watching for Warblers

Dateline: Cattaraugus County, Western New York State

There is, quite near us, a wondrous place called the Pfeiffer Nature Center. It owns some lovely woodland and holds all kinds of interesting activities. Last year I went there for a  mushroom walk. This spring, bird-watching was on offer.
  May is a good time, apparently, as a lot of birds are flying back north for the summer and the Nature Center is a good motorway service station, as it were, for them.

There are ponds and shrubs and trees and the open sort of woodland they like and which I'm told is hard to find these days. My companions were all considerably more expert than me.

The could tell what a bird was just by its tweet and had an uncanny knack of spotting them. I spent a lot of time peering through my binoculars at a lot of leaves and branches and saying plaintively, "Which way did it go?" You have to be quick with these birds. "It takes practice!" said a nice lady, soothingly.  One of my few spottings was a chestnut-sided warbler. This, of course, is not my photo.

I missed the scarlet tanager and the magnolia warbler and the Blackburnian warbler and the bluebird and countless others (I never knew there were so many different kinds of warblers in existence in the world, let alone at the Pfeiffer Nature Center) but I did manage to see an indigo bunting.

I felt as if I'd rather been thrown in the deep end but I'll have to try it again and hope to do better.
  And it's a lovely place just to amble along the forest paths. Some naughty beavers had been at these trees.

The sun was shining and there were wildflowers everywhere.

There are certainly worse ways to spend a morning.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Road Trip Part 7: Sea Ponies

  I never did read Misty of Chincoteague when I was little, even though I was mad about pony books. 

  But I'd heard about the fabled wild ponies that lived on an island called Chincoteague. (Or was it Assateague?) And swam across the water from somewhere to somewhere in a roundup every year. We had some trouble puzzling it out - were Assateague and Chincoteague one island or two? And which was which? And more to the point, where could we see the ponies?
  We drove up through the bit of Virginia that, along with Delaware and Maryland, forms the "DelMarVa" peninsula. It started inauspiciouly. It seemed to be chicken farm central - you can tell from the long buildings with huge fans at the ends. Dread to think what the interiors look and smell like. And where there weren't chicken farms there were run-down wooden houses and signs to places like "Modest Town". Then we saw another sign to a place called "Horsey", which gave us some hope that we were on the right road.  We spotted more blossoming trees and dazzling azaleas and a whole forest of purple wisteria gone rampant. Were things getting wilder? Not quite yet.
 As we turned off onto the causeway to Chincoteague,  driving over expanses of water and marsh grass, the way was marred by an endless  procession of telegraph poles (utility poles to Americans) and billboards, some with worthy slogans, "One Road To Chincoteague, Jesus Christ The Only Way To Heaven" , others just plain tacky. Here they are on the return journey, so you can only see the backs. 

  Chincoteague proved to be a tourist trap par excellence. T-shirt vendors vied with bike rentals, souvenir shops and what looked like mini golf and mini theme parks and eateries called things like Sandy Pony Donuts, though we never actually saw that one, only heard about it. We did have a chuckle at "Wallops Flight Facility" . It wasn't quite as bad as Pigeon Forge, Tennessee - few things could be. But it was getting there. Then we realised that there was some method in the madness. Chincoteague did prove to be a separate island. And once we started crossing over to Assateague, things changed dramatically.

 Marsh, grassland, sea and forests,

made for a wonderfully peaceful place. So at least if you restrict the tourist tat to one area, you can have a nice nature reserve in the rest.

 And here at last

Across the marsh in the appropriately misty distance

 .. were the ponies

  There's some dispute about how they got there in the first place. The popular legend is that they swam ashore from a shipwrecked Spanish galleon. More mundane historians say they're descendants of horses grazed on the island by the early settlers to avoid taxes on the mainland. Apparently the ponies have bloated tummies because they drink a lot of water.
  To complicate things further, Assateague is divided between Virginia and Maryland, making for two separate sets of ponies. Interestingly, the Virginia herd is managed by the local volunteer firemen.
Every year the Virginia ponies swim across to Chincoteague (actually not all that far) to be sold. And to complicate things further the Chincoteague equines are "ponies" and the Assateague ones "horses". Or vice versa. I give up.
  We overnighted in Easton, but heard that the best seafood was to be had in St Michaels, a few miles away on the water. St Michaels proved to be another tourist hotbed, though slightly more tasteful, in a twee sort of way with charming little wooden cottages and charming prices too. Apparently hubby  anchored his sailing boat here once. It was bursting with visitors - goodness knows what it's like in high summer. So we tried our luck back at Easton. The hotel suggested Brannings Tavern. "If you choose the rock fish, it'll have been caught off the pier this morning." The only encounter I ever had with a rock fish was with the one I very nearly trod on in Egypt many years ago. (If I had done, I wouldn't be around to tell the tale). So I was a bit dubious but excellent it proved to be. Maybe it was a good, honest American rock fish. Brannings Tavern held some historic promise but the interior had been modernised - just like all the gastropubs in Surrey.
  The rest of our trip was to a cold and windy Washington DC and thence through Pennsylvania to western New York. By then sister-in-law and I had stinking colds and didn't stop to take photographs.