Saturday, August 31, 2013

A Garden Walk, American Style

   The end of summer is fast approaching and my flowers are fast fading - those that escaped the ravages of caterpillars, Japanese beetles, slugs and other marauding Western New York fauna.
  I am a novice when it comes to Western New York gardening – or any gardening for that matter. My late summer garden  has been a sea of yellow, since the daisy-like black-eyed Susans  multiply like weeds around here and thrive in the cold winters and sharp temperature changes that kill off the more temperamental plants. So my repertoire has been limited to them and a few other hardy types, though I draw the line at hostas,  those dreary bunches of leaves sending up spindly stems topped with tiny, anaemic blooms, that all my American neighbours seem to love. 
  But I would like to be a bit more adventurous and earlier in the summer,  I noticed an announcement advertising a “Garden Walk” in aid of the local homeless shelter. For a small fee,  we’d be invited to see the best efforts of our local green-fingered (Americans say “green-thumbed” ) enthusiasts.
   Interestingly, this side of the pond, they don’t use the word “garden” in the British way. Here, if you mention a “garden”,  people automatically think of a vegetable patch, although it can also mean a flower bed.  Some small nephews once visited us and I suggested they go out and “play in the garden”.  They looked flabbergasted and then delighted  and were just about to get their football and  trample the petunias to smithereens, when their mother fortunately stepped in to translate. “No! She means the yard!”
 And while we’re on the subject, the word “walk”, as in “Garden Walk”, doesn’t actually mean a walk. It’s a well-known  fact that you can’t easily separate Americans from their cars.  “Walk” is just an expression. I would, hubby warned,  have to drive to all these gardens and probably a long way. He was right.
   Ascertaining that the gardens would actually contain flowers,  I bought my ticket and map and set off.   
   The houses taking part were marked with blue-and-white balloons and a sign outside.
  One of the first gardens belonged to a retired doctor.  He was as happy as Larry, having found his true vocation, nursing along a sea of gorgeous red poppies and other exquisite flora like paprika yarrow and rose campion. He kindly gave me some seeds.
   There were cottages with white picket fences,  log cabins with sweeping views over the hills, ponds with darting dragonflies. And there was the Manor, an unlikely name for this modest part of upstate  New York  – we’re not the swanky Hudson Valley here. The  balloons at the grand gateway had popped and at first I wasn’t sure if I’d come to the right place. I didn’t want to encounter some irate owner with a shotgun. But the Manor turned out to be not that grand, the chatelaine  a typical friendly Western New Yorker, “You’re from Britain! Oh do come and visit again!”  But the rolling grounds with their specimen trees and lake might have been designed by Capability Brown. That’s the beauty of this part of the world.  You can pick up a Manor for the price of a small London flat.   
    As I  wandered  all the emerald-green lawns,   the pergolas swathed in purple clematis, the winding stone paths and pristine decks,  the flowers  three times as tall and five times as vigorous as mine, with even the hostas looking perky, I started to feel just a mite inadequate.  American gardens, I’ve discovered,  differ from mine not least because they’re so neat and tidy, the beds perfectly edged, the bushes perfectly trimmed and everything snuggled in perfectly uniform mulch.
   Sighing, I resolved to redouble my efforts to get my weed-infested jungle under control.
  But as I drove home, I noticed the wildflowers by the side of the road. They’re in their blue-and-white phase now.  And they’re lovely.  And no-one’s spent hours mulching them.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Of Things to Come

Alas, our trails are starting to look just a little autumnal. Though it looks like we might get a fairly good apple crop this year.

Last year, sadly, an early frost did for them. It happens a lot around here.

Yellow seems to be the colour of spring - and of late summer.

No one wants these berries, not even the birds. They just look pretty - and why not?

A stray red leaf is a portent of things to come.

Now I wonder who lives here?

Monday, August 26, 2013

A Bigger Boat Than Ours

And one of the prettiest sights in Buffalo Harbour, the "Spirit of Buffalo" sails out past the historic lighthouse. Actually the Spirit was built in 1992 and is only a replica of an old schooner.  The lighthouse is a lot older.

But never mind, we always like to see her. Here she is again, snapped from our boat.

And out on the horizon.

Meanwhile, someone's enjoying the quiet life.

Unlike the passengers on the "Moondance Cat", owned by a local TV station.  But they do seem to be having a good time.

And here's Moondance Cat with the 90 per cent empty HSBC building in the background.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

You Never Know...

 Funny how it takes just a small thing to put a smile on your face. The charming young lad at the checkout at Tops supermarket today said he was a Man United fan. He'd been to elementary school with a friend who came from Manchester, "So I always cheer for Man U",  he grinned. Well isn't that nice. He did not, however have a view on this season's prospects. Better avoid that subject.

Rural Crime: Who Nicked the Corn?

Now here's a mystery. Hubby left a couple of ears out on the patio table overnight, in a plastic bag. The next morning, they were gone. Vanished. The plastic bag was later found, under a tree, much the worse for wear but of the corn, no trace. Now, who could be the culprit?  Too big for Chippy, even with his brother-in-law's help. Too cumbersome for the crows. Not sure deer would be that interested. Woodchucks like corn but I doubt a woodchuck (especially as they're so fat at this time of year) could climb onto the table. The turkeys would probably just have pecked at it, not swiped the lot. We haven't seen large squirrels around here for a while. That leaves a raccoon. Or just possibly a bear. The plot thickens but I doubt we'll have an answer any time soon. Such are the great mysteries of the universe.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Bird Feeder Cabaret: A Tweet Sight

  Of the old-fashioned, feathered variety. I'd always thought cardinals were rather stupid birds. The males are pretty and bright red and feature on Christmas cards like robins do in Britain. But they have an extremely annoying and monotonous song that's had hubby getting up at dawn and yelling "Shut UP!" out of the bedroom window. They also sit goofily on the feeder, not eating, just contemplating their navels and getting in the way of everyone else.  The female cardinal  (that doesn't sound quite right) - 

here she is below, on the left, with an American goldfinch on the right - is given to dashing herself neurotically against the window panes.

The cardinal clan appear to have been up to something in the large bush under the feeder. You can periodically see one dive-bombing or bellyflopping straight down into the bush as if it's been winged. Consequently, the bush has a crater in it.  Anyway, the other evening, hubby called me, remarking that there was a lot of noise going on. There seemed to be a couple of unusual-looking smaller birds on the grass. At first we didn't make the connection. Then we saw Mrs Cardinal - who's better than her bloke at balancing on the feeder - flying up to it, grabbing a sunflower seed, then flying down and seemingly head-butting the smaller birds.  Finally we realised what she was doing. The kids were still too young and clumsy to fly up to the feeder... so

..she was feeding 'em!  Ah, the wonders of nature!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Western New York Idyll: The Quiet of a Misty Morning

  On our trails, early,  before lawnmower time.  Just the drip, drip of morning moisture, a few chattering crows

 And the hum of busy insects.

Slowly, the sun peers through.

And hides again.

Spider webs are everywhere.

Draped like washing out to dry on the ground.

And the leaves.

 And in the trees, a necklace strung with minuscule diamonds.

So much tiny life buzzing and chirping unseen.

 And paths meandering nowhere fast

Sometimes my jungle is just perfect.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

The Further Adventures of Chippy

First, case the joint......

Second, pick up a peanut.....

Third, suss it out.....

Fourth, shove it into your cheek...

 Fifth, head back to the burrow with your haul...

 Sixth, while you're acting all-innocent, send your brother-in-law to check out the blueberries...

This is what they looked like yesterday and today they are all gone.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Horses at Dawn

    Well it wasn't exactly dawn but it was early - and chilly.  This has been a cool summer - mostly in the old sense of the word.  I joined a couple of friends for a ride in the hills near Ellicottville.   As we went out the fog was lifting over the cornfields.

We meandered past reed-filled ponds and clumps of pink-flowered Joe Pye's weed, picked little apples from the trees for the horses to chomp on and chatted about this and that. In places the corn had grown higher than us. Now is prime eating season, though it's always a bit of a gamble. Will it be crisp and sweet, soggy and sweet - or just plain soggy. As the old rule goes, first put the water on to boil, then pick your corn....Though for us it's a case of picking the right roadside stall. Will it actually be home grown, or smuggled down from Eden Valley, to the north?

And when we got back, the mist was still there, retreating very slowly, fighting against the warmth of the sun.

And the horses - in the front, three generations of skewbalds, (paints, they call them here) grandma, granddaughter and mum - had a break for brunch.

(For horselovers, a reminder of another idyllic WNY ride here. Ellie May is the skewbald half-hidden, with her fly mask on.)

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Straitened Circumstances

I know Olean isn't an affluent town but when even the bollards are feeling the pinch, you've got to worry...

Monday, August 12, 2013

The Gloomiest Day of the Year

 Why? Because the Glorious Twelfth, the start of the British grouse season, always makes me think glumly of approaching autumn. It goes with the Edinburgh Festival and the Queen going to Balmoral and shops selling "back to school" stuff, all of which send icy fingers creeping down my spine. I do not like the thought of winter, especially, a Western New York winter, apart from the ski-ing, perhaps. But hey, let's dwell on the beauties of summer while we still can.
  Yesterday, let' face it, was about as good as it gets. As we sailed out of Buffalo harbour, an array of pretty spinnakers dotted the horizon. The "J" boats from the club down the river were having a race.

And here's one coming home with some Buffalonian landmarks in the background:  on the left, the Ugly Tower and City Hall, to the right, Buffalo's only skyscraper, the HSBC building, which I believe is no longer technically the HSBC building, since HSBC have moved out. So, apparently, have most of the other tenants, leaving it, like a lot of Buffalo's bricks-and-mortar, practically empty.

And more following...

   There are few man made things as graceful as a sailing boat. Which is more than I can say for the moron-driven powerboats which delight in cutting right across our bows, leaving us to bump around like a ping-pong ball in a jacuzzi.   As I recall promising, anyone who does that will be exposed in these pages, so here goes....And this one came seriously close. Where's the sheriff's helicopter when you need it? (That's Canada in the background, incidentally.)

   Before I met hubby, I never gave much thought to the powerboater versus sailor debate. But I have to say that the latter learns rather more about the meaning of life. You have to work at it, fiddling with all those lines and sails to get them right. Things don't always go smoothly. There's a limit to what you can tell the wind and weather to do. You are really a very small cog in the universe and you have to be patient and in tune with nature. Sometimes you're frustrated, have to make compromises, even accept defeat. But when things do go well, there is no more glorious feeling. Sailing is also described by hubby as, "The art of going nowhere, slowly and at great expense."  Powerboaters, on the other hand, just want instant gratification, which can get boring after a while. And even more expensive.
   Now this is quite one of the loveliest boats in the harbour, sadly not ours. A pity about the buildings in the background. Buffalo has not made the most of its lake frontage.

The lookout pooch (spot him?) is a nice touch.

And off she goes, towards the Ugly Tower. Talk about Beauty and the Beast.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Western New York Lawnmower Blues

  There's the thing about coming to live in a quiet, rural neighbourhood. You don't have noise. Or, put correctly, you don't expect noise. In London, I was lulled to sleep by the sound of sirens; here there's a blissful nothing, except the birds and, in warm weather, the gentle hum of insects. Which makes any noise all the more intrusive - and the summer lawnmower menace so much worse.
  We are blessed with few neighbours here - the houses on our country lane are far apart and everyone can have a fair bit of land and privacy for relatively little expense. I enjoy our big, beautiful trees and I've made some modest attempts at gardening.

   Americans, however, have an obsession with smooth, green lawns. Practically every house you see is surrounded by a huge, empty expanse of lawn - often with no fence between it and next door's. How the average Brit would shudder at that.  And often there's hardly a tree or flower to be seen, or even any children scuffing the immaculate surface with a football. I don't know what they have these lawns for except to look at them.
    And mow them. I have a feeling Americans don't mow the lawn because it's there; they put in a lawn so they can mow. And in mowing, make as much din as possible.  Loud lawnmowers, of the rider kind (Heaven forbid they should have to push anything)  are status symbols - the ghetto blasters of the middle classes. One of our neighbours is in possession of the noisiest ride-on mower known to man. And he has an uncanny knack of sensing just when I'm about to pop outside for a little relaxing coffee break. No sooner have I settled myself into the sun lounger - currently unoccupied by the turkey family - than there's an ominous clank and off he goes, the sound amplified a hundred-fold by the echo from the hills behind. Another nearby mower is so loud you can even hear it inside the house with the windows closed and the chap has so much lawn he takes hours over it, going back and forth meticulously in case he misses a blade. How do I just know that, tomorrow, which promises to be the first sunny day for a while and we have guests for lunch and want to sit outside, he is going to be out there and at it.*
   Even people further into town, with very small lawns, have ride-on mowers - the size of the mower often in direct proportion to the girth of its owner. Instead of getting some useful exercise pushing a normal mower, they sit on their ridiculously expensive little tractors, going round in small circles, headphones on, their faces trance-like, almost as though enacting a religious ritual. To me it seems inexplicable, except, as hubby suggests, it may be the only time they can escape to some peace and quiet.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

And There's More.....

Cattaraugus County Fair is just the sort of thing I love. Not too big, plenty of history...

Interesting food stalls....

(And whether by accident or design, right next to them..)

 There are wacky rides...

Even wackier rides....

and leftovers from the Demolition Derby... or is it the start of the Demolition Derby?

So even if you only come during the day and miss the Country and Western Concerts, you're really spoilt for choice.

But my second all time favourites are Swifty Swine, the racing piglets, aka "America's best kept racing secret". Here they come...

With names like Brad Pig and Lindsey Loham, out of the starting gates, they're faster than a flying sandwich...

There's a swimming pig too.

 But with apologies to Swifty Swine, my number one all time Fair favourite is..

 Smokey Joe's barbecue, from which billows smoke and the unforgettable scent of the best pulled pork in the world. Pulled pork is something I never encountered in England, though I've heard that it's getting popular in London. It was only a matter of time. It's tender and flaky and soused in delectable sauce.

New York state's biggest fair, the Erie County Fair, up in Hamburg, to the north of us, is about to start but if you ask me, I'd rather have Cattaraugus County Fair any time. I just heard on the radio that Erie County is sadly having to beef up its security, fearing terrorist threats. At least we're unlikely to get that sort of worry around here.