When you've got this:
Thursday, August 28, 2014
Wednesday, August 27, 2014
There's nothing quite like it. Eat one of these and you'll never want the beef kind again. Supremely lean and juicy, you somehow feel that its originator had a happy life, grazing up on the hills at our local bison ranch. I tell you, bisonburgers are one of the truly great things about my life in western New York. I don't recall ever having tasted one in London. Sorry, vegetarians.
Monday, August 25, 2014
I realise that on the 200th anniversary of British troops burning the White House in the War of 1812 (sic), this may be a sensitive topic but I was reminded the other day of another of our cultural differences. I happened, in an idle moment, to put on the DVD of "Saving Mr Banks", the film about Walt Disney trying to pressurise Mary Poppins author P.L. Travers into letting him film the story. Despite Emma Thompson hamming it up a bit, I did enjoy it, especially the several scenes where Disney offers Travers coffee and a selection of lurid-looking muffins, jellies, etc. At one point she wearily refuses all of it and asks for a "pot of tea". At which Disney gets on the blower to his secretary and orders "hot tea". I remember the first time someone asked me if I wanted "hot tea". I was flummoxed. What other kind of tea could there be? Not, it appears, in America.
Iced tea. Ugh. It's served wherever you go but I've never met anyone, American or otherwise, who actually likes the stuff.
Saturday, August 23, 2014
That's not the only strange cloud formation we've seen on the approach to Buffalo. We once saw nearby Niagara Falls perfectly reflected in the sky. No one's been able to explain that one to me.
Below another relatively unusual sight these days - a lake freighter. On its way west - to Duluth, Minnesota, perhaps, or lands beyond. We once nearly got mown down in the sailing boat by such a monster that crept up swiftly and silently behind us without so much as a toot of its horn. If we hadn't turned round and seen it, it might have been a sorry end to the story.
Thursday, August 21, 2014
Monday, August 18, 2014
I once took part in an archaeological dig under an old office building in the City of London, poking around in what they reckoned was an ancient version of a rubbish dump. We were supposed to be looking for Roman remains but the most exciting thing we found on my watch was a Victorian coal scuttle. Still, there was the thrill of the chase, not to mention the challenge of travelling home on the tube covered in mud.
So when I heard there was going to be an Archaeological Open Day in our village I thought I’d check it out. When you think archaeological digs, a farm in rural western New York doesn’t automatically spring to mind. So far as I know, the Romans never got to Cattaraugus County, no matter how straight some of the country roads might be. But America is full of surprises.
I got to the site to be greeted by Cynthia and Sonja, two ladies from Virginia Beach down south, who were volunteering at the dig. In fact they spent most of their weekends delightedly digging and scraping, wherever their services were needed,
“You’ve got to be willing to get dirty and get your hands blistered!” Yes I could remember that.
“And don’t tread on anything blue”, they added, “There’ll be a hole under it”.
We walked out into a field of flowering pumpkin plants and there beyond them, sure enough, several areas covered in blue plastic. I stepped around them nervously.
My guides explained that our local site, one of several being excavated along the Allegheny River, dated from “prehistoric times”.
I started thinking dinosaurs and woolly mammoths but then realised, of course, that “prehistoric” in American terms is something much more recent, in this case about 800 years ago. Any time before the European settlers came and started documenting things is prehistoric.
Near where we live is a Seneca Indian reservation, a sad sort of place these days, marked by run-down houses, garages selling cheap petrol and cigarettes and a giant, ugly casino. There’s little there for the people to do except cash in on the tax breaks they get as Native Americans to run things like that.
But 800 years ago, the Senecas’ ancestors had all the area to themselves, living in the forests, hunting deer and growing corn and squash. It was known as the “Woodland” period.
Cynthia uncovered one of the blue plastic covers and we looked down into a meticulously excavated square hole, bordered with string.
She pointed to what she called “features” – marks that could possibly reveal, for example, where a pole had stood, a prop for one of the longhouses that the people of those days would have lived in. Unlike the plains Indians further west, they didn’t have tepees but more permanent dwellings shared by several families. And this square we were looking at might well have included – yes, a rubbish dump, where all the best artefacts are found. Like archeologists the world over, Cynthia and Sonja and their boss, Steve were very excited about rubbish dumps.
Excavation is a slow and painstaking process. They’d been working on this site for a few months already. And displayed on tables were objects they’d already found. The “projectile points” – arrowheads to you and me - carved out of flint had come from a different site across the river.
But our site had already produced pottery shards,
many in a design experts call “Ontario oblique”, the reddish-coloured markings faint but still delicately pretty.
And there was a pipe - but that was newer, probably dropped by some 19th century farmer.
Nearby, children were sitting on the ground learning about “flintnapping” – or making weapons out of flint.
And of course they were selling the inevitable T-shirts.
I found it all a moving experience, a reminder that, way before Christopher Columbus, way before Walmart and McDonalds and the giant casino, there were families living here, eating, sleeping, quarrelling with their neighbours, throwing out their rubbish and probably grumbling about the weather. Just like us, really.
Friday, August 15, 2014
Monday, August 11, 2014
Off Route 219 going south just after Springville, there's a sign to "Scoby Dam". What in the world is Scoby Dam?
Disused Scoby Dam now. It was built in the 1920s and is no longer needed to provide electricity.
So now it's a park, the evening sun shining on the tree trunks..
And a closer look. Not quite Niagara Falls but still...
The house is boarded up with signs of a garden long gone.
Nature's taken over the old works.
As always around here, she doesn't need much bidding.
The placid Cattaraugus Creek above.
....must be a great place for fishing. Wild flowers abound.
With diversions on the way.
An almost perfect picnic spot.
And not a bad sunset.