Friday, July 29, 2016

A Politically Incorrect Sign?

My friend with his stone hoover, along with various other assorted machinery, have moved further up the lane, probably engaged in some flood-prevention ditch-dredging. But I'm surprised you're still allowed to say "Men Working". Even if they did look like men to me.  Do they still have those "Men at Work" signs in Britain? Or do they now say "Persons at Work"?  It reminds me of a friend, years ago, who offered to "man" a stall at a very PC charity fair and was soundly told off. She was a woman, actually. Here they do have a lot of women manning, oops, sorry, personning, the flags that tell you to stop or go before the roadworks, so a woman might well be employed to person a stone hoover. As I write, there's probably some bureaucrat in the Highways department being paid to think that one through.

Monday, July 25, 2016

A Peaceful Summer Turns Fearsome

The garden was in the midst of a glorious, endless summer, Not quite Garden Walk standard but looking pretty chipper, though I say it myself.  Here's Jack the Clematis showing off

And some brazen lilies I'd forgotten I planted

The monarch butterfly for once agreed to pose and wait while I ran for the camera

 My only grumble - I had to get up early to water. It's been a very dry summer. Hubby remarked that there's been no sound of insects chirping at night. All those biblical hordes of cicadas - the kind that emerge only every seventeen years - which we'd been threatened with never materialised either.

Well, as they say, be careful what you wish for. The weather forecast warned of "severe thunderstorms" and something called "small hail". I didn't like the sound of that. This morning was close and muggy, almost suffocating - like trying to swim through cotton wool. Then all hell broke loose.

Niagara Falls had changed location and was descending from the gutters

Right onto my poor flower bed

 While the garden path turned into a lake

Quite impressionist - it just lacked a water lily or two

And when the sun came out and I ventured out back,

to find thst yet another calamity had befallen our hapless sumac tree

Which had already been struck by lightning once. Old sayings obviously don't apply here. Except it probably wasn't lightning that did for it this time. Maybe it was small hail.
Meanwhile, a horrendous noise started up on the lane outside. I noticed a flash of yellow going back and forth, back and forth and that infernal beeping of a reversing heavy vehicle. Eventually I had enough and marched out to protest - to see the vehicle joined by a chap with a handheld device that looked like a large hoover. "Just clearing the stones off the road", he said. I looked and couldn't see much except a lot of tiny pebbles. The sort you see on most unmade roads around here. Anyway he didn't have much success in hoovering them up and departed soon afterwards, probably to warn his friends that the British were coming. Your tax dollars at work, as hubby would say.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

A Western New York Mystery Lane

Not our lane but up the hill and around the corner and one I hadn't driven before.

Winding through the hills and forests, so typically western New York, especially in the way the sun dapples through the trees. There's always something new to discover. 

I don't know if the house was lived in or deserted - a sign said "Private Drive Keep Out" in big orange letters. It could be the subject of many different kinds of story.  And typical of western New York too, the lane turned rougher and wilder, a "seasonal use" road, as they call it - not one to be negotiated in winter. But in summer full of promise and a gentle urge to keep going.

For who knows what might be round the next corner?

Monday, July 18, 2016

Road Trip Flashback 3: Moncks and Monks

  The town sister-in-law and I arrived at had an interesting nameMoncks Corner. We were in South Carolina  on our way north from Florida and were looking for somewhere to stay “Moncks” was spelt wrong of course but had it been Olde England instead of the Old South we’d have suspected  there might be some monastic connection.   
  This wasn’t exactly Catholic Central but the evangelical South, dotted with churches and chapels of umpteen denominations.  Signs like  “Get Right With God or Get Left Behind” vied with others advertising  “Cat Fish, Frog Legs, Raccoons, Rabbits” and the Hell Hole Swamp Festival.   But life often takes a funny turn and as we googled Moncks Corner we discovered there was, indeed, a monastery.  It was called Mepkin Abbey, a monastery of the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance, or Trappists. We set off early the next morning to find it. 
  We passed old crumbling gateposts, 

one tumbled down and gathering weeds,  belonging, perhaps, to  some abandoned mansion and took country lanes with suggestive names  

 Beyond the entrance to Mepkin Abbey we drove along under a spreading  canopy of gorgeous live oaks favourite trees of the south,  

draped with trailing fronds of spooky Spanish moss.  

It looked like the approach to a grand plantation, which indeed it once was.  It started life in the 18th century as a rice plantation and in 1936 was bought by Time magazine publisher Henry Luce and his wife Clare Boothe Luce

She led a high profile life as an author,  playwright,  war reporter, Republican politician, fierce anti-Communist and first American woman to become a top diplomat - as  Ambassador to Italy.   In 1946, after the loss of her only child in a car crash, she converted to Catholicism.  Known for her sharp wit, she’s one of a few people credited with coining the phrase, “No good deed goes unpunished,”  but despite that,   she and her husband donated a major part of the Mepkin Plantation to the Trappist monks of Gethsemani  Abbey in Kentucky, to found a new abbey. Both the Luces are buried there. 
  As always, we didn’t have much time to explore. In the early morning the monastery grounds were tranquil, here an azalea in bloom,  

there a statue 

The whole had been designed by a noted landscape architect, Loutrel  Briggs,  when the Luces contemplated building  a house here. As we drove further,  rolling vistas opened out, interspersed with lifesize  modern wooden sculptures:  Christ taken down from the cross; the flight into Egypt.  

Some slithery visitors basked in the sun

  The grounds dropped away to a spectacular view over the wide  Cooper River.  

Families setting up a picnic arrived in their cars and started spreading out rugs in the shade, the children hugely  excited at seeing the snakes. 
    In the gift shop, a celebrity was visiting, 

ready for the paparazzi

  The monks used to make a living raising chickens and selling the eggs but after running into complaints from animal rights activists (which many supporters considered unjustified),  they turned to the less risky pursuit of growing mushrooms.  I bought some dried oyster and shiitake mushrooms plus a recipe book called “Food for Thought” by the monastery cook, Father Joseph Tedesco, as a present for hubby, who’s the best chef in our household.  Enticing mushroom recipes figured prominently, though the Mushrooms and Cabbage in Chili Sauce might be an acquired taste. 
  The girl running the shop told us there were now  thirteen monks, the youngest aged 32 but many of the others a lot older.  Would they keep going “Of course – they’ll always keep going,”  she said, “and anyway they can’t have too many here.  It was built for a small number”. The  austere, modern church was nothing like an ancient abbey but Mepkin had all that calmness that somehow seems to envelop monasteries the world over. We could have stayed there forever but we had to get back on the road.  

Friday, July 15, 2016

Road Trip Flashback 2: A Charleston Cuppa

   America is blessed, of course, with abundant tempting produce, edible or otherwise. Around our way in rural western New York, roadside stalls carry  blueberries, green beans, sweetcorn and maple syrup.  
   And when sister-in-law and I journey through the southern states on our annual road trip north from Florida, we haggle over key limes, taste fresh pecans in Georgia, though we never seem to be there at the right time for its fabled peaches, raid the edges of  cotton fields for some of the discarded tough, prickly white balls so we can say we’ve actually been cotton pickin’ in the cotton-pickin’ southAnd we’ve fallen prey to hand-scrawled signs advertising  “Boiled Green Peanuts”. Bitter experience has proved that these taste revolting and are surely a  deliberate joke on unsuspecting northerners.  
    Sister-in-law having acquired one of those impressive large four wheel drives that, if it wasn't red, would look a bit like a tank, we’ve even picked up some  art and a concrete bird bath which I suppose also counts as local produce. 
  This trip, however, we were after something different. We had heard on good authority that, somewhere in south Carolina, not far from the venerable city of Charleston, there was a tea plantation – the only one in the United States.    Tea plantations for me used to conjure up vague pictures of hillsides in India.  The flat “Low Country”  around Charleston seemed aunlikely place. But America is full of surprises and a tea plantation there actually was. A French botanist first brought a tea plant to the area in 1799 and its been grown around there ever since. 

 We drove under canopies of live oak trees 

parked the tank  in the shade and looked out over neat rows of bushes, all with curiously flat tops.  

There was a  Gift Shoppe, where we were encouraged to sample the free tea on offer. Of course I forgot that, when you ask for tea in America, you have to specify “hot” tea. When I first arrived StatesideI was puzzled. What other kind of tea could there possibly be? The iced sort hadn’t quite crossed my radar. Now I find that iced tea is  everywhere, even sold ready made in the supermarket and is most people’s choice of grown-up soft drink. Not mine though. Call me old-fashioned but in my opinion tea should be nothing less than piping hot. This time, I briefly forgot where I was and stuck my cup under the tap, only for the stuff to come out cold. Hot tea was nowhere to be found. 
  Wouldn’t you know, we were there at the wrong time of year for the tea harvest but we did have an interesting tour of the “factory”, 

with video screens popping up to with useful information tea bushes like it wet, which is why they like it in the Low Country

And there’s now a huge, high-tech harvesting machine which chugs along shaving off the succulent shoots from the tops of the bushes, which is why the bushes all have crew cuts. And you can take that olde American standby, a quaint trolley bus, to explore the plantation 

Back in the Gift Shoppe, which was vast and stocked just about anything tea-related, including, naturally, Tea Shirts,  I finally discovered the free hot tea, lurking in a corner and took a gulp.  It was nice enough but didn’t seem that different from Tetley’s. Better not tell the Americans that. But it was tea all right and I suppose that’s an achievement in itself.  Plus it’s the official tea of the White House 
  You could have your photograph taken next to a model of a large, grinning frog sitting on a  bench and clutching, yes of course, a mug of tea. Maybe it was green tea. The frog, the plantation’s mascot, was called Waddy, after Wadmalaw Island, where we were. You can get married there too. Tea and toasts, anyone?  
  Then a fellow tourist pointed the other way,  “That’s the best place for a photo!  We went to look and there was a large signpost. It said “Next Closest Tea PlantationChina 7,320 miles, Kenya 7,816 miles, Indonesia 10,149 miles. 
  So we decided we’d better have another cuppa while we could. 

To be continued....