Friday, August 16, 2019

Bleepin' Beeping

Dateline: Cattaraugus County, western New York state

 There can be few things more ominous than this type of sign

Or more annoying than the beeping you get from reversing lorries aka trucks. The other day we had a whole symphony of them, working on patching up the road surface. Truck after truck heading up and down the lane and each with its own musical (sic) pitch. In our hilly country you can hear them echoing all over the place which makes it ten times worse. Here's one going past the end of our drive. I believe it's the same one they attach a snowplough to in the winter.

And here's the lane partly finished. For once they were reasonably quick about it.

Our tax dollars at work as hubby would say. They seem to have done an OK job if they would only lay off the beeping. Elf and Safety again.
  Though one thing I never understand about this part of America. They spend all summer digging up roads and patching potholes and the next spring it's just as bad and they start again. The charitable explanation from hubby is that the freeze and thaw sequence in the winter wreaks havoc with the roads and then there are all the heavy trucks cutting up the surfaces. I say that the Americans have many good qualities but they are nowhere near as good at building roads as, say the French. Plus they take ages over it.  One tiny bridge took about five years to finish and the motorway to Buffalo is in a perpetual state of cone-inflicted chaos. You'd think someone would invent a better way. Or perhaps there are too many vested interests in the local road building business looking for their annual windfall.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Garden Report

Dateline: Cattaraugus County, western New York

Alas, not much good news from the garden. Well Jack is always good news and although a bit of a slow starter this year, he's done us proud again.

Sadly I can't say that for the rest of the bunch. The deer have discovered the buffet and we made the big mistake of being away in June, when they did their worst. Even the rudbekias, blackeyed susans, yellow daisies, whatever, which usually proliferate like, yes, weeds, have only grown about six inches.

 And well as the usual suspects - deer and slugs, we've had two new problems this year. One is wasps. I was gardening a couple of weeks ago and (accidentally) stuck my hand in a wasps' nest. These particular wasps live in the ground and are extra vicious. One got me on my finger, which swelled up a bit but was manageable. I sprayed the nest with the usual stuff that usually seems to do the trick. A week or so later, I was walking past - walking past at a safe distance, not poking around. One of the survivors, out to avenge friends and family, shot out and deliberately targetted my leg, which swelled up like a balloon. I spent the next couple of days with my foot in a bucket of ice. Hubby had to resort to the flamethrower. And we've just discovered a new settlement of the brutes right under the trumpet vine.
  And the other thing is mud. Mud mud mud mud and more mud. And heavy rain is forecast again for this afternoon. The chap who was supposed to clear some of our jungle with his brush hog (not a species of wild pig but a tool for just that - clearing jungles) got his tractor stuck in the mud. Yes his tractor. It took all afternoon to pull it out. We might as well cut our losses and set up in business as a mud-wrestling venue.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Mysteries of the Lane

Dateline: Cattaraugus County, western New York 

The lane is in full summer mode and makes for a good workout when it's not pouring with rain. We are getting a little tired of the thunderstorms and the mud. But there are compensations when the view from the lane in morning looks like this....

 Or this....

Heavenly visions and fairytales spring to mind.

And the misty forest is full of the drumming of rival woodpeckers

But from beyond the stream, swollen by rain, way behind the trees and out of sight,  comes an odder noise. I've noticed it over the past couple of weeks and it definitely sounds like... chickens. At first I thought it might be the geese chuntering away on the pond but it no, it was fairly umistakeably clucking chickens. Do they have wild ones here like the wild turkeys? First I've heard of it. But the other morning I got proof. "Cock a Doodle Doo!" sounded piercingly across the valley. Several times. It seems an odd place to keep chickens, far away from any house and too close to a selection of hungry potential customers but they must have a reason.
  Another mystery - how wild flowers can arrange themselves so prettily against the road barrier.

And turn it into

A thing of beauty

And the flowers on the banks

Doing their bit too.

And yet another mystery. How Queen Anne's lace

Always manages to come up with

 A different design

 Is it Queen Anne or Anne of Denmark that it's named after? Americans so love their old monarchies.

 Whichever one it was, the tiny red dot in the centre, they say, comes from a drop of blood from the Queen pricking her finger.

Ouch. You can't keep a good fairytale down.

Monday, July 22, 2019

A Little Boat Gets a Lift

 We were tardy putting our sailing boat, Titanic 2*,  into the water this summer. Prolonged travels followed by days of monsoon-like weather, followed by necessary repairs to our tow vehicle, my trusty  but old 4 wheel drive, which proved to be unnecessary repairs,  meant we didn't get cracking until last week. But this year we had a new and exciting experience. After years of struggling with masts, winches, ramps and the like, we decided to call in professional help in the shape of the lads at the Buffalo boatyard. And they produced a wondrous machine.

A massive, wheeled contraption with a sling for the boat (nicely padded) which could be towed anywhere and everywhere.
  While they tinkered with getting Titanic 2 comfortable, I took some snaps of the romantic Buffalo waterfront....

...with its fabled grain elevators, a legacy of the days when the produce of the prairies steamed across Lake Erie to Buffalo, making it one of America's most prosperous cities. . Now they're the last word in post-industrial chic, fringed by small boat marinas and  intrepid kayakers.

It's all supposed to be in a much-lauded process of regeneration, though I'd still say it has a way to go. At least one of the grain elevators is in use to this day. This one for General Mills, which produces that American  breakfast staple, Cheerios. If the wind's in the right direction, you can smell them.

So here's the mighty machine on its way. Possibly Titanic 2, unlike her hapless namesake, is the smallest boat they've ever had to deal with.

 And there she goes, down into the water. How about that!

It beats backing the car, boat and trailer gingerly down a perilous ramp any day. Thank you lads!

*(Author's note: For the benefit of new readers, not her real name. At my first encounter hubby assured me she had been marketed as unsinkable. I said I'd heard that one before.)

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.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Road Trip Part 6: Blessing the Worms

Back to the road trip and UPDATE approaching the END UPDATE crossing into North Carolina, the scenery wasn't too promising.

That's why we tend to stay off the main roads.

Note the sombrero stuck on the billboard to the right.

We stayed the night in a place called Suffolk, which was quite near Norfolk. There were a lot of very tall girls staying at our hotel. They turned out to be a basketball team and we wished them luck. 
 We're now becoming old hands at negotiating the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel and after we got across, relief from concrete and kitsch was at hand from the Cape Charles Coffee Shop.

The interior had a lot of wood and old balconies and the waffles were spectacular. We mentioned that, as we came into the village, we'd seen this sign.

What on earth was the Blessing of the Worms?  It turned out not to be an ancient ritual dating back to mediaeval times in some village in the Carpathian mountains but a little fun to encourage the youth of the village to take up gardening. The "Youth Garden" was looking good.

Further on and more of what we really like to see.

A touch of Olde England, even down to the rain.

And the street names.

And towns like Oxford and Cambridge.
But before that, we were out to spot some slightly bigger wildlife.

To be continued.

(The update is to assuage the feelings of North Carolinans, who wouldn't like you to think that all this stuff is on their side of the border...Thanks to the helpful reader who pointed this out.)