Thursday, July 9, 2020

UnBEARable (Yet Again)

Dateline: Cattaraugus County, western New York state

Walking up the lane early this morning - one of those days when the sun was doing its fairytale thing,

I met my neighbour coming the other way. We usually pass each other in the morning and wave a socially distancing hello, "I forgot to tell you", he said. Up there where the road goes uphill. I saw something crossing the road. I thought it was a dog, said to myself, 'that's one big dog'. Then I realised it was a bear!" 
  "A bear!" I squealed, "WOW! "
  "Yep, I'd say around 400 pounds."
"When was this?"
Oh I'd say a week or so ago.."
"A week!" Not ten years ago then. "You know I've been in America 16 years now", I said wistfully, "and I haven't seen a single bear."
"Well you don't want to get too close.."
 Alas just about everyone I know around here has seen a bear except me. And I was walking up there last week too. Of course if I do ever spot one, I won't be able to get the phone to work or it will be switched off or something. Or I'll find myself in the one dangerous black bear scenario, separating a mother from her cubs and have to play dead and pray.

  Well there are always the Highland cattle round the corner.

They must be hot. It's going to be 92 degrees today.

 And this  morning when I looked out into the back garden there was a woodchuck*.

The biggest, fattest woodchuck I've ever seen. Fortunately just eating grass, not the flowers. Though who knows what he'd been up to earlier.  I mentioned it to hubby later,
   "It was this big!"
  "Sure it wasn't a bear?"
  "No, wrong colour."

* Sadly not my photo

Monday, July 6, 2020

Just Not Our Sailing Year

You'd think sailing out in the fresh air and sunshine would be one thing we could enjoy in these pesky times. But life is never that simple. So far we've tried to take Titanic 2 out on Lake Erie four times. The first time there was zero wind. We motored for a bit but then there was nothing for it but to come back to the Marina.

The second time there was too much wind. Even with just the jib up. We were thrown around horribly and I actually felt seasick, which is unusual for me. I did manage to get one lop-sided photo.

But then there was nothing for it but to come back to the Marina.
  Where I was set upon by an irate mother duck. Hey, whose dock is it anyway?

After my experience last year with the sadistic swan at Sumter I am naturally wary of waterfowl. But after a bit she relented and paddled off with the family.

The third time there was too much wind again. There was nothing for it but to stay in the Marina.
Finally, the fourth time, last Friday, the weather was perfect. Sunshine, wind at 10 knots. We were all set for an idyllic sail. At last. Then hubby tried to start the engine. The choke was stuck open. We twiddled  and pushed and shoved but all to no avail. Even hubby's perennial cure-all, "Get a bigger hammer" didn't work. The chap who could possibly have fixed it was away for the Fourth of July. There was nothing for it but to stay in the Marina. Again. Open the back of the Volvo and have a picnic and pretend we were at Henley Regatta. The young seagull thought it was all very funny.

"If it's any consolation", I said, "I think the wind's getting up." 
"Yes", said hubby, "the wind's getting up".
 "Wouldn't be much fun."
"No it wouldn't."
But we weren't convinced.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Oh No! Here We Go Again!

Just as we were sighing with relief that Chirpy, Cheepy and Chuffy had vacated the premises unscathed, we're now going to have new squatters to worry about.

You'd think motion detector lights above constantly opening and closing garage doors would not be the best choice for a tranquil nursery. But clearly, having put a lot of time and effort into building, the robins want their moneysworth. We hung a perfectly good nesting box up in the tree but evidently no one's interested in that. Social housing - huh!
  In the meantime it's a quiet Fourth of July though I have entered into the spirit by constructing a patriotic trifle - red white and blue, which will do for both of our countries. Unfortunately I ran out of raspberries so it looks more like Tottenham Hotspur colours. That was not the intention.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Bangers to the Rescue (Again)

  It's like the Number 9 bus. You spend ages waiting for one and then three turn up all at once. In similar fashion I spent many years living in America longing for proper British bangers. Once at a hotel I tasted sausages that were almost like bangers but not quite as they didn't have skins. I dragged the chef out of his kitchen to ask him where he got them. But they were not the real thing. In the days when we could travel to Blighty without a care in the world- ah those happy days! - I would eat several at the airport to compensate for the next few bangerless weeks.
   Then, last winter in Florida you may recall that we found,  of all things, a German butcher that carried British bangers and pretty good they were too. Now we're back in western New York, we've found a place in Buffalo - yes Buffalo -that sells not one but several varieties of authentic banger, Classic, Cumberland, Lincolnshire, even chipolatas. And to think it was there all along! The place is called Parkers and you can order from them. The bangers and crumpets- (I ordered crumpets too, in all their rubbery splendour, not, repeat not, to be confused with what Americans call English muffins) arrived still frozen, packed in ice. All very efficient. So I could have bangers, slightly - perfectly - burned on each side. And mash. And onions.

What a boon in these trying times when we all need some comfort for our souls.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Jungle Roses

Dateline: Cattaraugus County, western New York state

There are a couple of weeks in the year - and these are they - when western New York gardeners temporarily forgive one of their worst enemies.  This is the upper section of our jungle at the moment...

Completely taken over by multiflora roses. Same thing across the lane.

During most of the year, they spread surreptitiously, hiding and lying in wait to trip you up and catch you in their infernal thorns, dragging at your clothes, scratching and tearing at your arms. But in June they burst into flower and give themselves away. Here's one that had crept unnoticed right to the top of a tree,

But it's hard not to say - in just these two weeks of amnesty, mind -  "But they are pretty, aren't they?

Meanwhile elsewhere the peonies are a mixed bunch this year. One clump bloomed out of sight, hiding behind the hydrangea and seemed a bit miffed to be found out.

While two haven't deigned to flower at all. But there is some good news.

Chirpy, Cheepy and Chuffy, pictured here last week, have successfully flown the nest. At least I hope so. It's good news for the motion detector lights too.
   Plus I wanted a foxglove forest. And this year I finally got one.

And the arch is looking, well, almost triumphal.

To see a hummingbird on the hummingbird vine as I did the other day, somehow makes it all worthwhile.

Shame that, with things as they are, there's no one except us to share it with.

Friday, June 12, 2020

Hope Springs Eternal

This weird summer, I'm probably not the only one with no excuse not to get on with gardening. If the jungle doesn't come through for me this year, it never will. It's been a while since I've had the chance to tackle some of the flowerbeds, scraping out thick mates of fallen leaves and dispatching dandelions. Some things are starting to pop up. The lilies of the valley are unstoppable.

The carpet gets bigger every year. 

They seem to have suffered no ill effects from being stamped on by the builders last year. Well they say what doesn't kill you.....
  The irises are doing pretty well too.

 Funny because I don't actually remember planting them. That's probably why.

 The crabapple is from a couple of weeks back. The blossoms were so short and sweet.

But all is not well in paradise. No sooner had I planted my annuals and made a start on the flowerbeds than I looked out of the window and saw a baleful chestnut-coloured shape sauntering along at the back of the garden. The deer were casing the joint. And meanwhile in the front, I surprised a large, fat rabbit. Sure enough, half the geranium blooms in the whisky barrels had been nipped off for breakfast. This is nothing new of course but this year, with more time on my hands, I resolved to go down fighting.. I tried and dropped the idea of sprays (don't work) cayenne pepper (ditto) gadgets emitting high frequency sounds ("Give them a week to get used to it", hubby said cynically) and a statue of a wolf that howled when something walked past ("Always the same howl. They'll get wise to it.") Then I remembered someone mentioning Irish Spring soap. I was going to order a box of it online, only to be told they can't deliver to New York State. Perhaps it's a controlled substance. So I dispatched hubby to the Dollar Store to buy some. "Yes it does work!" the checkout girl said, "I grate it." .I cut up some old net material I'd used on the blueberry bushes when I still thought it would keep the birds off (forgetting the chipmunks attacking from below), chopped up the lurid green soap, with an even more lurid smell, made little bags and suspended them from sticks all round the flower beds. Now the garden smells like a 1950s TV commercial and I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

It's Disney Time Again

Chirpy and Cheepy (and possibly another sibling) have hatched and are hungry.

Personally I don't think the mother robin is a good parent. First, choosing the motion detector lights above the garage to set up shop on, so they go on and off all night. Not to mention the sound of the garage doors going up and down though she's become quite blase about that. Then the lads seem to be home alone most of the time while she goes awol for ages.  I remarked to hubby that I was going to call social services. Then I saw her hopping nonchalantly up the front garden with a beakful.
  So they got supper at last.

 Meanwhile on the porch, someone else is after handouts.

While his brother-in-law poses among the creeping thyme.

There's never a dull moment on our porch, I can tell you.

Nothing Like a Dame(s) Rocket

Right now the roadsides and forests are truly astonishing in their beauty. 

Every day, it seems, there are more patches of pink, purple and white

Twinkling and peeking and as you drive past, tantalisingly spotted between the trees in some half-hidden glade.

The flowers are Dame's Rocket, a European import, apparently and like other European imports, have tended to take over.  Well who's complaining?

Actually some states, have, in their spoilsport way, classified them as an invasive species. Not New York though. Another name for them is "Mother-of-the-Evening" because their delicate scent is at its best late in the day. Here, along a pretty local dead-end road along the Allegany River, they stretched almost as far as you could see.

Hubby read somewhere that you could eat the leaves - like edible rocket. We picked some and tried them. They tasted, well, like grass. Maybe they were too old.

They remind me a little of how British bluebells mist the ground in the forests back home, completely naturally. You can't tell them where to go. We once tried digging some Dame's Rocket up and planting it in the garden. Nothing happened then but now, years later, more and more of them are popping up at the back as if by magic. People come here in the autumn to look at the leaf colours but western New York's best kept natural secret appears in the early summer.  As with the leaves, the most spectacular displays are, of course, along the highways/motorways, where you can't possibly stop and take a photo.

Here's another shot of the languid river. In places it can't have changed much for centuries.

The canoeists, who looked like a bunch of students, seemed to be having a blast. At least no one's going to nag them to socially distance.

Friday, June 5, 2020

Sprouting Signs

It's been bit rough on the local schoolchildren that they can't have their graduation ceremonies. Especially here in America where graduation from High School, from Middle School, from Elementary School -  even kindergartens have their mini processons with the requisite blast of Land of Hope and Glory, or rather the instrumental version of - is such a big thing. Not like Britain, where the pomp and circumstance is mostly reserved for getting your University degree. Most places have thought up their own solutions. Here the schools held parades of decorated cars while people clapped and held up signs from their front gardens. 
  On the fence outside the high school hung portraits of all the graduating class - the Seniors, as they call them, rather poignantly all dressed up for their formally posed photos, the boys in black tie, the girls in smart black dresses. It did bring a lump to my throat - how people can manage to make the best of a bad situation. Well good luck to them all.

Not to be outdone, the teachers are also being celebrated. Well I'm not sure if this one is for a pupil or a teacher...

Though this is definitely a teacher.

 All these signs saying honk for something or other. You have to be quick off the mark and I usually miss it or I'm wary if I'm not quite sure what I'm meant to be honking for. There was a chap sitting on the edge of the park last week with a a sign that, as far as I could tell, just said, "Honk".
  But this business about the "amazing" educator. Why stop at teachers? They have signs for health workers too, of course but how about "an Amazing Plumber lives here", or "an Amazing Retired Lawyer", or, come to think about it,  "an Amazing Blogger",  or even "an Amazing Lazy Layabout"? In America, after all, we're all amazing.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Catching Up with the Lane

Dateline: Cattaraugus County, western New York state

  A few days ago it was still early spring. I walked up to explore the lane, unseen since last autumn. Here, still on our land, was an apple tree I had barely noticed before (there are so many, mostly planted by birds, mostly not over-generous with fruit), shouting, "Look at me!" Well who knows, we might actually get a harvest. On the other hand it might be fooling me and not be an apple tree at all.

A little further up and - wow! Rudolf's had a facelift! A brand new head! And nose.

Which is definitely an  improvement from last year.

These wildflowers - garlic mustard I think - were everywhere . They look a tiny bit like British nettles but they're not. They are however originally from Europe and an invasive species. But try stopping them. Actually America is full of invasive species, brought in by European settlers. Who I suppose were an invasive species par excellence.

The streams were full and babbling.

And the lake at the top of the hill seemed more photo-friendly than usual. Perhaps they thinned out the trees? Or a storm did.

All seemed very quiet. Nobody going to work or school of course, except the farmers and builders.

It's all very different from palm trees and bougainvillea. I had forgotten the scent of wet leaves, of woodsmoke, the kissing sounds of scurrying chipmunks and the muted colours. But ready-steady-go for the fastest few weeks of growth season outside a speeded-up nature film. Western New York needs to catch up and fast. Just watch this space.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

It's Early Spring!

Dateline: Cattaraugus County, Western New York State

  So last weekend it was goodbye to Florida and a whole month later than usual, we set off for the (semi) frozen north.  No relaxed and prolonged road trip this time but a two day marathon, just getting from A to B as fast and with as few stops as possible in a rented minivan piled high with sandwiches and bottles of bleach. We had one night in a hotel, "Don't touch the lift buttons whatever you do!" "Well how are we supposed to get to our room then?" and other snippets of topical conversation. Although our drive turned out to be remarkably trouble free with sunshine most of the way . We did have some laughs - the sign that said "Welcome to North Carolina" and another straight after it, "Stay Home!" And the dad at the rest area struggling to put a mask on a reluctant two-year-old. What times we live in!
 And here in Cattaraugus County it's early spring revisited.

Yes the daffs are still going strong. (They tell me it was snowing here last week). And the apple tree that got split in half is still refusing to give up.

Can we bottle that scent? Hubby asked.

 But, I ask, why does the creeping phlox refuse to grow in the flower beds and instead goes awol in the grass?

We had a bit of a shock when we got to the entrance to our drive.

The hole, evidently washed out by snow and rain, wasn't as wide as it was when it happened before, a few years ago, but enough for the tow truck come to fix hubby's car battery to get stuck. Luckily someone was on hand with a tractor. Or they would have needed another tow truck. Which would also have got stuck. Etc.
  Meanwhile we have some new squatters. Robins, judging by the turquoise eggs. These, of course, are giant, imperious American robins that flock together, unlike the sweet little British ones. Funny that both have red breasts and blue eggs though.

 Right on top of the motion detector lights over the garage doors. I fear that, now we're back, the door opening and shutting might be too much for their nerves. They thought they'd moved into a quiet neighbourhood. I know how they feel, with all those lawnmowers. But they went to  a lot of trouble with the nest, a veritable Mcmansion. The top part is stylish smooth mud, like pottery. Even the birds have been watching all those home renovation TV programmes. We wondered why the lights kept going on and off.