Sunday, February 21, 2021

The Games Birds Play

Ours is a riparian existence. But this is our first full winter here. Our usual “escape” to Cuba has not taken place this year. But we are enjoying our time, which seems to be passing quickly. We’ve had grey days for sure; but when the sun comes out it is truly glorious.

And we have enjoyed watching the water life, as we do all year round. We do not see the seals, nor have we seen the dolphins that occasionally entertain us in the summer and autumn. And we have not witnessed any of the very large fish jumping high out of the water. But the birds have provided great entertainment.

Several weeks ago, we noticed two loons, then four, then eight swimming close to our shore. They are bearing their nondescript winter coats. We have seen them before in the late fall and early spring, when their coat is more appealing. They will fly to the abundant fresh water lakes in the late spring, once the ice is out.

More recently we have enjoyed an ever growing flock of Mergansers swimming and diving off our shore. There must be an abundance of fish in this location.

What has amused us most, however, are the gulls and, in particular, their reaction to this infestation of ducks. The gulls seem incensed that these birds are feeding here. They land among them, harass them and even fly up briefly into the air and swoop down on them. But their targets easily dive out of reach, as a large hawk watches from a tree top at the shore.

We are not entirely sure that this act of the gulls is aggression. It is possible they are simply trying to get the scraps of the fish these intruders are feasting on. Regardless, it is great amusement to idle minds on a lazy, sun-drenched winter afternoon. 

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Order of Good Whisky

Samuel de Champlain settled at his Habitation just down the road from our home four hundred and sixteen years ago. To bolster the frigid spirits of these early European explorers during the long cold winters here, he created the celebrated "Order of Good Cheer". Food, wine, theatrics and parades were the backbone of this merry festivity.

Now had he been Scottish, instead of French, he might actually have created a feast with whisky and haggis, rather than wine, fish and fowl. Had he been a poet instead of an architect we might have had cause to celebrate his birthday. 

Now the Scots did come here. But they did not stay long, although their presence has given our Province it's name, albeit in Latin. 

Then, more than a hundred years later, we had a whisky loving Scot who wrote poetry and has become a Scottish icon. He never visited Nova Scotia that we know of. But his celebration on January 25 every year is very much in the genre of that "Order of Good Cheer". And being in January, it is a convenient excuse to chase away the winter blues.

Most years in post retirement, we have been in Cuba at this time. There, we do raise a glass to his memory; however, we have to admit it is not of whisky, but of rum. Burns would approve, for it is excellent Cuban rum. 

This year, however, like most sensible folk, we do not travel. So we have stayed home for a Nova Scotia winter and been able to do both Robbie Burns and Monsieur de Champlain proud with our festivities on January 25, 2021.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Adjusting to Winter

Normally at this time, we would be basking on a beach on the north shore of Cuba . But one has to adjust to new realities. And I think we have.

Travel does not appeal to us in these uncertain days. And I have to say, we are enjoying our first “winter” here in Nova Scotia. Seventeen degrees Celsius on Christmas day was not hard to take. It was the first time we have ventured out in our convertible with the roof down in late December. And wine on our riparian deck on New Year’s Day was a pleasure too.

Yes, we’ve had snow. But not much. Yes, it’s been grey and chilly. But not always and certainly not like the minus 30 Celsius we frequently experienced at our former home in Ontario. Minus 7 we can take, even minus 20 will seem like a salve.

It is now mid-January. Our lawn is green. Our decks are clear. The wood pile is disappearing very slowly. We’ve enjoyed several pleasant walks in parks and on trails or just around our little village here in Granville Ferry.

But, I can assure you, we are not lulled into a false expectation of an easy winter. Cold will come. Snow will come. But the daylight is already growing longer and stronger. Stew bubbles on the stove. The fire burns warmly in our livingroom. The house is snug. And the view is always engaging and often invigorating.

Despite Covid, I stand looking out at walkers-by as I practice the fiddle. John finds comfort in his little art studio nestled at the back of the house. The telephone rings: an invitation to a socially distanced dinner. A call from old and dear friends comes from Germany on WhatsApp, and from friends in Cuba who are missing us.  A letter arrives from England six weeks late. There are cocktails on Zoom with former colleagues. And regular emails from friends near and far reaching out to us and we to them on our computer monitors each morning.

We acknowledge our good fortune every day.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Tragedy Again in Nova Scotia

It is not uncommon for fishermen to be drowned at sea. This has been the case throughout history. But it is deeply saddening, to say the least. 

Although we tend to romanticize the sea, in stories and song, it can so well often be terrifying and unpredictable. The boats are small in comparison to the huge swells that can appear from no where. The work is hard and always dangerous. The risk is great and known by the men and women who live and work tirelessly on these shores.

Yet our fragile economy here in the Atlantic Provinces depends on the harvest of fish, lobster and scallops and other sea creatures. Most of us enjoy the results at our dinner tables.

But today and at this festive season, our hearts go out to the families and friends and co-workers of the six men from Yarmouth, all of whom are now presumed dead in the frigid waters of the Bay of Fundy.

Saturday, November 21, 2020

I Came, I Saw, I Conquered

Veni, Vidi, Vici. Julius knew what he was talking about. This will not be the first time I have recounted the tale of a ladder, a tree and a chainsaw. However, it is the first time I have done so in a very long time. And it is the first time I have done so with regard to our home in Nova Scotia.

Once upon a time, I was a little younger and a lot more agile. Now I am older and supposed to be wiser. However, it seems I am not any less foolish. Perhaps, if truth be told, I should say, “we” are not any less foolish, because John plays a role here, just as I do.

Our rear deck sits high off the ground as the land slopes away steeply under our home. The view is magical. But there is a certain maple tree that has caused us concern. It is old and in perilous shape. And it rises just to the side of our deck. It sits on the property line.

Indeed, it is really two large trees intertwined. One has long since rotted and been taken down at about ten feet – or rather more likely, it has fallen at some point in the past. The other has been topped at about the same height. Where a mighty trunk once towered, a mighty limb has grown and looped its way to the side and up into a new double tower.

There are several other lesser limbs – branches one might better say – that are only several inches in diameter. These too are intertwined. One is dead. The others, very much alive and awkwardly placed.

The concern has been that these branches would weigh a toppling tree in our direction and cause insurmountable damage to a magnificently curved deck masterfully constructed by craftsmen to look like the prow of a sailing vessel. These craftsmen no longer exist, or, if they do, are no longer affordable.

One option was to take out these ballasts and hope that, when the rot increases as it no doubt will, the remnants of this once great tree will topple more or less harmlessly in the opposite direction.

To make a long story a little less long, I went to rent an extension pole chainsaw. The thought was that by leaning over the railing of our deck, I could easily slice through most of these branches.

Sometimes the eye does not accurately gauge distance. Yes, I was able to barely reach the first of these branches. Quickly and with ease the branch crashed to the ground below. But the next two branches were out of reach. So, John, who is taller, took the pole saw from me and leaned over the railing; but alas, even his graceful reach was not enough.

I had only rented the saw for four hours; so we had to think swiftly. This is not always the best idea!

We descended from the deck to the ground under it and stood by the  base of the tree looking upward. With the pole saw, I made a cut upward from the underside of the large limb. The wood was hard – hard like a stone. Then I took the saw, reaching as high as I could, and started to cut down from the top of the limb. This was tiring. John took over and the blade cut to within a few inches of the lower incision. Then the limb cracked. The saw jammed. It would not be freed.

Panic raced through my body. So as not to damage the trapped saw blade by letting go of the pole, John bravely held the motor above his head, while I fretted about what to do next. And he held the saw ably well!

Then I took over while John ran to get a pole of some sort so that we might try to heave the limb upward. It would not budge. Then I returned the mantle to John whilst I rushed to get an extension ladder. I propped it up against the tree. The ground was uneven. The ladder wobbled, but I secured it between the remnants of a branch that poked out from the trunk near the foundation of the problem limb. It continued to wobble; but it would not fall.

I returned to our basement to get our other handy chainsaw, the one that has featured in other lumbering tales from our past. John is still holding the pole saw above his head. I start the other chainsaw and proceed to climb the ladder. The saw stalls. I descend. I restart the saw and mount the ladder again cautiously. The saw stalled once again just before I reached the top. This scenario was repeated about five times.  I finally managed to carry the weighty beast successfully to the top, secure my positions as best I could and reach through a timber “V” to take out another branch.

I could tell the saw blade needed to be sharpened. From smoke that appeared I thought it likely needed some oil too. John faithfully stood with the pole saw now perched on top of his head to permit his arms to rest a little. I went back to the basement to sharpen the blade and to top up the oil.

The idea of taking off these other branches was to reduce the weight on the antagonistic limb; so that we might lift it enough to free the imprisoned blade of the rented pole saw. Another branch was cut off but it got caught in the tangle of branches. Lifting was not to be. Try as we might, taking turns, lift we could not. Then a rope was tossed over the limb to see if pulling it might prove beneficial. It would not budge.

I mounted the ladder again with the other now-sharpened chainsaw. I was almost becoming adept at the climb. I manipulated the saw through that awkward “V” once again. I had cut through five or six inches of another branch when I sensed this saw too might soon become trapped. I pulled it out just in time. But there was still several inches to go. I descended and retrieved a hand saw – a dull rusty one that had served us well for over thirty years of pruning at our former home.

John is still holding up the saw above his head, saying little. He was wise. I climbed the ladder once again with the handsaw. Reaching through the annoying “V”, I cut from the bottom up, from the side in and from the top down taking rests every few swipes as my arm ached and wearied. I finally got that branch free. But the limb would still not budge.

Then, I took the handsaw to the massive limb that was the source of our tribulation. Sweating, aching, grunting was I, but finally John uttered incredulously: “It’s coming free!” The pole saw was liberated.

The limb, however, was still in place. A little bit of a rest was had, a lot of relief. Then I went at it again with the handsaw, and after several minutes at what seemed futile, a great cracking sound was heard and the massive limb fell to the ground far below with a loud thud … far below because the land dropped off rapidly into the neighbour’s yard.

I think we wanted to cry. But lumberjacks don’t do such an unmanly thing. We took a short break and then dragged these weighty limbs, branches and debris onto our property; where, at the time of writing they remain.

It will be another day when these get cut up for firewood and the brush for a bonfire. The rented saw was returned in good condition and not a word of this traumatic tale passed my lips.

Will these two 70-something old men learn. Hmm. Maybe. One can always hope.

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Birds of a Feather

 As we are normally away for most of the winter season, our bird feeder is not central to our view or our mind. Indeed, it remains empty of seeds much of the winter. But this year is different. We are not going to be travelling to our usual winter retreat in Cuba.

Therefore, the bird feeder has been resurrected. And it has been placed in a more prominent position. We can now view it as we sit in the comfort of our back room by the fire.

We enjoy particularly the Chickadees and the smaller birds. But as is custom, the Blue Jays invade and terrorize the smaller birds. But the tiny ones are patient and simply wait their time. 

The feeder has only been out and filled for less than twenty-four hours. It is already just about half empty. 

We have already seen a stunning male Cardinal, a Woodpecker, and a Grackle as well as the other more common visitors. The poor Grackle, although about the size of the Jays, is less adept at managing the small pegs that are the landing spots. It flutters and sputters and, try as it may, it flies away empty.

There is no decorum, even among the Jays. No graciously waiting one's turn. This is all about the bully winning. But the little Chickadees, simply wait for an opening. And they are much more capable of dining at leisure once they find their time. 

I suspect we shall have much amusement, and perhaps a little frustration too, out of this scene over the next few months.