Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Winter Scenes

Hope everyone had a break from work and was able to spend some time with family and friends.  Here are some pretty "winter wonderland" pictures I made from photos taken on our property.  All images are © Willow Retreat.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas Everyone!

Winter Dreams

Leaves, September-soft
crisping with November frost
– winter dreams in white.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from Willow Retreat.   May all your winter dreams come true.  :)

Photograph and haiku © Anne C, Willow Retreat 2010

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Under normal circumstances, “my husband” and “explosives” are not words you want to see in the same sentence.  However, with our beaver problem going from bad to worse, plus the onset of some of the wettest weather Nova Scotia has seen in recent years, the pairing of these phrases became not only acceptable, but necessary.

As I had already returned home, I can only give a second-hand and necessarily vague report of the shady goings-on down at Beaver Dam.  The first round was a fairly straightforward win: with the aid of a keen eye and a great deal of patience, the final score was Paul: 2, Beaver: 0.  The evidence was left at the dam as a warning.

This is all well and good, but word on the street estimated the beaver population along this waterway to be forty-plus.  If this was the case, we needed to find a more permanent solution.  The gravel surface was now almost completely washed away, and if the erosion continued, our road would become a river.  We had discussed various options: a bridge, a bigger culvert, raising the level of the road.  All of these are costly endeavours which require a backhoe, not to mention a wealth of time and material.  Simpler, more immediate action was needed.

Trust me, there’s a reason why Paul’s nickname is Pierce Gibson McGyver.  See, you leave him by himself for a couple of days and he gets bored.  When he gets bored, he thinks up mad solutions for tough problems.  Hmm, he thinks to himself, what would happen if I used my knowledge for good instead of evil?  Ah, what indeed? 

Around the supper hour, a large boom was heard in the vicinity of Beaver Dam.  The theme from “The Dambusters” may or may not have been playing.  The initial percussion caused a small shock wave, giving local blue jays and chipmunks time to scatter.  Shortly thereafter there was an ominous burbling sound, and a huge mass of mud, tree branches and debris rocketed out of the culvert like a cork from a bottle.  Water began to gush through the cleared culvert and almost immediately the flooded area began to subside. 
Here are a few before and after pictures:


Remember this?  Knee-deep ... and this is the road!

The extent of the flooding, with our car to show scale.


That great big lump that looks like a part of the riverbank?  That was tightly packed inside the culvert.

View downstream showing how quickly the water has receded.

The riverbank which was previously completely submerged.

.... and the road is now dry!

The amount of material blocking the culvert was such that we guess it had not been cleared in years.  As well, when we looked at the photos of the waterway when we first saw the property back in February, it’s obviously been quite a few seasons since the water level has been this low.  We’re hoping that now the culvert is clear, as long as we keep it clear, the water will flow under the road the way it was supposed to.  We can’t stop the beaver activity, but as long as we can maintain a dry road, there’s no reason why we can’t co-exist.

In the meantime, if you chance to meet Pierce Gibson McGyver on a dark night, my advice is to be very, very nice to him. 

Monday, October 11, 2010

Mouse Camp

It takes a while for the born-and-bred Townie to get with the program.  I'm talking about the particular things you have to bear in mind when living in the country.  Only being at the house part-time at the moment, it's even more important to take care of certain issues.  In case you haven't guessed, I'm talking about Mouse Dirt Duty.

Every rural home (and many a suburban one too) has mice.  It's simply a fact of life.  Mouse dirt is something you should clean up as soon as you get into the house, because it can carry some highly unpleasant diseases that can make humans sick.  A particularly nasty one that you've probably heard of is Hanta Virus.  You can find out more about that here:  www.cbc.ca/news/background/health/hantavirus.html
although interestingly, CBC states that Nova Scotia is free of infected mice.  Nevertheless, you really don't want mouse dirt around your home for the simple fact that it's nasty and mouse urine is smelly and Ugh.  So, let's get rid of it, as well as the little perishers that caused it!

In the time-honoured tradition of "don't do as I do, do as I say", the first thing you want to do is wear a mask.  One of the cheap disposable ones they gave out during the SARS outbreak in Toronto will do fine.  Sweeping up mouse dirt raises fine dust particles which can lodge in your lungs and give you a nasty cough.  The best way to clean up is with a vacuum, but a regular broom and dustpan will do, just make sure you dispose of the stuff in a sealed bag in the garbage or put it out to be burned.  Don't just sweep it under the floorboards (where the mice live!) or anywhere inside the house because it will just attract more rodents in.

The next thing to do is clean counters and food cupboards with a diluted bleach solution.  We keep a spray bottle handy in the kitchen.  It cleans and sterilizes, and also gets rid of that funky smell.  We have a tall pantry which we call "Mouse Cupboard" (into which no food will ever be put unless it's in a can) and that is definitely one for the vacuum cleaner. 

As for getting rid of the little blighters, we've had moderate success with cotton balls soaked in peppermint oil (which they apparently dislike) and lately, steel wool instead of the cotton balls (thanks to some advice from a Scottish mouse expert, you know who you are, and thanks!) as it's about the only substance they can't gnaw through.  The little blue blocks of mouse bait are good too.  We're convinced that a couple of these have been carried off entire to the nest and presented to the family as a treat!  We don't know where they got the tiny little dolly to transport them ...

Anyway the good news is that, thanks to judicious hole-filling through the miracle of expanding foam, there are no more nocturnal disturbances. 

The bad news is that the culprit who left all the wood shavings and poop at the back door is not a mouse at all; it's a chipmunk.  How do we know this? Because the little rascal decided to investigate our bags ... right inside the house!  When spotted, he bolted up to the ceiling and froze.  After a while he came to his senses and started making warning chirps.  Next up, expanding foam!!

Rodents are not the only visitors we get at Avalon Woods.  While out walking, we came across this guy:

Just your common garter snake minding his own business - until I almost stepped on him!  Here's a better view:

This time up we were also treated to a spectacular sunset.  The hills are placed just so we can't actually see the sun setting, but we certainly get some gorgeous skies. 

In other news, it will probably come as no surprise to learn that the beavers are back.  Here is the state of the road when we drove up:

There's really nothing much to be done except call the guys at the DNR - so that's what we did.  Six traps were laid, and we'll see how it is when we get back. 

That's it for now.  Looking forward to the day when we can call Cape Breton home all year round!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

A Gift of Pine and Apples

It was with more than a little anxiety that we drove up to the house this time.  Hurricane Earl had torn through a couple of weeks ago, followed closely by Hurricane Igor, which did immense damage in Newfoundland.  Would we find a tree through the roof?  Would the barn still be standing?  And what about the water supply?  As the place came into view, we breathed a sigh of relief to see both barn and house intact.  One big pine tree had been snapped off and was resting in the arms of its neighbouring birch, so that would have to be dealt with – but that was the only one close enough to the house to make any kind of impact.
There is a type of tree which we call “the Standing Dead”.  This is quite literally as it sounds: trees that have died and yet remain standing.  The woods at the back of the house have quite a few of these, and they are the ones that are most likely to come down in a wind storm.  When we hiked up to the power house to check on the water line, we were shocked to see how many trees had been blown down.  Criss-crossing the trail, leaning precariously above us, or caught on other trees, they were everywhere.  A fair few days work for a clean-up crew!  But for now they will have to wait. 
After checking the water line and making sure the power house was intact, we hiked further up to the intake and Paul checked that it was clear of leaves and debris and flowing well.  It’s quite an interesting process and I can’t claim to understand any of it, but Paul does and I’m hoping I can persuade him to write a “Water” blog entry just like he did for the micro-hydro system. 
Dealing with the fallen tree took up a good part of the day.  Here’s a picture diary of the event:

Successfully cut down & dragged out ...

The Suburban did a first-rate job at pulling the tree out from the bush.

Putting the chainsaw to good use.

The end result: a nice stack of firewood.

The other thing I was worried about was how much fruit was going to be wasted due to windfall and animal damage.  I needn't have worried as all our fruit trees were intact and the apples were only just ripening. 

One of our many apple trees, loaded with goodies.

A good haul.

An offering of thanks.

I think this log at the base of the apple tree will become my offering spot.  Just right for a fairy table! :)

Lovely ripe rosehips! 

We took a nice full box of apples to our friends down the road.  Hopefully they'll put them to good use!

Okay, that's it for this post.  Next: mice, sunsets, and snakes! :D

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Weather or Not

Not being at the house on a regular basis is thrown into sharp relief when bad weather arrives.  Today, Hurricane Earl hits the Maritimes.  Although its status had been downgraded to a Tropical Storm, it's still packing 70 mph winds and has the potential to do severe damage.  The current projected path of the storm shows it slicing across mainland Nova Scotia, crossing the entire breadth of Prince Edward Island, then clipping the northwest coast of Newfoundland.  According to the projections, it may miss Cape Breton altogether.  Here's a news report with a pop-out map that shows its course as of now:


and here is another interactive map from the U.S. National Hurricane Center:


The weather forecast for Baddeck shows heavy rain, and a wind warning has been issued for Victoria County:


The main concern at the property is downed trees.  Of course the woods are going to be full of windfall, that's only to be expected, but hopefully the trees close to the house will withstand the onslaught.  The highlands are notoriously windy.  The bright side is that we have no power lines to come down! 

A local acquaintance told us not to worry too much.  Three years ago Baddeck suffered widespread flooding due to heavy rain, and yet when our friend called the house, the owner had no idea what she was talking about; not a drop of rain had fallen in the highlands!  So I remain optimistic; after all, the place has stood there for decades through many hurricane seasons, and is still standing. 

Still, next time we visit, I'm pretty sure there's going to be a few bushels of fallen apples to clean up ...  :)

Sunday, August 15, 2010

First Fruits

Snatching a few days at the beginning of August to get away from the big city with its oppressive heat, the constant brown haze of polluted air that hangs over the metro area, and the seething mass of people in the overpopulated south, we headed down east with that growing sense of freedom that awaits us, if we can only cut the ties to our suburban life.  (Wow, that was a long sentence!)

I was convinced that Friend Bear would have made short work of our budding raspberry crop, but as it turned out our timing was perfect.  The canes were groaning with ripe fruit and I went out with my biggest pan to collect the goodies.  It didn`t take me long to learn that going raspberrying in the Cape means long pants, sturdy boots and a bugshirt, not to mention a can of pepperspray in case of uninvited guests.  When all was said and done I picked 3 lbs of fruit.

Ripe for the picking.


I don`t yet have the equipment on hand to make preserves, but rest assured these are safely stashed in the freezer for now.  I did get this great book, "Small-Batch Preserving" (Topp & Howard) which contains a raspberry jam recipe which I'm itching to try.  I'll let you know how it turns out!

Every time I arrive, it seems that the garden has a new and exciting treasure to show me.  This time I was thrilled to be greeted by a gorgeous display of hollyhocks.  These are one of my favourite flowers, and I did have one in my suburban garden, but it fell victim to leafhoppers and the blooms rotted on the stem.  This garden however, being 100% organic and naturally sustained throughout its life, seems remarkably pest-free and the hollyhocks were growing tall and healthy.  I know you guys always want photos, so here are a few. 

Deep purple, anyone?

Or white?

Shocking pink?

Or maybe you prefer pastel shades?

In non-hollyhock-related news, we had more encounters with Supermouse, who had decided in our absence to treat his family to an entire cube of mouse poison treat, and seemed none the worse for it.  He even had the cheek to jump onto Paul's hand when he switched on the porch light!  I know a few ladies who would have been screaming Eeek! and leaping on chairs at this point.  Battle ensued, and waged using the weapon of choice: expanding foam.  There are so many crevices and mouseruns, it's almost like the place was built to be a mouse playground.  I think that when we're there fulltime, we'll be interviewing a few cats for their rodent-hunting skills.

Tom & Jerry, of course, pale in comparison to Wile E. Coyote ...   The first I knew that something was up was when a gunshot rang out while I was innocently folding laundry.  I watched from the upstairs window as Paul hoisted the Marlin to his shoulder and shot two or three rounds in the general direction of the woods near the barn.  When he returned to the house he told me that two coyotes were enjoying a shady clearing at the edge of the woods right alongside our driveway.  One of them bared its teeth and snarled at him, leaving him in no doubt that a couple of shots were necessary.  Hopefully they've got the message.  We discussed the possibility of maybe getting a dog, and researched a few of the larger breeds, but we're not sure yet.  After watching a Youtube video of a cat staring down a coyote in New York City, as well as another one of a cat chasing a bear from a garden, I'm thinking maybe we'll stick with the cat idea.

Meanwhile, we have grapes!  The tiny baby grapes that we saw last time have grown profusely, and the pergola is literally groaning with fruit.  As well, we discovered that the unknown vine draping itself all over our honey locust tree near the deck is, in fact, another grapevine!  And it too is loaded down.  We're going to need a really long ladder ...

Casa Cape Breton ... ?

We never cease to be astonished by this garden.  Waiting to see what September brings ...

Thursday, July 29, 2010

So ... did I mention the place needs some TLC?

Bearing in mind that we first saw the place in the depths of a snowy February, there are certain things you tend to overlook. One of these was what I refer to as the "potting lean-to". It's actually the very first part of the house that you notice when you pull up the driveway, and as such, really did not give a good first impression. When we returned in May, we realized just how shabby it looked. As soon as we were able to get in the house, Paul, not being the kind of guy to let the grass grow under his feet, set about taking it apart.

The view from the driveway - not very appealing.

The stone wall is actually quite charming, but the rest of the structure left a lot to be desired. The purpose of the area is to provide a warm, sunny place to start seedlings and herbs. It was fairly obvious that the whole front portion had to go.

All the old frame and torn plastic was tossed. Repairs to the stone wall were also necessary before new wood could be put in place.

Did I mention this was blackfly season? It had also turned over really hot and humid. Highly unpleasant conditions for a job like this.

New wood on the repaired stone wall. That's not going anywhere!

If you're going to do a job, do it right ... Paul also re-shingled the roof over the lean-to.

Did I mention it was buggy?

New wood goes up.

A good angle to catch the sun.

Thick plastic to protect from the elements. This is a temporary fix, which we plan to replace with something like this: http://www.palram.com/htmls/product.aspx?c0=12662&bsp=14172 which will provide the necessary sunlight for seedlings and herbs.

It's strange to feel attached to such a small and insignificant part of the house, but there's just something about this spot that charms me. Maybe it's the worn flagstone step, or the exposed logs, or the wall built from stones gathered from the surrounding land; or maybe it's the thought of growing our own herbs from seed, laid out in rows of terracotta pots, their scent lingering in the afternoon sun.

The dream continues ...

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Willow Retreat on Facebook

Hey guys, just wanted to let you know that Willow Retreat has a Facebook page now ... you can find it here: http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/pages/willowretreat/108479239182754?ref=sgm

There's not much on it yet but it's there. LOL.

If you're on FB and want to "like" Willow Retreat, please feel free to give our page a thumbs up! :)

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Beaver Wars, Part the Second

The beaver is not called busy for nothing. We soon discovered that as fast as humans take apart, and sometimes even blow up a dam, the beaver simply comes back to the scene and, while aforementioned humans are sleeping, builds the dam up again. So, when we returned a few weeks later, it was fairly obvious that (1) the beaver had his whole family involved in the repair job; and (2) the Department of Natural Resources had done exactly nothing. To make things worse, while we were away there had been a ton of rain. A few pictures will illustrate exactly what we were up against:

Paul is literally up to his knees in water. This is not the pond ... this is the road!

Our car gives a bit of perspective to show just how much water was flooding the road.

And this is what the beaver does best: fells entire trees with nothing but his teeth.

Stalking a beaver at dusk would, we thought, take patience and a lot of time. Strangely enough, we only had to wait a short time before we actually saw the culprit. He crossed the road in front of our parked car, paused to glare at us for a moment, then slipped into the water. After a few minutes he went back the way he had come. I wish I'd been able to get a photo.

Sometimes, especially with government departments, a visit in person gets a result. Within 24 hours, we had a trapper turn up at the house, and 6 traps were placed. Not our ideal solution, but sadly, it didn't take long for the traps to work, and soon there were two less beavers on the planet. The job then became a matter of breaking up the dam (again!) and clearing the culverts under the road which the busy guys had stuffed full of wood and mud.

Paul preparing to clear the culverts. Chest waders this time!

Mud pouring out of the culvert as Paul is clearing it out. Not an easy task.

Breaching the dam.

He's in there somewhere, I swear!

The secondary dam is now high and dry.

The water across the road is greatly reduced after the breakup of the dam.

When we left, the water level on both sides of the road was almost gone and hopefully, will stay that way. A couple of traps remain in place just in case ... but for now, the battle of the beaver is won.