Monday, October 24, 2011

Fall Visitors

Every season brings its different wildlife visitors to the gardens and woodland.  I had recently hung up a suet bird feeder, which soon attracted a pair of blue jays.  Every house we've lived in, we've always had blue jays visit, and so it was great to see them here.  They've been scolding me for picking their grapes!  I managed to get some photos:

Such pretty birds!  And they always look as though they're posing for their portrait.  :)

We've also had a visit from a pair of ruffed grouse.  I think it's the male I've been seeing around the garden - first in the apple tree, and then on the grass collecting fallen berries.  It was definitely the male the second time because he was fanning his tail and had his ruff of collar feathers standing up.  This is a mating display, and I was lucky to catch it on camera:

He took a few turns around the base of the apple tree, then started strutting towards me.  He put away his feather display and became more interested in food, picking up fallen berries in his beak.

He's a beautiful bird.  The previous day, I think it must be the same grouse, was up our apple tree:

He was making some hilarious faces at me through the kitchen window:

Between the apples, berries and rosehips, we're certainly keeping him well-fed!  Maybe if his mating display is successful, in the spring we'll see chicks ...  :)

I'll keep posting wildlife photos, as and when I can capture them.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Volunteers at Work

It's always great to have volunteers here at Willow Retreat.  Over Thanksgiving, we were lucky enough to have some help from a couple of young people from Ontario.  Earlier in the summer, we had made a nice firepit area using a few wheelbarrow-loads of gravel:

The gravel keeps the grass from getting burned and also provides a place to stack firewood.

When our volunteers arrived, we already had a few jobs lined up for them.  Remember the old bridge that Paul replaced?  Well, all those rotted timbers were still stacked in the trailer.  Firewood, you say?  Sure, but a lot of them were still good, too good really to just burn.  What the firepit lacked was a bench with a backstop to keep the cold and wind at bay while folks enjoyed the fire ...

Enter our volunteers: young, strong and ready to work ... and a lovely sunny, warm day for it too.  Did I mention this was the middle of October?  No shirt required...

Of course, before work starts, a certain amount of goofing around is required ...  :)

The first job was to fetch all the old wood from the trailer, then remove any rusted nails.  Then, select some pieces to make the bench.

Next, drive in the uprights for the bench.

Two uprights done, and the base piece.

Putting the backstop boards in place.  Old (but still good) wood is perfect for this kind of use.  It may no longer be capable of supporting a truck across a bridge, but it can certainly make a great fireside bench!

Everyone still hard at work.  Notice that the bench seat is now in place.

Ta-da!  The finished article.  There's even a ledge for your drink!

This is a great example of the eco-philosophy at work.  Why buy new wood when you have perfectly decent wood lying around?  These timbers, having outlived their usefulness as a bridge, are now re-used as a firepit bench.  With a little ingenuity and thought, many items can be re-used in this way, thus reducing our drain on the planet's dwindling resources.

A lovely fire, and a beautiful, functional bench to sit and enjoy!

Thanks to our volunteers Robyn and Luke for their hard work!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Anyone for Applesauce?

There are times when the difference between living in an urban or suburban area, and living on the edge of a very small rural community, are thrown into sharp relief.  For example, you can't pop down to the local store and be there and back in ten minutes.  This becomes quite irritating when *insert big box store name here* continue to import shoddy goods from China, have customers return them because they don't work, then proceed to simply put them back on the shelf.  In the same packaging, but stuck down with tape.  With the same price as if they were new and unused.  To my mind, this is fraud.

So, we made the hour and a half trip to Home Depot (there, I said it), bought five puck-style LED lights to illuminate the dim corner of the living room so that we could read.  Then we travelled an hour and a half back home, whereupon Paul wired in the lights.  Of the five, only one worked.  Now, do you think we're going to make another 3 hour round trip just to take them back?  Of course not.

The other puck-style LED light that we purchased to go over the kitchen sink (so I could actually see to wash the dishes) was also faulty; it worked okay, but the on/off switch wire is loose and therefore you have to jiggle it to get the light to stay on.  Not to mention the Philips LED light bulb which doesn't work.  Not to mention the probably fifty other items we've bought from Home Depot that either didn't work or were broken or missing parts.  Once again, an example of the big box store mentality - buy everything cheap from China, flog it out at a profit, and who cares if it works or not because if the customer returns we can just stick it back on the shelf again, and some other mug will buy it.

So, we're now stuck with a bunch of puck lights that don't work, and which we can't return because they've been wired in.  Nice.

The other thing we've noticed since we've been here is that women are persona non grata in hardware stores and builder's merchants, as well as auto mechanic shops and welding establishments.  In Cape Breton, you see, women are not supposed to visit these places.  This has proved quite baffling to my husband, who is used to me accompanying him everywhere.  It was only after experiencing the hostile atmosphere when I was present, in contrast to the air of chummy goodwill when I waited in the car, that we realized the awful truth: women in Cape Breton are supposed to stay home and make applesauce. 

As I am, currently, home (and making applesauce) I do have to make it clear that I have no problem with this.  I have no desire to return to the corporate cellblock, and am, in fact, perfectly content to wait in the car.  When it does become an issue, however, is when my husband is away and I have to speak to these guys over the phone.  Oh, they speak to me alright.  Arrangements are made, appointments scheduled, work is booked.  The only problem is, nobody shows up.  It's like I'm invisible, even over the phone.  But as soon as Paul gets on the phone to them, what a difference!  I'm very glad that I do have a husband, because a woman alone out here would get nothing accomplished.  Except maybe, one heck of a lot of applesauce.

Puck lights - only one out of five worked.

Applesauce, anyone?

Monday, October 3, 2011

Celtic Colours

Is it the first summer storm,
Is it the colours of Fall?
Is it having so little, and yet having it all?

Lyrics from "Love" by Sugarland

On September 25, I took a bunch of photos of the leaves changing.  It was meant as a kind of panorama of the garden.  It was a gorgeous day, summer-like, and the light was wonderful.  Today, October 3, I took a few more photos, and wow, what a difference a couple of weeks makes!  The colours are now almost at their peak, and the highlands and glens are shades of rust and gold.  Not to mention, the highways and hotels are packed full of leafers from as far away as California! 

Here in Cape Breton, the Celtic Colours Festival is a major annual event.  This year it runs from 7 - 15 October, and features concerts and ceilidhs, with fiddlers and guitarists, folk dancers and singers.  But here at Willow Retreat we have our own Celtic colours, right here in our back garden!  Here are a few photos to entice you:

These were taken September 25 ... now look at the difference:

Amazing how fast the leaves change.  The weather, as well, can take you by surprise; we had a long dry spell recently, to the point where the streams were starting to dry up.  We woke one day to a severe lack of water pressure, and thought there was a burst in the pipe ... but on further investigation, it turned out there was no water in the pipe at all!  When we walked up to the power house, the reason was obvious: the stream where we had our water intake was dry!  There was even a dead fish lying in the bottom of a dried out pool.  When you rely on water for both your household water, and your electricity, this is a bit of a problem!

After hiking up the mountain and finding that the source had not dried up, it was simply a lack of water in general, we moved the intake further upstream, and this did the trick.  (This sounds easy.  Rest assured, it was not easy.  Thank God for my husband, who knows everything there is to know about water and its temper tantrums.)  Several hundred curse words and a gallon of rum later, and we had water back.

Naturally, as soon as we had that sorted out, it decided to rain.  It's rained for about three days straight, and just started to clear a bit when I took this photo:

There's something very magical about the way the mists come down the mountain.  I guess the Celts have always migrated to the same types of landscape, whether it be the highlands of Scotland or here in Cape Breton.  Either way, it just wouldn't be Fall without the beautiful autumn leaves.  You should come and see them one day!