Monday, June 27, 2011

Being green (fingered)

They’re actually growing!

There can be no disputing it, the veg in my garden are actually metamorphosising from small crunchy seeds into green leafy plant-type thingies. Trouble is I don’t know what’s legitimate veggie and what’s weedy imposter.

I should clarify. I don’t mean there’s a skinny fellow trespassing in my veg patch. By weedy imposter I mean weed. Well, not weed exactly. I’m not cultivating that elixir of Bill and Ted and I don’t want the OPP knocking on my door. Oh this is getting complicated. No, I mean weeds; the sort that always seem to grow bigger, taller, stronger than the plants you actually want in your garden.

And there you have it, by process of writing this text I have worked out the perfect way of identifying my veg. The small, slightly sad looking plants struggling up from my horse poop laden beds are veg; the tall vibrant chaps with verdant leaves and flower heads the size of dinner plates are weeds. All I need now is some industrial strength Weed-B-Gone and the job’s a good un, as they say in England.

But back to the veg. Yes, we have a garden that hopefully will bear fruit. By fruit I don’t mean fruit exactly, except for the tomatoes… oh dear, what with all these asides you’ll think I have been growing, and partaking of, the weed. No, I mean veg: potatoes, beans, carrots, onions, leeks, broccoli, you name it we planted it. Well my lovely wife did. I was more the manual labour (read fetcher, carrier and digger of manure). She’s made a lovely job of it, too.

Trouble is we’re both relative novices at gardening. Living in London for 15 years, the nearest veg patch to me was probably filled with weed, rather than weeds and our own cultivating potential came in the form of a lone window box filled with exhaust fumes and pigeon shit.

As mentioned often before, coming to the rural idyll that is Haliburton, was all about living in the country and doing what country folk do. And so, this spring (about April time) we set about our garden with vigour. Only to find we were somewhat premature.

“Never plant till after the last full moon in May,” said one local, smiling the kind of rueful smile that says, ‘oh lord, we’ve got one here!’

“You have to remember we’re in a different zone to England,” I was told by the lady at Country Rose. The only zones I’d knowingly frequented until this point were One and Two, on the London Underground (I never went zones three and four; they were where the less cultured folks lived).

“It’s all about temperature,” ventured another wise old gardener. “If you can sit bare cheeked on the soil and not get a cold behind, then your patch is ready to plant.” Good job I don’t live in the middle of the village, thought I!  

“Urinate around the edge of the garden to keep the racoons away.” Come on. I’ve pissed into the wind before, figuratively speaking, but I’m not actually going to empty my bladder around my veggies. Us English folk stake out our territory with a hedge not a scent mark!

With advice to the good, or not, we went ahead and planted after I’d mooned in May (that was the advice wasn’t it) and now we have a living, growing veg patch. The rabbits are fended off by a fence; the deer stay away thanks to next door’s large dog; the Japanese beetles… we are still struggling with them. Anything short of a flamethrower (amazing what you can buy at yard sales) doesn’t seem to have any impact, and I’ve already been cautioned by wife and fire chief not to even think about it till the drive needs clearing of snow.

And so, against all odds, the squashes are starting to flower; the carrots are looking spritely. Tomatoes are coming on strong, as are the potatoes. And the cucumbers! If anyone knows what I can do with a surplus of these big long green chaps in a few weeks time, please let me know.

Although, words to the tune of stuffing them somewhere the sun don’t shine will be taken as an insult rather than kindly rural Canadian advice!    

Friday, June 17, 2011

Eyes wide shut

The dish was part Italian, part Canadian inspired: moose in white wine and mushroom sauce over a bed of fusilli. Exquisite. The company: a good crowd, mostly silent, eating. There were no candles and the wine was more brown and fizzy than fragrant and red but it suited the occasion well.

If I closed my eyes as I tasted another fork full of the moose pasta I could almost imagine sitting in a good restaurant. But for one too many appreciative belches and the satisfied grunts of well fed Canadian blokes. Chaz had done us proud, again.

The next time I closed my eyes it was to try and get to sleep in a little too close a proximity to the barber. There were over 20 of us in camp and the bunking arrangements had gone awry.

And the time after that; I was eyes tight shut praying for the rain to stop, while standing on the deck of an open topped 22ft long boat in the middle of Redstone Lake.

The relative few of you that read this column regularly will remember that in the bleakest of bleak, coldest of cold (January) I had ventured out for a weekend ice fishing with some of Ontario’s finest hunting and fishing fellows. Thankfully, my writing a story about that adventure had not enraged them sufficiently that they didn’t invite me back to the spring lake trout fish.

Or perhaps it had and that’s why I had to share a bunk with the fellow who had invited me in the first place. Punishment for us both, no less!

Either way I had returned to the camp amidst the forest: somewhere not secret but little known to those not in the know. After a brief sojourn onto Kennisis Lake on Friday afternoon, the moose pasta had gone down a treat, as had one, two, no at least three too many beers and the odd rum and coke.

The next morning proved more difficult to swallow. With heads throbbing, we waited at the landing, the windows of the truck cab slowly steaming up as the rain came down.

A break in the weather, and mine and three other boats slid off trailers, into the water, out of the small bay and onto the lake proper. But, no sooner had we got downriggers up, rods down and fish finders finding fish, the rain came down again. And it poured, and poured and poured. Not your summer shower this, more a deluge biblical style, to wash away a world of sin. No coincidence that us 20 hung-over anglers were on the water at that moment, then!

Only one boat had a cover. Its three sinners grinned and waved in none too savoury a manner from beneath their canvas sanctuary as we slowly trolled past in the downpour.

Now, the sensible among you will ask why didn’t we speed back off the lake the instant the first raindrops hit? Well, fishermen are made of sterner (read stupider) stuff than that. And, besides we had to catch lunch.

Four hours later the rain stopped. Coincidently, we had left the lake after three hours and fifty minutes of fishing. I’m beginning to think that my biblical theory was true!

Back in camp following this damp but successful fishing trip (lunch was in the bag, and there was lake trout for dessert too, if we fancied), 20 smiling fishermen divested themselves of sodden coats, hats, pullovers, and boots. The coffee pot bubbled and my socks dried merrily on the woodstove. “Look at them steam,” I remarked from my fireside perch. That ain’t steam chuckled the barber as my socks burst into flames.

I closed my eyes again, wincing. Some kind-hearted soul had tried to douse the sock fire with a cup of hot coffee. But, not being of the best aim, his beverage had sloshed straight into my lap. 

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Sticks, string and silk hankies

Now, the hunter gatherer in me has had to adapt somewhat since moving from the heart of a big city.

Once upon a time, an expedition involved slipping on a pair of polished brogues, donning my nattiest crumpled satin suit jacket (contrasting silk hanky billowing from breast pocket) and heading off into the urban jungle to hunt high and low for a well stocked charcuterie plate and glass of robust Bordeaux. 

When the season changed then a seafood restaurant was in order. The outfit – deck shoes, a blazer and a pullover tied rakishly over the shoulders. Octopus, a favourite of mine, especially when marinated in paprika and grilled lightly, was always a challenge to find but once caught it slipped down well with a nice cold Gew├╝rztraminer. You get the picture.

Here, in the rural wonderfulness I now call home it is all a little different. Many of you are actual bona fide hunter gatherers! You slay birds and beasts large and small. You catch fish, gather mushrooms, feast off wild berries, and slay more birds and beasts, depending on which tag is timely, so to speak.

I do my best. I go fishing. Note that I don’t say ‘catch fish’, as I’m still working on that one (just one will do) at the moment. Too many lakes to choose from for this boy from Blighty and no way of corralling the fish into a suitably small area for me to thrash them to death with my fly line.

I don’t hunt. Hitting barn doors at 20 paces has never been a strong point of mine and so the cost of weapon and ammunition seems a tad extravagant, just so as I could wander the woods making loud noises and frightening the critters. But, to make up for my poor shot, I do eat as much free game as anyone is willing to offer me. 

I haven’t gathered much to date, either. I went on a mushroom walk a while back thinking I’d be out harvesting fungi soon after. However, the expert advice almost always seemed to consist of ‘it looks like the… but it’s actually highly poisonous.’

Blueberries: can’t go wrong there, I thought. That was until a grunt from the other side of the bush revealed I was sharing it with a bear. Well, a bear-of-a-man, who wasn’t too happy at me trespassing onto his front lawn to pilfer fruit.

And so, I was at somewhat of a loss; feeling a little emasculated by my failure to provide for my family. But then it struck me, gardening! Hunter gathering in the confines of my own back yard, now that sounded like a plan.

I swiftly demolished the flower bed, laying waste to bouganvilla, poppies and tulips like a crack shot in a marsh full of teal (I got the hunting lingo, see). I dug and raked the earth, dug it again and raked it thrice, then dumped a great pile of horseshit all over it and dug it again for good measure.

I built a hoop house out of twigs, string and clear plastic garbage bags (no kidding, come see if you don’t believe me) and put up a rabbit proof fence. I was ready to be the manliest hunting gathering gardener in Haliburton County. And then the wife whipped my testosterone-fuelled fork out from under my left buttock, where I’d been resting on it admiring my work, and promptly took over my garden.

She’s planted all manner of veggies, from potatoes to pumpkins, French beans to fennel and they are all coming on strong, inside and out of my stick and string solarium. The fence has kept the rabbits out but there also seems to be an unspoken rule that prohibits me from straying off lawn into veg-land, too.
Again, the hunting and gathering has eluded me.

“I’m going for a paddle,” I sigh, as she tends ‘her’ veg patch. “Not going fishing?” she asks without looking up from the row of tiny carrots that she’s weeding. “I might wet a line,” I respond, hoping to sound casual: knowing full well that I’ll be throwing flies, spinners, worms, minnows, road kill, anything short of dynamite at the lake in a vain attempt to bring home a fish and so restore at least a modicum of my hunter gatherer honour.

As I depart to scare more fish, I resolve to uphold London tradition: out of the wardrobe come the Harris Tweed waistcoat and breeches, with matching deerstalker.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

A little pick me up

As I wander down my lane one evening I’m suddenly conscious of a low burbling growl behind me. My heart skips a beat and a sweat breaks out on the back of my Deet infused neck. A bear with a chesty cough, may be? A beaver with a tracheotomy?

Nope, the possessor of this guttural vocalisation is heavier than a grizzly, blacker than a beaver dipped in tar and it sports a toothy grin of gleaming chrome.

My neighbour’s pickup is one of the biggest meanest kind on the road. Blacked out windows; a tail pipe erect, sticking straight up behind the cab; four wheels, at the back end; jacked up so high you need a rope and crampons to get to the cab; and a voice that’s either grrrrr or GRRRRR!

The fact that it’s spotlessly clean marks it out not as a necessary workhorse but a very large penis extension, if you’ll pardon my candour. It’s the ultimate vehicular version of testosterone. Macho gone mad.

And yet, I marvel at it. Salivating slightly as this monster cruises slowly by. The driver may well have waved but I couldn’t see him through the tinted glass, for all I know this monster machine is driving itself. I’m left standing in a cloud of dust and bugs: spitting, I realise my mouth was hanging open.

You Canadians certainly like your pickup trucks. Every second vehicle on the local roads seems to be one. They are advertised as status symbols no less: “It’s a work of art that’s made to work,” intones the gravel voice of an actor recognisable to those who watch westerns, in a growl almost as deep as the idling engine of the six litre, leather stitched, chrome infused truck he’s waxing lyrical about.

“It’s got more accessories than you can shake a stick at. And I don’t mean handbags and pumps!” barks the hardass American comedian, over an image of a polished V8 monster traversing the kind of terrain that only one in a million of the pick ups sold here will ever encounter.   

The TV in England is clogged with advertisements for sports cars, hot hatches, family saloons, even SUVs but not one of them takes a special place in our hearts, not one so exemplifies our nation.

Teenagers aspire to a hot hatch – a tuned up, racing striped version of the car most of their mothers’ drive. Mothers aspire to a people carrier – something big enough to be able to sit the kids two rows back from you. Dads aspire to anything small enough that they can’t fit the kids in at all, be that a sports car or a high powered motorbike.

But here there’s only one vehicle for the family, and I don’t mean the one that best fits the family, more the one that everyone in the family wants. Old, young, short, tall, male female, everyone wants a pickup, and most of you own at least one, too.

And you know what so do I, sort of. A friend of mine asked could he park his ride at my house while he worked in Ottawa. Sure I said. The next day a tow truck arrived hauling a rusting GMC Blazer behind it. I am now the proud owner of the most macho lawn ornament in Haliburton. My wife glowers at this slowly rotting hunk of truck and asks just when our ‘so-called-friend’ is going to move it.

Me; I know it’s as close as I’ll get to owning a pickup anytime soon. So, I pat the hood as I pass, and, if no one’s in earshot give a little grrrr, GRRRR!