U is for Urbino #AtoZchallenge

Urbino is his name. Being a goofy dog is his game.

Yes, I have a dog. He’s black, shaggy, young, and well, “goofy” is the only word for him.

Ever since that night of the nasty thunder, lightening, rain and wind, I’d been thinking of getting a dog. I mentioned it to Donna (who hadn’t heard any of the storm down in the town and had no idea what I was talking about) and she said she had a friend who was looking to get rid of some puppies. An hour later and I’m the proud owner of this yapping ball of fur. Mind you, I’ve never had a dog before. Never wanted a dog before. I have no idea how to properly take care of a dog but I must say…I’m smitten.

He’s such a happy thing! He makes me happy to be around him. I have no idea what kind of dog he is. Donna’s friend, Carly, said he had no idea either. The mother is a poodle, but he said “She’s a bit fast” and he doesn’t know which dog in the neighbourhood , in his words “knocked her up”.

The name comes from one of my favorite paintings, a portrait of the Duke of Urbino by Piero dells Francesco. What can I say? The dog kind of looks like the Duke!

We will brave the thunderstorms together, Urbino and me.  We will be best friends.


T is for Thunder, and …Terror? #AtoZchallenge


Ok, today’s entry is going to be short. I’ve a terrible headache. We had an amazing storm last night. Thunder, lightening, heavy, heavy rain and howling wind like you wouldn’t believe.

I will be honest with you, dear readers, I was terrified. Alone in this house, with the wind making ungodly noises and being sure the roof was going to be torn off any moment. And the thunder! You wouldn’t believe how loud the thunder gets as it bounces off the mountains and down through the valleys. It was really like the mysterious figures in Rip Van Winkle playing ninepins in the mountains.

This morning, I’m exhausted and I have a headache. But I’m pleased to report there’s not much damage to the orchard. A few branches have come down from the older trees but no trees themselves destroyed. That is a relief. I was out at first light checking the trees, the rabbit fences, and of course my roof. All damage is minor.

But the fear is not going to go away soon. Am I really cut out for this life? Am I really going to be able to make it on my own? What did I not like about NYC again?

Maybe I’ll get a dog.

S is for Snooping #AtoZchallenge


There are some things which are not even on the internet. Yes, I know, weird huh? My town’s library houses a lot of old records on behalf of the town hall and the mostly moribund historical society. One of my favorite things is to sit there of an afternoon and gently turn the delicate pages of nineteenth century registers of births, deaths, marriages.

The town library is everything you want from a small town library. It’s made out of brick, it is a small building but imposing. It has that late nineteenth century sort of faux-castle look about it. Step inside and you’re stepping on to wooden floors that have been there from the beginning. The windows let in not quite enough late winter light and the humming fluorescent tubes provide the rest.

There is even a library cat. It does not have a name. It’s just the library cat. I really felt accepted into the community the first time it came over to me and sat on my lap while I went through the old deeds for my property.

A couple of things have happened which make me want to know more about the land I live on. I can see vestiges of other buildings on the property deep in the forest. It looks like there were at least two small cottages there at one time. But when? All that’s left is a few crumbling walls and some shards of crockery. Who lived there? Why did people stop living there?

I also get the feeling that something must have happened on my land a while ago. People always get a funny look in their eye when I say I live there. Not enough to challenge anyone on (What’s that funny look in your eye?) but it is definitely there. People always change the subject too right after having that look. Maybe I’m making things up, but I thought a little research couldn’t hurt.

R is for Really Falling Behind #AtoZchallenge

Please note this blog is a work of fiction.

Yes, the past few days have been tough. What can I say? Doctor saw something on a scan and wants an MRI and I’m trying not to fall to pieces. It’s not working. I am falling to pieces. Why is it that when we scared we tend to stop doing the things which sustain us? This writing has been great for me—energizing, exciting, and as soon as something goes wrong, I stop doing it! And where’s my exercise regime and my healthy eating plans? Somewhere under the coffee and donuts.

Anyway, R is supposed to be about rabbits. Bees may be the orchard’s batters but rabbits are its worst enemy. Rabbits like to eat the bark of young trees. Nibble on enough of any particular tree and it kills it. So there are rabbit-proof wire fences around the trees that must be checked daily for damage. Rabbits will find weaknesses even in the strongest of fences. Tom Crane, the tree man, suggests I leave cuttings from the pruning of the trees scattered around the orchard. That gives the rabbits something to gnaw on and may distract them from my new trees.

The new trees look so frail. Hard to believe that in a few years we can encourage them to fruit and a few years after that we’ll be sitting in their shade. They come with impressive pedigrees—local varieties with strong histories of doing well. We predict that we’ll get a lot of fruit from the trees and they will be resistant to disease. We do everything we can to make that happen…for the trees and for ourselves.

The Queen Bee #AtoZchallenge

Hello again. It’s Donna the beekeeper here. Jane asked me to do Q and talk about Queen Bees because she’s really busy and doesn’t want to fall too far behind on this challenge.

Ok, whatever.

She’s fallen behind because she had some tax work to do for somebody the other day. She’s an accountant. And then she had to go to New York …or as she calls it “The City”—‘Buffalo?’ I said—but I was being obnoxious. It’s not her fault that people from NYC always call it ‘The City” like there aren’t any others but it always annoys me.

She had to go get her hair cut.

Ok, whatever.

There’s been a lot of activity at the orchard the past week or two. I have erected three hives –empty so far—I don’t have any bees yet. Those come later. I put up a wall of willow and hedge clippings around the hives. Not all around but around three sides. The fourth side backs on to the forest where people are least likely to be coming up on the beehives. The wall and maybe I should be saying ‘wall’ because it is precarious-is tall and the point is that when the bees fly out of their hives and go pollinating they will have to fly out over people’s heads instead of coming out of the hive and flying straight at people’s heads. Not sure if I’m explaining this well but trust me it works.

Tom Crane, local tree surgeon, came to the orchard and was touring the place with Jane. I’ve known Tom since kindergarten. This is what small town are like. Everyone knows everyone else. Tom is good-lucking, always has been, and always knows it, and divorced with two teen-age kids. His kids are a bit younger than mine so I don’t know them but I hear the boy is pretty wild. His ex and I used to be friends years ago but we sort of drifted apart when I stopped drinking a while back. Hey, it happens. Life changes.

Anyway, Tom was being himself which is cute and charming and Miss New York City Accountant was giggling and blushing like she’d never seen a man before. Ok, that’s harsh and I’m going to edit this before she sees it. But I was amazed. He was telling her tree stories and she was looking at him like he was fascinating.

Also, Beverly Bock of the plumbing family came out to have a look at the house’s facilities which are, in my opinion, pretty crap. Looks like the house might be getting some new pipes.

Hank Winslow, also an old high-school friend came out to see to the mouse problem. Told me that if she wanted to attract and collect mice she really couldn’t have a better set-up.

So everyone, is running around, trying to get this place into shape but she’s still not clear on what she’s actually going to do to make some money. These hills are filled with orchards and there are only so many fresh apples anyone can eat!




P is for Problems #AtoZchallenge


Ok, I’ve missed a few days but I plan on getting back on track today. On the official “P” day (you know what I mean) I had a deadline that I really had to meet.

I’m still doing some accountancy…freelance to make some money. Orchards aren’t really money-spinners. So I was up to my neck in auditing and reporting and something had to give and it was this blog.

And then I missed “Q” because I had to get my hair cut which means a trip back to New York City; which means many hours and meeting up with friends and having lunch. Yes, I know there are places in the country to get hair cut but I haven’t assimilated to that extent yet. Bear with me! Things take time. It was good to be back in Manhattan and even better to leave it at the end of the day! I saw friends, had an amazing sushi lunch (you can’t really find sushi around here) and just felt the energy again. But I got to say when I pulled into my front yard (I don’t really have a proper driveway) and saw my little house looking stolid and unperturbed and saw the forest looming protectively in the background I felt like I had really come home.

But anyway: P for problems.

Gosh, where to start?

The house, which I do love, is drafty and has mice. The bathroom, and there is only one, hasn’t been updated since the mid-seventies. Yes, it has avocado fixtures! And I’m really torn here. It’s uncomfortable, ugly, and in need of repair. The basin is cracked, the tub is worn, the toilet’s in decent shape. I should and will probably just rip out the fixtures and get brand new fixtures but of course, you can’t get anything but white anymore. I suppose you can get colors but the cost would be prohibitive. The camp value of the avocado green bathroom is fantastic! I was telling Lucy and Mina about it yesterday and showing them photos. They were begging me not to change the bathroom at all. I suppose I could install an entirely new bathroom on the second floor and leave this one for show. Must give it some thought.

Then there is the orchard itself. I had a tree guy come out and go through all the orchard with me. Good news—there’s no weird tree diseases out there. Bad news—a lot of the trees are beyond their most productive years. The most beautiful, craggy, have-I-got-stories-to-tell-you trees are simply not going to be bringing forth much in the way of viable fruit in the coming years. So they are going to have to come out and new trees (which won’t be strong enough to fruit for about five years) will have to go in.

Obviously, this doesn’t affect the entire orchard. About two-thirds of the trees are in their prime. But it does mean we (I mean “I” in conjunction with various experts—like Tom the tree guy) have to decide on a phased planting plan i.e. deciding which trees to remove, which to put in, in a way which doesn’t disrupt total yield too much. It’s spreadsheet time!



O is for Orchards #AtoZchallenge


Spending the day in bed today because I hardly got any sleep last night. More insomnia and when I did finally fall asleep just horrible, creepy dreams. Will make an appointment with a doctor today.

Back to basics today.

O is for orchard.

R is for the robins nesting in the trees. R is also for the rabbits that try to eat the trees. You cannot believe the damage rabbits can do to young trees. It’s astonishing.

C is for cider! Cider is the easiest fermented drink possible. You just get apple juice and let it do what it is going to do. There’s a bit more to it than that but really not a lot more. Find out more here.

H is for honeybees and hives and the humming that you hear in an orchard in the spring. Trees need bees and bees need trees that blossom.

A is for apples, the hundreds of varieties, the infinite variability, the very model of sustainability in a changing world.

R is for reptiles! Bet you weren’t expecting that. But if you have a healthy orchard you will probably have snakes too. And that’s a good thing. Snakes are great.

D is for damson plums—another great orchard fruit. Like glowing purple stars on trees. I shall say more about damsons when we get to the letter P this month. Oh, that’s tomorrow. Better start doing my research.


Ok, that was an orchard acrostic for you. And now, I’m heading back to bed where hopefully my sleep will be peaceful and undisturbed.