Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Last of the Series

In 2001 we were asked by a relative in Vernon if we could house sit for part of the summer.  Since we had just found out we had to be out of the house we were renting at the time we leapt at the chance.  Summer in Vernon means day time highs of over 100F and a ton of sunshine.  Coming out of a cold grey winter in Alberta it was quite a treat to be there.  

The house is a lovely large house up in the hills on the north side of the city.  The streets are very steep there and just going 2 blocks to the mail box and back is quite a work out.  Mastering the art of backing our vehicle up and down the incline of the narrow driveway made me feel like a hero.  The house has wonderful air conditioning and shaded decks, as well as a small tadpole stocked pond, beautiful roses of every colour and kind, some shady trees....it is the most wonderful adventure of a house.  It is clean and well appointed with several different levels.  It is a spectacular place to spend a summer, requiring only a short drive to the lakes in the area, excellent shopping and sightseeing.  It was a blessing to spend a summer there.  

One of the most fun groups in the neighbourhood was a huge flock of quail.  They came in every size and age.  Early in the mornings they would run across the narrow cement decking in front of the house on their way to breakfast. There were so many of those little quail feet out there that it sounded like someone was beating a small noisy drum in a kind of unlikely beat pattern. The first morning I heard it I thought someone was breaking into the house.  As I went to the patio window to check it out they raced by a second time.  There is nothing more adorable to watch than a large thick mass of stampeding quail!  The stand up curlicue feathers on their heads look to me like mini tiaras or new fangled fascinators, and to see them on a fledgling bird that is only 3 inches tall and 3 inches long is just heartbreakingly cute.  Seeing quail is like seeing a Disney animated movie come to life before your eyes.  The neighbour across the street fed them on a regular basis and they were very brave around the neighbourhood folk.  (The same neighbour loved to feed us as well and I learned not to say yes to an offer of his homemade beer when I discovered he only served it in 2 pint servings.  Aiiiii yiiiii.........the whole angle of the hilly street temporarily changed after my first afternoon with this dear man and his wife.)

The other interesting creature in Vernon is the rattle snake.  They are considered an endangered species there and so no one is allowed to kill them should they show up unexpectedly amongst the backyard flora.  The first thing we were told when we arrived was not to stick our hands into any crevice or bunch of plants around the tadpole pond.....or anywhere else our hands and fingers could disappear from our own view.  Well, we never saw any live rattle snakes but over the course of the summer the tadpoles disappeared one by one and I did see a small fragment of shed snakeskin on the driveway one day. 

The neighbour in the house below us had a well appointed wood working shop in his garage.  He often had the large overhead door open so that he could work on projects, and it was an open invitation to the larger rattle snakes.  Since it is illegal to kill the snakes this man would snag any intruding rattler with the end of his spiked cane, and hurl it out into the middle of the road.  His next door neighbour was on speed dial and as soon as a call came in from him, she would race out to her car and drive over the snake before it had a chance to recover from its flight through the air. Oops, drove over a rattle snake accidentally......my bad.  So the only rattler I ever saw was a squashed dead one. And to be honest, with no offense intended to the protectors of the rattle snake, I absolutely fell in love with this man and his fast driving neighbour.  I detest rattle snakes and I was grateful for these creative folk who lived so close to us.  I felt safer just knowing they were there. (And yes, I have no compunction about killing spiders or mosquitoes or house flies or mice either......just so you know.......and I hate bears too although I don't want to see them killed.)

We had our first introduction to sugar ants that summer......Dell's uncle and his wife had just arrived from Penticton expecting one of my better Japanese meals when I looked over from the dining room to the kitchen and thought I was watching the legs on the kitchen bar stools come to fuzzy looking, undulating life.  I rubbed my eyes but it didn't help.  So I walked over for a closer look.  It wasn't the bar stool legs that were moving, it was millions of sugar ants that had suddenly invaded the kitchen!  They were marching in straight line formation up the basement steps over to the barstools, up the barstool legs to the counter above, then across the counter top that surrounds the kitchen, and back behind the refrigerator, through a small hole that returned them to the basement.  I absolutely freaked out.  Dell and Uncle jumped up and came running.  Uncle's wife beat a hasty retreat over to the living room couch under the mistaken impression that the ants wouldn't find her there or be able to reach her if she tucked her legs up under her behind.  Dell and Uncle headed downtown to see if they could get some ant traps leaving me alone in the kitchen and stairwell, beating at the ants with rolled up towels and big flat shoes. Talk about a wasted effort.....a losing battle.......  With it being late on a Sunday afternoon the men couldn't find any stores open that had ant killers or traps, but seconds before they returned home the marching line of teeny ants disappeared as quickly as it had arrived.

We tore the house apart that night trying to figure out where they had come from.  Finally we located a few of them hovering around the door frame of the cold room and storage area.  We had placed all our empty pop and juice tins in there in sealed containers, but one of the seals wasn't tight.  In that container were 2 empty mango juice tins and they were still swarming with ants.  Dell discovered where they had gotten into the room and sealed it up. Then he raced the container outside.  I killed what ants I could find and then sprayed a thick line of oven cleaner along the floor and around the door frame of the cold room to prevent any remaining ants from coming into the rest of the house.  (household hint:  ants don't want to cross through spray oven cleaners so it is a good way to stop them coming into the house once you locate the source of entry) We threw out the mangoes that were ripening in the kitchen and didn't buy mango juice for the rest of the summer!!

There are other fascinating buildings we have lived in over the past 35 years but that is enough for now.  More fun memories for me.....as my age increases rapidly I am mostly impressed that I can still remember anything at all!!! 

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