Saturday, April 29, 2006

Titanic Ego

One of the more delightful visitors to Sparrow Haven is the Red Squirrel.

Red Squirrels are small creatures averaging between ten and fifteen inches in total length, their tails taking up at least a third of that length. They are considered omnivorous, eating pretty much anything smaller than they are from mushrooms to baby birds. For all their size, they have titanic egos, defending large territories and taking on other creatures much larger than themselves.

Our first encounter with Little Red, as we so affectionately call him, was a brief glimpse of red among the green foliage of the Horse Chestnut that provides shade throughout the summer months. At the time, I had only been living at Sparrow Haven three months and so was very unaware that Red Squirrels call Ontario home. Being an avid nature watcher I purchased a Lone Pine Mammals of Ontario guide book as soon as the opportunity presented itself.

Throughout our first year at Sparrow Haven we would catch glimpses of Little Red or hear his sharp little chirps as he rummaged around in the leaf litter at the back of our lot. Occasionally, we would see him dart to and fro amongst the branches of the Chestnut, Maple, or Spruce that make up the tree population of Sparrow Haven. More often than not we simply heard him as he warned some invader away from "his territory" making loud piercing calls or buzzing in the way that only squirrels can do.

Our second year at Sparrow Haven we saw more of Little Red. He made a few trips to the squirrel feeder, fighting off the larger Grey Squirrels, to stuff his cheeks full of peanuts then scamper back to higher branches to enjoy his booty. When the apple tree, that we had been sure was dead the first year, bloomed and produced large quantities of small, but sweet, golden apples we watched as he would grab a ripe apple bigger than his head and leap from tree to tree disappearring from view among the leaves.

Early this year we made a grizzly discovery while taking the dogs for their evening walk. Not far from our driveway was the body of a Red Squirrel. Since we had only ever seen one Red Squirrel in the two years we had occupied Sparrow Haven, we were sure that this was the last time we would see Little Red. We mourned him as we would have mourned if one of our dogs had been on that road instead of just a squirrel.

Imagine our delight when March rolled around and we caught the first flash of a red tail as it darted up the Chestnut tree. We cried with joy to hear Little Red once again scolding the Grey Squirrels as they ventured to close to the old Maple that Little Red has claimed for his own.

Today, we watched light heartedly as Little Red shimmied up the bird feeder pole like an acrobat and stuffed his cheeks with seeds meant for the birds and not for a miniature, bullying Goliath. We laughed with glee when he stamped his feet, and scolding, demanded the Grackles leave his tree, and "his" feeder, at once. We could only shake our heads, smile, and murmur to each other at this Little Red Squirrel who has made such an impact on our lives. It just wouldn't be home without his raucous taunts and calls each day.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The Hedge

As mentioned before our house is an old one, as is the community we live in. When our house was first built the road in front was the main coach line along this stretch of the St Lawrence River and was only wide enough for one vehicle. Most of the homes in the neighbourhood were built close to the road though a few were sensibly built nearer the middle of their respective properties.

A few years ago the township widened and paved the road, effectively taking up what little green space there was in front of most homes along the road. Our house sits less than 15 feet from the road's edge and the majority of available space is taken up with The Hedge.

The Hedge is made up of nine foot high cedar bushes. It runs along the entire front of our property with the exception of a small opening for the front walk and another for the driveway. It acts as a privacy screen, sound barrier, and choir loft for the myriad birds that serenade us every morning and evening from March to October.

There is nothing more peaceful than to sit on the patio chairs and watch the flocks of Sparrows, Titmouses, and Chickadees fly in mass between the hedge and the feeders. Occasionally, the American Goldfinches will join in adding a splash of yellow to the mass of green foliage. With the exception of the Rock Doves and Morning Doves, most feathered visitors to Sparrow Haven spend at least a portion of the day moving amongst the branches of The Hedge.

The Hedge provides a great background for our Fall Harvest display. Halloween is made all the more fun by the overpowering size of the hedge, allowing for the hiding of all things scary and creepy to frighten and delight the neighbourhood trick-or-treaters.

The Hedge shades the area between the porch and itself so well in the summer that grass will only grow in weak scraggy strands. Flowers will not grow at all. The low sun in the winter is blocked by the height and density of the hedge, preventing the use of solar to help heat the house. It's age has made the inner branches so thick that cutting it down to a more reasonable height would leave nothing but empty, haunting branches.

With all that in mind, the fate of The Hedge is still undecided.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Welcome to Sparrow Haven

Sparrow Haven is the name we have given to the tiny piece of heaven that we call home.

We moved here two years ago when PeterC applied on, and obviously won, a nice promotion within the company where we both work. One of the conditions I imposed, when I was told that we were moving across the country, was that the house we bought had to have acreage. Little did I realize that in Ontario, just as it was in Alberta where we had moved from, large pieces of property were either prime farmland or premium retirement homes and therefore commanded top dollar.

One of the advantages of the company we work for is the relocation assistance. The assistance includes seven days, all expenses paid, for house hunting. By phone, we hired a local real estate agent who agreed to begin collecting listings for properties that met our criteria. This would allow us to maximize the seven days and look at as many houses as possible.

He did a beautiful job and had over 100 listings that fit within the list we had given him but, as I already mentioned, my idea of our new home was well above our limited funds and so we edited our wish list. Of the original 100 on his list, only 30 still fit within the new price requirement. I'm sure Chris was very diappointed that we were not able to buy the $250,000 hobby farm he just KNEW we would fall in love with. In fact, we refused to look at it because we knew we would fall in love. Chris spent alot of overtime trying to fill out our week in town but in the end he found us Sparrow Haven.

We are located in eastern Ontario, very near the Quebec border. The house sits in the southeastern most corner of a 90 ft x 110 ft lot. Quite a bit smaller than my original dreams and expectations. It is an old house built around 1920, though some of the architecture suggests it was built pre-1900. The half log joists with four foot centre spacing being one of the key features that come to mind. Post and pin construction of the roof supports being another.

In fact, the whole community, just a small hamlet really, is old. There is a cemetary from the 1700s for the original settlement of Faulkner, a large stone church built in 1800s, and several of our neighbours live in homes that are well over 100 years old. The gallery down the road occupies a home that was built in 1787.

The history was one of the deciding factors in our decision to scale down our visions of home. Another was the house which was charming, solid wood construction, and sturdy; though in need of some serious TLC. But, the most important deciding factor, was the yard. There were trees everywhere. At least half the property was treed, the other half being taken up by lawn, house, and The Hedge.

In Sparrow Haven we have found a suburban refuge for the rural at heart. After all, that is why we are here; our rural hearts.