Friday, November 13, 2009

Lessons Learned!

Moving to a new Continent is always going to throw up a whole host of cultural differences to be tackled. Some come as a total surprise, some really ought to have been seen coming and others just seem to be lessons we somehow never get round to learning. So here's a few I've put myself through in my quest to learn life the hard way!

Bug Screens
Anyone who lives in the USA will know about bugscreens - as will anyone from another country who has watched an American film and wonders why everyone seems to have two front doors!! Bug screens are thin metal mesh screens that fit over windows and doors, such that, during the hotter months, you can allow fresh air in while at the same time keeping out pesky insects, most notably tedious mosquitoes. Now, if you live in the USA and grow up with them, you probably don't think twice about them. But let me tell you, as a newcomer to the country, bug screens are something I'm still wrestling with. The door ones always seem to have a spring so strong that they result in a permanently damaged heel - well you try coming in through two doors that open in opposite directions, armed with a week's shopping and a couple of crates of beer, only to have the bug screen snap at you as you pass. Getting through unscathed is certainly an art-form!

My greatest on-going problems with bug screens are with the ones that fit over patio doors. You know, the sort of glass, sliding door that gets fitted so that, on a warm summer evening, you can stroll straight out onto the deck with a beer. Well, the problem with bug screens is that you can see through them; the problem with me is that my memory is getting shorter by the day (I think, I can't remember now!). So picture the scene; a neighbour's cat wanders nonchalantly onto our deck and sits down as though it owns the place (you know, the way that other people's cats do!). I notice it from the other side of the sliding door. Favouring wild bird populations over spoilt, overfed moggies, the choice is clear:

1. Open sliding door.
2. Chase off unwanted cat.

That's how it should have been. How it actually went was:

1. Open sliding door.
2. Demolish the bug screen with a head butt and nearly brain the moggie with it too.

You know when you walk into something that you didn't know was there and it takes a moment to try and work out what happened.....

The combination of me and the bug screen clattering onto the floor has resulted in the cat never returning - lesson learned. Unfortunately, the lesson was learned by the cat and not by me. Maybe I need to paint the screen red....

Over here, there are these things called Raccoons. You never see them (though Davey Crockett got a tame one to perch faithfully on his head), but they are out there. And you have to learn to live your life with them in mind, or things can just get frustrating. Sadly, the only way most people see a Raccoon is lying upside down with its legs in the air on the road after some maniac has decided not to bother trying to avoid it. Last Tuesday I had to drive up to our other centre at Goshen, a 10 mile trip, which resulted in me counting 10 dead Raccoons - an average of one per mile. That's no way to treat such a great little animal.

But there is a lesson to be learned with Raccoons too, and that involves rubbish bins. Basically, you can't put your rubbish out until collection day unless you want it strewn liberally, with malice a forethought I might add, all across your lawn. I've had this three times now - though you think I would have learned after the first two!! Raccoons have amazing powers in their eternal quest for something to eat. The thing with Raccoons is that they have hands, which means that they can open things; things that you might not want opened! They'll get into anything and everything if they get a whiff of potential food and I for one am tired of traipsing around the garden after their leftovers. In addition, you have to tie your birdfeeders down or they'll have them too!! At one point we had lost two fat feeders, but I have managed to track one of them down, tucked into the log pile by the pond. I woudln't mind if they only asked first!!

Third lesson? Well the third lesson is best demonstrated by this post - which has no pictures in it. The lesson I simply never seem to learn is - whenever you go out, take your camera with you. And that includes driving to and from work in this neck of the woods too! So the ultimate day that really should have taught me this (but hasn't, I did it again today!!) was October 6th. This was a challenging day for me, as everything seemed to know I was travelling sans camera. Three events, probably never to be repeated, all happened that day; on the way in to work along Bayshore Road, I chanced across a juvenile Cooper's Hawk sitting slap bang in the middle of the road. I slowed up to allow it time to get out of the way - it stayed put. I stopped to watch it for a few moments with binoculars - it stayed put. I eventually had to head for work and drove the car right around it, stopping right beside it - it stayed put!! I watched it fly off in the rear view mirror as I was muttering away to myself.

The second event of the day came at lunch time, with the discovery of a Yellow-billed Cuckoo which was loafing around at Cape May Point State Park. Not that unusual, except that this bird was hunting grasshoppers in the little butterfly garden by the public toilets and people were lined up photographing it from about 20 feet! Me? Well I certainly enjoyed looking at it!

The third event of the day just rubbed salt into the wound. Finishing work, I was the last to leave and locked up the store before getting in the car to drive home. As I pulled away, the very first phone pole had a new extension on the top, which turned out to be a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk, complete with rabbit (= Eastern Cottontail over here) for supper! I stopped to watch it for a moment; crept forward and parked right beside the pole - it carried on preping dinner! I guess that's wildlife for you - somehow they always seem to know when the camera is at home!!

Just as an after note; I did once see a Raccoon in our garden. Back in September I caught sight of one shinning up a Red Maple just behind the pond one evening; he got to a stout, horizontal branch and stretched out to stare back at me with a mixture of worry and guarded curiosity. A wonderful sight, and such a great close view. Guess where my camera was?......