I have heard from my ranch hosts. First time in a while. They are busy folk. I’d emailed and asked them whether they prefer to remain anonymous - because they will doubtless feature in these postings, and I need to give them names. I’ll be writing about anything and everything that happens around the place, so who knows what kind of revelations might end up in here? It didn’t take long to agree that I’d better issue a new set of IDs.
They are to be known as Matt and Kitty after the lead characters in that bench-mark TV western Gunsmoke. For younger readers, the show was prime-time viewing from the 1955 right through to 1975, which embraces a lot of people’s childhoods. And if you go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hk9dLvgf2HY you’ll find that some kind soul has posted a number of entire episodes. Matt Dillon (played by James Arness) was the Marshall; Kitty was the bar-room queen (Amanda Blake). As a lad of nine I was very taken with her beauty spot, and occasionally fantasised about being injured (just a little) so that I could lie in her arms… I just hope they don’t start calling me Chester (Dennis Weaver) - he of the whining voice and crippled leg…. Perhaps I should be re-cast as that wise old bird, Doc (Milburn Stone). He had all the answers, and an interesting medicine cabinet. He seemed to spend a lot of time in the bar too.
I am startled to discover - too late, sadly - that keyboards are machine washable. I say this by way of excusing any typos in these latest postings: I am working on a previously discarded keyboard, having spilled half a pint of tea over my nice wireless one last week. I shook it, dabbed it with paper towels, and hung it in the sun to dry off, but several keys remained stuck. It was only after I’d binned it that a friendly technician emailed from the US to say, “Keyboards: you can wash 'em in a dishwasher, or in the sink. All that really matters is that you let it dry thoroughly. Then it's good as new.”
While I was digesting that I heard from a friend up in South Dakota - someone I’ve never actually met but have corresponded with, sporadically, over the last ten years. Linda combines a writing career with maintaining a family ranch, and has written - with great passion - about the cattle industry, the landscape and the environment. I was hugely flattered when she chose to quote me at some length in a paper she gave for the Sandoz Society some years ago. I mentioned to her that Matt has had an accident and drafted in a nephew to help with the calving. “Well,” she writes, “if you get involved in calving, you're going to get right into the most primal part of ranch living, and during spring too, that will teach you things no amount of meditation would. And you'll understand Mari Sandoz better too: she was right in there doing the hard work. This might be a great opportunity, Alan.”
I am still trying to imagine how my days will pan out. And maybe I shouldn’t bother. Another forty-eight hours and I’ll start to find out. Meanwhile, packing. I did the papers and books side of things some time ago. Now I have to attend to the clothing, the electronic gizmos, and make damned sure I’ve got all my documents, pictures and addresses on the brand new laptop I bought last month. Yesterday I went through all sorts of hoops: getting my email set-up and address book transferred - with a little help from my mate Chainsaw Phil. He patches together a living as a computer fixer and woodsman, and is always there to haul me out of the ditch.
So this is it. The last posting before I ‘light out for the Territory’ as Mark Twain would say. That's why I've put up those pictures of things I am about to miss: the buds swelling on the sycamores, the primroses blooming. The next time I write it will be from Over There - ‘if the good Lord wills it, and the creeks don’t rise.’