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Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Hiking along the Niobrara








The weather’s changed. 44 degrees this morning, but a forecast high of just 45, and there’s talk of rain today, snow tomorrow. I got this off NPR. I have that on quite a lot in the early part of the day and am already thinking about investing in a shortwave set so that I can get a bit of variety. I could do with it. National Public Radio are on their spring membership drive just now and are driving me absolutely nuts with their self-congratulatory messages, non-stop pleas for pledges, eulogies from Garrison Keillor, etc. I already know all of their pitches by heart, and there are four more days to go. Before I’m through here I dare say I’ll have a rant about NPR, but right now I’m determined to be gracious and well-mannered about them. Even if I do have to grit my teeth.


Mice. The fight goes on. Having caught one of the little blighters two nights in a row, I set a second trap yesterday. Both had been triggered by midnight – and I heard more of the little buggers scampering around later on. Just hope I can catch `em faster than they can breed. Once I get a round dozen I think I'll have them stuffed and mounted on an old fencepost and set them alngside all the other critturs that adorn the walls here.


There’s actually a much larger crittur living somewhere in the woodwork. But I don’t think it’s anything nasty. By the sound of its footsteps in the night – clomp clomp clomp right above my head– it’s considerably bigger than a rat. I just wish it would go to bed earlier, but I suspect it’s nocturnal by inclination.


I had one disappointment yesterday. I was hoping to drive to Chadron, 80-odd miles west of here, where I have friends - and a bank account that I’ve been trying to activate. But as yet I am not on the insurance policy for this vehicle I’m using, so it’ll have to wait a day or two. Still, one door closes and all that… I managed to put in two sessions on the Mike Pannett books and write 2000 words, putting me a day ahead of schedule.


Pictures. I’ve been hiking again, over the top and down along the river. The difference between the river environment and the range higher up is huge. I’ve posted one picture that shows a stretch of pasture to the south of the ranch-house. You can easily get quite disorientated up there if the sun disappears and you lose sight of the river. So the second picture shows a fence-line with two tall posts piercing the skyline. Those mark a gateway from one pasture to the next, and are a godsend when you’re unsure of your whereabouts. I guess they’re quite a help when it snows too. I’ve also posted a shot of the “gate”, basically a device that allows you to unroll a stretch of fence and step through - or drive, with your cattle.


Towards the river are various – gulches, I want to call them - where trees grow. I followed one down yesterday into the cool and shade, and took the picture of the spring. As far as I understand it, what they have here, in this largest dune complex in the western hemisphere (it stretches 200 miles east to west, 80-plus from north to south), is a great rolling sea of sand with layers of limestone below it at certain levels. Surface water sinks rapidly through the sand, hits the limestone and seeps out at various places along the bluffs cut by the serpentine river. Further down-stream there are some quite spectacular falls. I’ll be visiting them, by canoe, when the first of my visitors arrives. The water that comes out of these seeps is fresh, cool and clean. I’m drinking it every day at the red house. There’s a final picture of the bluffs just a few hundred yards from here. I should whip that out whenever someone tells me, as they always do, that Nebraska’s flat.


I started reading up on Mari Sandoz last night. I’ve brought a few of her books – and biographical matter – with me. I dug out a little book her sister Caroline put together some years ago, and was surprised to find it inscribed “To Alan Wilkinson, who brought a bit of Britain into our lives, and who, I hope, took something of the Sandhills on his return.” It’s signed Caroline Sandoz Pifer and dated July 31, 1996. That was my second visit with Mari’s youngest sibling. The first was in 1993. I’ll maybe talk about that tomorrow. Right now, it’s 0745h and time for my porridge, which has been simmering quietly.