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Friday, 6 May 2011



I wonder whether things are about to change. It’s not yet and it’s 56 degrees. 71 yesterday afternoon, and they’re forecasting 75 tomorrow. And as I look out on the hills it seems there is just a shading of green here and there where previously it was all dun-coloured. But there’s a stiff breeze, which will keep those midges at bay.

I’ve posted three pictures. One is to illustrate what I wrote about on Wednesday: the steel bars that hold the cow in place so that the youngster can feed. This lady is looking particularly displeased because she’s finished her bowl of goodies and isn’t it about time someone – please! - came and released her? Yes, but first you have to smile for the camera…. Then there’s a barrow-load of manure, and finally my garden plot, soon ready to take the lettuce, beans and beet. The zucchini I may try to germinate indoors.  I tackled the tomato seeds yesterday – on the cheap. Used an old Cool Whip carton the hunters left, cut four little holes in the bottom and filled it - first with small rocks, then a handful of pulverised straw; finally I piled some sand with a little pulverised manure on top. And sowed half the seeds. We shall see…

There are only a couple of expectant cows left in the enclosure, and Matt has announced that he’s about ready for branding. It’ll be a little different from what I saw over at Kitty’s dad’s place: fewer cowboys, fewer ropes, and the use of chutes to direct the calves to the branding table. I’ll be there, hoping I can help. But that’s not till Monday – and in the meantime I regret to say that, as the photo reveals, I still have some digging to do.

My excuse is that I had to take Mercy to town to have them look at the tyres. The guy at the garage, Don, knew right away who the vehicle belonged to, and volunteered that he was pretty darned sure where the missing spare wheel might be. “Why, he’ll have needed to get something in the back and” – he gesticulated with his arms – “he’ll have thrown everything out. That’s how he is. You go down to his yard; you’ll soon find it, lying around.”

But I wanted to know what would happen if it wasn’t there. How much to replace the worn tyre? I was bracing myself for a three-digit figure. “Oh, we’ll call the yard at Chadron, get you a re-cycled one. bucks.”

That’s the thing about smalltown business people. They’re part of a community. It’s not in their interests to milk you. Don looked at all four of my tyres and pronounced them legal and safe in any case, but agreed that I didn’t want to be beetling up and down Hwy 20 without a spare. After that I had a choice: carry on to Gordon and get the few groceries I needed – plus the beer – or eat a cooked breakfast at the Sand CafĂ©, next door to the garage. No contest. And after a three-egg western omelette plus toast and hash browns I was ready for home – after calling it at the ranch supply shop to pick up some mouse poison.

I got to the end of the Bartlett Richards book. Hard to know what to think. I wound up
feeling very sorry for the guy, and his family. Sentenced to a year in jail (at Hastings), all his appeals squashed, and as soon as he gets there his health fails and within a year he’s dead, at fifty. The bare facts are that he illegally fenced Government land. In mitigation, the law locally ignored what he and others were doing; and everyone agreed that ploughing up the sod would destroy a fragile ecosystem. People even lined up to speak of his kindness and hospitality towards such people as did settle nearby – loaning them milk cows, supplying them on credit from his store. You could question all of that; but then you are left with the letters he wrote to his wife and children, and I’ll quote from two. Firstly, one written when he was in New York on business, to Inez when their children were small, an example of the way he would sign off:

“Dear Longley [the baby] – I know he is a comfort to you. Tell him Daddy is glad  to hear that he goes to sleep so well when he takes his nap. Kiss my namesake [Bartlett, Jr.] and promise him with your eyes his Daddy’s tenderest love now and always. My heart almost bursts when I think of you and the children – but I will hold you all in my arms, as I now do in my breast, shortly. Your lover, Bartlett.”

And then there’s this to Bartlett Junior, from jail, just six months before his end:

“I am greatly pleased to get your fine letter of March 10th and hear what you did with your Valentine present [he’d sent the boy $2, to be spent on “something you want for yourself or others”]. You have improved very much in your writing. Make a little longer tails to your Y’s and G’s below the line – and it will appear better yet. I am enclosing you a most interesting account of the migration of birds. Think of the Arctic tern which flies 22,000 miles each year to go from the Arctic to the Antarctic snows. Get your mother to read this… to you and Longley [his younger son] – for I want you to remember the interesting habits of birds….”

It’s hard to think badly of such a man, isn’t it?