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Wednesday, 4 May 2011


I’ve been neglecting to mention the cattle.  That’s because the vast majority of them are out of sight, grazing peacefully on level pasture a mile or two from here. But the calving is still not quite finished. Yesterday evening there were still three recalcitrant cows lurking in the enclosure, munching through their pile of hay. One more calf has appeared over the past day or two – and he gets his picture on the front page here, along with the remaining mothers-to-be (there were five the day I took that shot). Looking at them, I was reminded fleetingly of the support group for expectant women back home who gather to drink tea and mull over their  prospects - the NCT, or National Childbirth Trust. In this case, I guess, No Calves Today.

Matt is trying to persuade one of the cows to adopt an orphan calf, but she’s not taken with the idea, at all. So he tempts her with a bowl of goodies, cattle nuts sweetened with molasses, then traps her head between two steel bars, holding her in position while the calf suckles. And he delegates to me the job of releasing her in about 45 minutes. I have set my phone alarm.

To more pressing matters. The mice are back. I had a sneaky feeling that my triumph was suspiciously swift and easy - a little like Desert Storm, I suppose, or, less controversially, Operation Barbarossa. Remember that? (a clue: it was in 1941). Anyway, I was minding my own business yesterday when I heard the sudden snap of a trap beside the sink. This was in broad daylight. So I set all three traps, and caught two more overnight.

Yesterday was a proper spring day.  Started out at 31 degrees and by mid-afternoon had reached 73 – and left me with a burned upper right arm. But it was glorious weather for working, and I got two or three more rows of digging done, several more barrow-loads of manure spread in the trenches. The next task is to find a way of germinating my tomato seeds indoors.

I am starting to worry about bugs. Yesterday, every time the wind dropped, a cloud of little flying things rose from the ground. I mean within thirty seconds. They’re not unlike the Scottish midges in size, but I don’t think they bite. And as soon as the wind picks up again they’re gone – all except the ones that have managed to settle on your clothes, in your hair, your bare flesh. They just sit there and ‘aggravate the tar outa you’ as a Kansas lady once said to me. And this morning, I am kind of itchy.

Mari Sandoz has let me down again. Push the right button and I will enthuse, interminably, about her writing on the Great Plains region, its history, its landscape, its heroes and villains. But I have yet to complete a single one of her novels – unless you count Son Of the Gamblin’ Man, her fictionalised biography of the painter Robert Henri, born in Cozad, Nebraska. I’ve more or less given up on The Tom-Walker. As with all of her fictions – at least, the several that I’ve tried - this one parades before the reader her vast wealth of research material, in this case post-Civil War politics and economics and the vernacular of the day, but simply never grabs you and makes you want to know what happened next. And there’s this insistence on cramming one colourful simile after another into her prose, as well as into each character’s speech. Three, four, five, six per page, unrelentingly. I feel disloyal saying it, but her fiction simply fails as far as I’m concerned. I think it was a matter of survival for her. My understanding is that her history books were so painstakingly researched, took so long to write, and sold so slowly – steadily, yes, but slowly – that she could make more out of these novels, and could knock them out far more quickly.

I’m not getting many comments on my blog entries. 35-40 hits a day around the world, but very few comments. However, I had one from a lady in Alaska yesterday. I met her on the plane flying from Amsterdam to Minneapolis. She tells me that she approves of my cheese, jalapeno and bacon-grease sandwiches and is going to try them. She adds that she has a friend who makes her coffee more or less the same way I do – and that it’s darned good.

It’s a lot cooler today, and the wind is up. Probably perfect for digging, except that my body is reluctant and I feel very comfortable sitting at the kitchen table here pecking away at the keyboard. But I think it’s time to go and release that cow….