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Thursday, 5 May 2011

sunrise over the ranch-house



Twenty minutes before six, and across the river a lone coyote was having one last howl before turning in. Down in the woods the turkeys were awake and gobbling. A pair of geese were honking their way north across a pale blue sky, and on the fence-post a meadowlark trilled as the first tongue of sunlight licked at the underbelly of a solitary cloud, smearing it pink.

I’d gone out early to try and capture a few images of the dawn. There was ice on the car and enough of a breeze to have me reaching for my thick hat and gloves. I must have snapped twenty or thirty times, but when I got home, turned the heat up under my porridge and sat down at the computer screen I found two or three halfway acceptable shots, which I’ve posted. My mate Greg, a writer and photographer back in England, would say that’s a decent return. In the old days, he says, you’d shoot a whole roll of film, and then another, and if you got one picture that captured what you were after you’d call it a success.

I had another strenuous day yesterday, and slept better for it – despite being startled when a grey mouse shot across the bedroom floor and disappeared into a corner closet just as I was folding up my Guardian Weekly and turning out the light.

One more day – three or four more rows of digging - and I ought to have my vegetable plot ready. I’m having to venture a little further afield for the cow-pats, of course. Yesterday I found myself under the cedars, maybe five or six hundred yards downstream from here. After I’d piled up my barrow I took a walk around and was surprised to see several trees that had clearly been gnawed at, and in some cases felled, by what I could only imagine to be beaver.

‘Sure, there’s beaver down there,’ Matt told me when he came down later to check on the three remaining mothers-to-be, and the orphan calf. ‘Cause a lot of damage. There’s a big old cottonwood they’ve chewed around. I mean, it’s old and it’ll die sure enough, but it don’t need any help.’

I asked him whether they ever attempted to build a dam– no, the river’s too swift and shallow – or whether he’d ever tried to get rid of them. ‘Yeah, I have a guy comes out to trap them, time to time. Hasn’t been around for a few years though.’

Matt says there are muskrat too – and I did see a number of neat round holes in the bank, maybe three or four inches in diameter. Old Jules Sandoz used to trap them for the furs – and would leave the entrails on the kitchen table for his wife to clear up. Mari and her brother kept one as a pet, the summer she and Jim spent alone on the new claim in the hills. She later wrote an account of that as the short story “Musky”.

Well, they’re forecasting 65 degrees today, so I’ll be smearing sunblock on and paying particular attention to the tops of my ears, which got  scorched on Tuesday. Later today I’m off to town – I’m down to my last bottle of beer - and I’ll be calling in at the garage in Merriman to have a tyre checked on the vehicle. It has a name, I am almost embarrassed to admit. My partner, back home, always gives her cars names - and this one, she suggests, is Mercy, being something I should be really grateful for. And I am – cracked windscreen, black smoke and all. It’s got… character.