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Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Where to start? Today..? Yesterday..? Let’s just say, ‘The day I’m writing about’. The fact is, things are so exciting here just now that I can’t really cram everything in on the day it occurs. You could say it’s a columnist’s dream. And I’m sure it’ll all calm down before long; but just now I have events from Saturday, Sunday and Monday to write up, and the good news is… I think I may be able to do so without bringing in a single wild flower.

But before I start catching up on the latest adventures, a post-script on the archers, who left Sunday afternoon while we were out in the hills. We came back from wherever we’d been and found these fellows waiting for us.



I think it was Greg, who spends much of the summer wading across the creeks and rivers of western Nebraska to catch fish and test them for heavy metals or something. Now how’s that for a job? I thought I’d had a few cushy billets in my career, but…. Anyway, he gets these disposable waders doled out to him and thought I could do with a pair – or two. Well, cheers buddy. You can come again any old time.

After they’d gone the Chainsaw and I decided it was time to go and hunt arrow-heads, fossils and such things. I think Phil has an empty back-pack and he’s anxious to fill it with Sandhill souvenirs. It did occur to me that he might leave me the back-pack and cart the rocks home in one of his two stetsons, but I thought better of mentioning it. He’s acutely aware that he’ll be on that plane Wednesday and every time the subject crops up he puts on a distressingly doleful sort of expression.

We set off down a draw that runs north towards the river. You leave the dirt road,  walk a hundred yards or so and you’re out of the wind, away from the grass, with steep sandy banks to left and right. We figured these were probably good places to search for what we were after, if only because so many layers of windblown and river-borne deposits are exposed.  As we scrambled up a steep incline that must have been over a hundred feet high we soon started to find fossilised bone fragments. Some seemed relatively soft and chalky; others of them were much harder and suffused with minerals at some stage of their formation. Quite a few were shot through with crystalline substances. This was all very well, but what we really wanted were arrow-heads, like the ones we’d seen in Ken Moreland’s display cabinet. Ah well, I thought, I guess you have to be patient, thorough, persistent, and just a little bit cleverer than we are.



You also need to be lucky. While Phil ploughed his way steadily towards the top of the slope, bending to inspect the different strata, I tried sifting the heavier material that was scattered more or less in bands on the surface. We were both finding different types of bone, tossing them across to each other to admire or comment upon.  And after a while we collected some of the choice specimens together, before returning to our digging, scrabbling and sliding. 

Suddenly Phil let out a yell, his feet sinking into the moist sand as he loped northwards like a prehistoric camel, pointing towards a dark shape that protruded from the east side of the canyon, towards the fringe of a pine-wood.

What I saw looked like nothing more than a fat, twisted soapweed root, and I was about to tell him so. I’m glad I didn’t, because I would have looked very silly.

As I have mentioned before, the Chainsaw has a degree in geology (City of London Polytechnic, 1984). He reckoned that this lump of bone is most likely the hip joint of a hippo, rhino or elephant. Or something very large, at any rate.



We did a fair bit of digging with our bare hands, hoping to find the entire skeleton of whatever giant beast this came from, but, being weak-willed, hot and thirsty, we decided that a bottle of Fat Tire might be more rewarding, and made our way home. Later, armed with plastic bags, we returned to the scene of the crime and lugged our entire collection back to the red house. Kitty and Matt tell us that they have a palaeontologist from the University of Nebraska who comes out from time to time to hunt fossils. Maybe he would be able to identify the big bone more accurately.



That wraps up most of Sunday. I’ll cover the rest of what happened tomorrow. I think the pictures of my alarming encounters with the reptile population are far too good to be thrown in with all this archaeological stuff. But who am I to judge?