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Monday, 13 June 2011

I’m writing this on Sunday evening as a cricket chirrups insistently – irritatingly -  from somewhere in the kitchen, which is where I do my writing. An electrical storm illuminates the sky to the north, not that I can see much of that: I’m using blankets as blinds in the kitchen windows, to keep the insects at bay. They have an uncanny knack of locating the gaps between inner and outer frames and squeezing through. Various other bugs keep pinging against the lamp-shade, while others are massing at the front door. I am itching, and I don’t know what to blame. I suspect the culprit is some tiny, barely visible species of flying creature that’s hitching a ride on my clothes and in my hair every time I go outside, then exploring my tender parts at their leisure.
This morning was pretty much given over to domestic matters. First, as mentioned, the laundry, which dried in about twenty minutes, and then the garden. I brought the mower down from Matt’s workshop, re-set it to cut the grass quite a bit shorter than last time – the idea being to reduce the insect population - and got to work. As well as trimming the lawned area  under the trees and around my new fire-ring, I cut a swathe through the rapidly growing weeds that surround the place, the aim being to keep a path clear to the river. Then I took the barrow and collected a few loads of firewood – fallen branches mostly. I want a good stock so that we can have barbecues over the next two or three weeks. Interesting to note the effect of my snake experiences: I made sure I gave every piece of timber a good kick before I bent to pick it up.

When I was up at the shop collecting the mower, Matt was busy doing a few repairs. Some time this week he’s going to be harvesting the triticale that’s growing under the Centre Pivot. As soon as it’s dry he’ll bale it and sow a new crop: millet. The machine which cuts the hay and lays it in windrows needed a few adjustments. One of the bars that rakes up the cut hay and feeds into a channel from where it emerges in rows – I’d guess it’s twelve or fourteen feet in length - had got bent, so while I held it in position across a makeshift bench he straightened it with a few hefty blows of his hammer. Nice to see an artist at work.


Just as I was leaving I noticed, not for the first time, the red truck that’s parked alongside the workshop. It’s a fire appliance, belonging to the city of Merriman. Matt, along with a couple of other ranches around here, can be called out any time – most likely to a grass fire. I hadn’t realised it, but the city also has its own depot in town. Fires on open land are very rare where I live in England, and any community as small as this – and many that are considerably larger – would rely on crews and tenders from the nearest town, which would often be twenty or thirty miles away along narrow, twisting lanes. Out here I enjoy the fact that if you set your speed at sixty, say, you can gauge your time over a given distance to the minute. You don’t do that where I come from. There’s always something to obstruct you. It may be just be a farm truck, or a harvester on its way to some distant field, but it can take an age to get past it. Successive blind bends, hills, woods, and oncoming traffic: something’s going to stop you. You can count on it.

And now an excursion I forgot to mention that took place a couple of days ago. I was on my way back from a walk that had taken me along the river, up a steep wooded draw and around the back of the ranch house. As I walked through the yard Matt suggested I take a ride down to the red house with him. Sure, I said, and hopped into the pick-up cab.

The idea was to cross the river and drop off some salt for the cattle. Matt has various plastic tubs scattered around the pasture. The problem is that when they’re empty the wind takes them… and drops them off where it will. And so we started on a search fort the lick-tubs which took us westwards, through a gate into pastures I didn’t even realise belonged to the ranch, and to some spectacular views onto and across the river. My camera, I should add, was in my day-pack, somewhere in the back of the truck.

It was slow going. We inspected every draw, many on foot, in search of the missing tubs. We startled a bull-snake. And we paused to look across the river, through Matt’s filed glasses, at the site of a historical incident, the burning of a number of wagons by the U.S. cavalry during the period of the Black Hills Gold Rush in 1875. The Cavalry, as I understand it, started out trying to arrest the influx of gold-seekers into what is sacred ground for the Natives, but soon ended up protecting the incomers from hostile Natives. I was intrigued to see the site, albeit from a couple of miles away. One or two people had already mentioned it to me, and just the day before I’d found a copy of a map made by Mari Sandoz which pinpoints the same incident – only she seems to have it further upstream, more towards the border with Sheridan County.  I look forward to exploring the site on foot at some future date.

We only found one lick-tub, down under some trees, sheltered from the worst of the winds. We filled it with a mixture of salt and minerals. I never knew that cattle needed so many additives. (I have the label off the sack with me.) They include calcium, magnesium, potassium, copper, zinc and selenium.

I finally got home two and a half hours after Matt had offered me a ride – to save me time, I figured. But… live and learn, that’s always been my motto. Something new every day.

Monday morning it really has to be housework.  That is, all the chores I couldn’t be bothered to do today; and then around five thirty I borrow Kitty’s truck and set off for Rapid.