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Saturday, 4 June 2011

You'll Be The Talk of the Town in That Car

Matt took one look at the car and gave a wry, cowboy type of grin. ‘Why, you’ll be the talk of the town in that,’ he said.



Very possibly. It was, I have to admit it, the first time I’d washed Mercy since I got here. But this week has also been the first time the ground has been clear of snow or rain for more than a day or two. So I took out the hose-pipe, grabbed a sponge from the kitchen and started on the dirt that had accumulated over the past two months. Even as I did so, I remembered the advice of a neighbour and friend in Albuquerque, some twenty-five years ago when he saw me taking a wash-cloth to my ancient Datsun F100. ‘Never pay more than $100 for a car, and never wash it. It’s bad for them.’ But that was dry, sunny New Mexico.

Later I took a stout, sharpened stick and chipped away under the wheel arches and around the fenders, shifting several pounds – many pounds - of hardened sand, silt and cow-muck that had set like brick.



There’s no question that a car runs better when it’s clean. Nobody has ever explained why, but it just does. Suddenly, with one new tyre and a bit of a glint on the chrome, Mercy seems to be leaping up the dusty trail, straining at the leash. But I resisted the temptation to go for a spin, as our parents used to say. Instead I decided that, snakes or no snakes, I needed to get out for a hike. I’ve postponed the search for new boots until the 13th, when I have to visit Rapid to pick up my partner.

So I set off with my hiking pole, my British walking boots, and my new straw hat. It’s the same as the one the Chainsaw wore when he was here, but there was no way I was going out to be seen out and about in matching head-gear. That would really sets the tongues wagging. It’s only a year ago that the lady at Chadron State College library asked me, in a hushed, confidential sort of tone, if I were gay. ‘Whatever gave you that idea?’ I asked, squaring my shoulders and deepening my voice. ‘Well,’ she said, ‘you keep talking about your partner, and…’ What do they say about the Americans and the British? Two nations separated by a common language.

I ended up taking two short hikes. First I walked one of the steep draws that drops down to the river, just east of the ranch house. At the back of my mind was the huge fossilised bone Phil & I had dug up. Maybe the subsequent rain had washed out a mammoth skeleton. But then again, maybe not.

Things have come on down there. What I earlier thought were grapevines are showing more evidence that they are indeed. I just wonder how many of them will bear fruit. But this one was smothered in buds, so here’s hoping…


And new flowers are emerging, like this columbine.





Last time I posted photographs from this spot I was trying to highlight the contrast between the dryer slopes and those parts that are getting some water to them. I think this shot makes the point: pine tree on the slope, ash and cottonwood down at the bottom, and a carpet of reeds and grasses where the seep-water is coming out.


The lower you go down these ravines, the more the leaf canopy above you starts to resemble a typical English woodland.

But you only have to climb fifty or a hundred feet and you’re back among the ponderosa pine.


Down by the river the lush grasses also remind me of home – and of the fact that in England most of a grass’s work is done by midsummer. I am aware that out here they have spring and summer grasses, that while quite a few now bear seed heads, there are many others that have hardly started their growth. But here we are, the first week of June, and already these specimens are in full flower.


I’m still mystified by a number of the flowering plants I come across on these walks. Neither of the two books shows everything I’m finding. Sometimes, as here, I think it’s simply because I’m wandering into habitats untypical of the northern Great Plains region.  Quite what this little yellow specimen is I have no idea, but it was living very happily in the moist shade beside the little creek, and I thought it was worth snapping.






I live in hope that someone who reads this will ‘come out’ as a plant specialist and put me right on a few things.

I wasn’t too concerned about snakes down in the draw, but later in the afternoon when I walked along the top of the bluffs upstream of here, I took great care. I am learning to study the ground in front of me all the time, and only to look around at the sky, the horizon and so on, when I’m stationary. It makes for slower, but safer progress.

I took this picture more or less for the record, to compare the look of the land now with the way it looked when I arrived.


The greenness comes on stealthily – as will the darker shades later in the summer, I dare say.

Today I’ll be attending to my garden. I think it’s time to think about borrowing a lawn-mower and attacking the grass around the house here. It’s long and shaggy, and I’m sure the bugs love it that way.