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Thursday, 23 June 2011


Sun sun sun… well, it’s only 0715h, but that’s the story of the day so far. Who knows, maybe summer’s finally here and I can put away my moleskins trousers at last.
Yesterday was something of an adventure; but then every day’s an adventure just now. We’d had an invitation from Kitty’s mother. ‘Come out and see my place,’ she said. ‘It’s empty all summer; you’d be welcome.’

One of the many things I’ve learned over thirty years of travelling in this country is that when Americans make an offer of hospitality they intend – nay, expect – that you take it up. Why, I hear you say, isn’t that the case in England? It’s hard to answer that, and in the end I can only speak for people of my acquaintance, but I would say it’s not so much that such offers aren’t genuine, more that the respondent, who says ‘why thankyou, I might just do that,’ rarely does – at least, not without the offer being repeated, several times. I think we need much more encouragement than most people to accept another’s generosity. Partly it’s a sort of Puritan self-denial – ‘oh no, I mustn’t’ – and partly it’s an assumption that the person who made the offer was just being friendly and would never imagine that you’d turn up on his or her door-step six months after a casual invitation to ‘pop in some time.’

While I’m on this subject – i.e., fostering more understanding between two nations – let me bring up the matter of ‘making yourself at home’. I have slowly – very slowly – come to understand that when an American host tells you to do that, he or she genuinely means it. You wanna drink? Go help yourself. Want to see the rest of the place? Take a walk around.  Where I come from, making yourself at home is more likely to mean ‘sit there in that nice seat and allow me to bring you whatever you need.’ I remember a good friend in Las Cruces, I think it was, who said to me one morning, ‘Okay, Alan, you’ve been here two days now. You know where the coffee and oatmeal are. And the toaster. Just get what you need, okay?’ That’s when the penny finally dropped. These are, of course, generalisations, but I think they are essentially true.

Okay, I have been wandering. And I’m enjoying it. Let me throw in another piece of information of marginal relevance. Regular readers are surely wondering what happened to my buddy Phil, who was so loath to go home. Well, take a seat and absorb this: he’s taking up philosophy, with serious intent. Now, most people  wouldn’t think that a chap who yomped around in big boots and a black stetson wielding a chainsaw would be that thoughtful. Well, to quote your late President, that would be to ‘mis-underestimate’ the man. I’ll leave it there, let the new image of the man sink in, and get back to yesterday’s adventure.

The place we were heading for was going to be easy to find. The directions were, head for Cody (pop. 99, I believe the sign says) and just before you get there turn south. That’s precisely what we did, and why we ended up lost. Somewhere along the there was a Y junction, and we should’ve taken it – but nobody mentioned that. Still, the road we did take was scenic enough, and along the way we came across a roadside tip, as we call it in England, where I snapped several photos of these ancient wrecks, which I’ve forwarded to my good friend Greg in Yorkshire. He loves ancient vehicles. One day soon I shall talk some more about this guy, but for now – that is, until he establishes a web presence of some kind - he must remain in the shadows.



Re-tracing our steps we soon found the place we needed. Kitty’s Mom – let’s call her L, because she may feature in these despatches again - was there, along with Don, the trailer guy. She was putting salt out for her cattle and he was mowing grass and spraying weeds. Here’s a picture of the weeds….


L’s place is beside the Niobrara, maybe twenty miles east of here. It was astonishing to see how much wider, deeper and more turbulent the river was. When we’d eaten our picnic we set off to look for the falls. I won’t go into the whys and wherefores, but the fact is we hiked four or five miles before we found them – not four hundred yards from the place. Instead, I’ll move swiftly on, take a deep breath and plunge into unknown waters. I shall attempt to upload (or is it download?) a brief video clip which shows the Niobrara squeezing its considerable width through a defile so narrow you could easily hop over it – if you had nerves of steel. Fingers crossed for a bumpy ride….


Back to the subject of hospitality: L said to us several times, ‘The house is empty. If you want a change just move over. But I want you out by November. That’s when I move back in.’ You know what else? She has a dish and a TV there. It’s very tempting….

And finally, for no good reason other than the fact that A took it… a portrait of the writer at work, sitting in Mercy’s front seat trying to post a blog entry, or answer an email, or waiting for the dogs to stop barking. Heroic stuff, wouldn’t you say?

Today we are planning another adventure: camping out at Mari Sandoz’ gravesite. I should imagine that tomorrow’s entry might be a little late.