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Thursday, 7 July 2011


I spent most of yesterday on the computer. I had a lot of correspondence to catch up on, mostly in pursuit of contacts in publishing and media who might be interested in hearing about my time in the Sandhills. It’s not easy from this distance, and I am not optimistic. However, I had cheering news from Mike Pannett, with whom I write the police memoirs. He’s off to the three-day Yorkshire Show, armed with 1300 copies of Book 5, due out on the 21st. He will sell them all, I am sure. He’s one of those guys who will not take ‘no’ for an answer.

When I’d had enough of hustling I started sorting out over a hundred photographs from various sources for the Old Jules Trail website and composing text to go with them. It was far more complicated than it ought to have been. I’d numbered the sequence that A & I took, fed them into the table she’d constructed, but then had to dig around in several other collections – mostly for pictures of the same sites, but taken when the sun was shining. There were the ones from the trip I made with Chainsaw Phil, and several more from last year, all of which meant that the number sequence went out the window. And when the dust had settled I realised that Monday’s shot, down by Smith Lake, was the wrong one. I’ll sort that out Friday, on my way to Chadron. Everything else is on its way to Phil, with the text, and we’ll see what he can do.

All of that meant that I only got out a couple of times all day. In the morning I put in an hour mowing the grass and spraying against insects; in the afternoon I went up on the hill to call A., and to watch the progress of some very dark clouds. The radio was warning of severe thunderstorms and I was fretting about my vegetables, still in recovery. My luck held: we had some lightning and thunder, the temperature dropped twenty degrees, and it rained heavily for half an hour or so but, mercifully, no damage – although I suspect that my insecticide was washed away, to judge from the number of bugs that swarmed around me just now when I went to check on things.


Up at the ranch things seem fairly quiet just now. Matt has got the rest of his hay crop cut, baled and stacked, and yesterday the 130 acres under the center pivot was being sprayed with herbicide by a guy from the farm co-op. As soon as the remains of that crop are killed off they’ll be sowing the millet - by the 'no-till' method.

turning the hay
When I was going through the pictures yesterday I came across a few loose ends. I generally keep these daily entries down to about 800 words, which means that I often have to cut out what I consider interesting material. A few days ago – it must have been longer, because A. was still with me – I came across a patch of buffalo grass whose roots were exposed.


This grass is very short, but very tough. The root system, which is wiry and tangled, goes deep, holding the soil together and resisting erosion.  Its value to the early settlers was as a building material for the sod-house. It’s referred to in the early literature, and in Sandoz, as ‘nigger-wool sod’.

And now I want to get something off my chest that’s been bugging me since we were in that ‘little house on the prairie’ at Red Cloud. We knew there was no cooking facility there, other than a microwave oven, and we knew, as we drove south, that we were going to arrive some time after nine. So we called in at a store along the way and bought a large can of soup. I beg your pardon, broth. Look at it: wholesome, hearty, chunky. Fair makes your mouth water, doesn’t it? And note how healthy it is: no fat, no MSG, lots of vegetables.


I’ve commented before on the language difficulties we Brits face in the USA. I well remember my late father-in-law asking a gal in a California tennis-club if she’d like a quick knock-up (our phrase for a pre-game warm-up session). How we laughed. But here I am, a guy who’s visited these shores fifteen times, has lived a year in New Mexico, three months in Florida, and has a degree in American literature and history, baffled by a word like ‘broth’. To me, to our whole nation, broth is a thick, chunky soup with meat and root vegetables. We rarely use the word without adding an adjective like ‘hearty’ or ‘nourishing’. We offer it to invalids, or to frozen hikers. We know what we’re in for, and we generally cut a large slab of brown bread to dip into it.

Starving hungry, drooling over the picture of all that pasta and celery, we opened the can and poured out its contents.



When the dust had settled on our disappointment, and after we’d cussed a great deal and agreed that if they meant ‘chicken stock’ they should’ve said so on the danged label, we dunked some stale bread in it, chewed on some unappetising cheese that had been sweating in the back of the car all day, and composed angry letters to the manufacturers. And of course, next day, after a decent breakfast, we laughed and forgot about it. Till the pictures turned up yesterday.  Later, if I remember, I shall look up ‘broth’ in an online dictionary. I fear I will be made to feel ignorant.

P.S. I forgot to mention the track up to the top of the hill, which Kitty’s father was re-grading. I came down it on Tuesday night – very carefully - and yesterday I got back up it. It’s a bumpy old ride, and the sand is still soft – but that car bent to the task and got me up there. Perhaps yesterday’s rain will have settled it down a bit. I shall find out shortly