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Monday, 18 July 2011

Insect repellent is all very well, but it is, when it comes right down to it, repellent. And I am smothered in the stuff – or was last night when I wrote this. My visitor – Don Green, late Dean of Humanities at Chadron State College friend, confidant and cowboy pantheist – tells me that mosquitoes don’t bother him, and never have. So we stayed outside from about four thirty, when he arrived, until nine thirty. We drank beer, ate barbecued steaks and baked potatoes, traded stories – some of them true – and finally toasted our friendship with Irish whiskey while the bats darted in and out of the roof, a few stray fireflies twirled about under the trees, and the mosquitoes, who’d obviously been told that Don was not a man to be trifled with, fed on my blood.
In the end, the bugs weren’t too bad, despite the fact that I hadn’t cut the grass. I did go to collect the mower, but it was out of gas and Matt, who was away for the day,  had closed the big workshop where he keeps the can of fuel.

I wasn’t sure when Don was coming, other than ‘some time in the late afternoon’. I had warned him not to attempt to drive down here in his sedan, so I wasn’t sure how that would work out. But Don grew up on a ranch in Collingsworth County, Texas, and isn’t a man to be rattled. In any case, he got lucky. Matt was back by the time he showed up and brought him down in the flat-bed truck.

Don emerged from the car clutching a huge bottle of Irish whiskey – and, as the picture shows, was still clutching it four hours later.


I can’t remember when  I first met Don. It must have been in 1993 or `96, on one of my earliest visits to the Sandhills. We seemed to get along from the start, and at one time he was trying to arrange for me to come over and teach a course or two at the college in Chadron, but that foundered on the usual reef: budgetary considerations. In 2000, I think it was, he took me on my first trip around the Old Jules Trail.  In 2004, when I was Writer in Residence in the Kerouac House in Orlando, Florida, we met up again. He had retired and moved down there. Later he had me do a little research into his family ancestors in Durham (Durham, England, that is). He was trying to trace one Christopher Davis, born in 1615, who served as interpreter to Peter Stuyvesant in his negotiations with the Iroquois over purchases of lands along the Hudson river. That was in the 1650s. Apparently the two men loathed each other. Davis couldn’t even sign his own name, but he could speak a number of native languages and so was indispensable.. No wonder Don is so keen to trace him. I couldn’t find what he was after in the local records, so the search continues, and Don is planning a trip to dig a little deeper, perhaps next year.

I’m going to keep this brief. It’s not eight o’clock yet, but it’s already 80 degrees. The odd thing is, it feels cool out there. That’s either a reflection of how hot it was yesterday, or how stifling this house is. But I will add the exciting news that Matt has ordered the material for a new roof for the red house and has rounded up a posse of friends to help put it in place, some time over the next month or two. I suspect that he has mixed feelings about the enterprise, and I can see his point. When do you stop putting money, time and effort into a house that’s probably doomed to fall apart?

I’m not sure what we’ll do today, but I’m sure we’ll be talking. Don is excellent company, has a vast store of knowledge on the subject of America’s past, and tells a good story. He has travelled in Europe, has lived in Ireland and brings to his studies of history the crucial ingredient of humanity – an understanding of people and what makes them tick.