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Monday, 4 July 2011


Welcome home. I walked up the path to the front door of the red house, carrying a bag full of dirty washing, to find a three-foot long bull-snake gliding across the doorstep and wrapping itself around the dustbin. I had to laugh, especially as I’d just been telling Kitty how I’d not seen one since I bought the snake-proof boots. I chased it away with the broom and watched it disappear into the cellar - where the washing machine lives.

Leaving Lincoln was hard. I have to admit I was feeling pretty sorry for myself, although I later heard from A. that she was having a much harder time than I was. Not that she complained; that’s my speciality. She arrived in Paris to find her London flight delayed by a strike of British cabin staff. That resulted in her missing the connection to Newcastle and having to take one train to London, another to Durham. I think she got home eleven hours before she was due to leave for work on Monday morning.

After I’d left her at the airport I drove back to the Cornhusker where I had a lunch date, with a lady writer. I was put in touch with Toni Sweeney (www.tonivsweeney.com) by a British friend who shares her interest in writing for the internet and publishing e-books. Toni writes in a number of genres, including fantasy – and, I believe, erotica. We compared notes on ways of publicising our online work, ate a little lunch, then went our separate ways. Hers was to somewhere on J street, mine onto O Street west, then I-80, the road that gives most people their first and only impression of Nebraska. It’s easy to see why they think it’s flat, dull and empty.

I’d been thinking about Nebraska in general over the past few days as we drove down to Red Cloud and on to the capital, wondering whether the book I write ought to be less about Mari Sandoz in particular, more about this state in general, and why I love it. I was reminded of the time I pedalled my way 630 miles from the Missouri river to the Wyoming line, from the highest point in the state at Rulo, to the highest, beyond Kimball. Around three days out I heard a rhythmic squeaking from the front wheel. After fifty miles or so I pulled into Red Cloud and wondered whether I might find someone to fix it. I’ve told this story before – way back in my second or third post, I think. I keep coming back to the answer I was given by the old geezer sitting outside the barber’s shop. It seems to suggest itself as a book title: ‘There Used To Be a Guy on Main Street… But He Died.’ Why A British Writer Fell in Love with Small-town Nebraska.

It may not work, but when I thought of it I felt that surge of energy you sometimes get when an idea is born. We shall see.

I drove towards the sun for an hour and a half, maybe less, before I ran out of steam; and that was a pity, because I don’t think it was the smartest thing to right there on the Highway 2 Business Loop in Grand Island. For me, Grand Island is up there with New York: I’ve been to both places twice and had a thoroughly rotten time on every occasion. First time in the Big Apple I was stranded with a distant cousin who drove us around the city for hours looking for free parking until my bladder was fit to burst, then decided to picnic in Washington Square – whereupon the bums and junkies swooped on us, looking for hand-outs. He lectured them on the evils of drugs and their need for Salvation. Second time I got pneumonia and ended up in a public sector hospital with more bums, junkies and a few gunshot victims, plus the odd madman. I suppose the fact that I later sold that story to the Guardian and re-couped my air fare made it a marginally better outcome than the first visit.  

Now that I think of it, of course, my experiences of Grand Island haven’t been that bad. The first visit, in about 1991, I camped in a dingy trailer park and spent an hour trying to light a fire with cottonwood branches while a thunderstorm swept through town; yesterday evening, weary and feeling very lonesome indeed, I pulled in at the first motel I saw. I’d checked in, paid for the room and unpacked the car when I realised that there were flies all over the window-sill – half of them alive – and crumbs of food on top of the fridge. But by the time I’d spotted all this I’d already abandoned the first room they gave me – there was no wi-fi signal – and dragged my baggage up a very grubby staircase to the second floor. Did I have the energy to tell them what to do with their crummy room, and go find another place? No. And besides, I was already hooked on the Women’s Soccer World Cup on the TV: Equatorial Guinea vs Australia. So I put up with it; but it beats me how a chain – it was Regency Inn of America, in case you’re wondering - gets away with that. Probably because people like me can’t be bothered to complain.

Today, however, I felt considerably better. I did some grocery shopping in a neighbouring grocery store (Note to Wal-Mart: your produce was a disgrace – squishy tomatoes, rotten green beans and rubbery spuds) and headed out on Highway 2. Within an hour or so the cornfields had given way to rolling cattle country. Three or four hours later as I drove up Highway 61 from Hyannis, passing four vehicles in 60 miles, I finally felt myself relax.

Kitty took me and my supplies down to the red house in her truck. On the way we met her dad, who was almost through re-grading the road. He’d made it nice and flat, but it’s still soft in places. My rental car is staying at the top of the hill.

The house was as I left it, but the weeds around it – mostly sunflowers – have grown about a foot in five days. And the good news is that the vegetable plot is also making a come-back after the storms. Even the tomatoes are staging a rally.

After I’d eaten I went out and snapped two new flowers that have started popping up all over the place, a verbena (pictured here and at the top of the page) and a cone-flower.


 

I was starting to feel almost cheerful until, on my way back to the house, I spotted a several-days-old footprint in the sand. It was A’s.







Tomorrow I take the rental car back to Chadron and collect Mercy. Then I attend a small party, with fireworks, at the Olde Main Street Inn, to celebrate the United States’ big mistake backing 1776. I’ll stay the night, and in the morning start ferreting in the Mari Sandoz archive at Chadron State College. I have a lot to do in the next three months.