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Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Life in the trailer, and... a mysterious footprint in the sand.

I guess this is how hired men live, in a trailer. It’s very cosy – as my picture of the interior is supposed to reveal. Or does it just look chaotic? I’m out here for three or four days while the turkey hunters use the house. They were out pretty early this morning – revving up the ATV at 0430. And when I emerged, rather late for me at 0640, there was a large dead gobbler draped over the branch of a tree in the yard.

Talking of backwoods skills, my partner gave me a pack of cards last Christmas. I think she bought them over here last year. Each card shows a picture of some animal’s footprint, and the idea is you study them and eventually get an idea of what you’re looking at on the trail. I’m learning fast. Just take a look at that faint imprint of a boot (above). It took me a couple of minutes of close examination before I was able to assert that it was made about 24 hours earlier by a guy in size 11 boots, weighing about 170lbs. Clever, eh? Hm well… it is of course my own, made the previous afternoon. What interested me was that, even in this sand, and with a fair wind plus a little rain in the morning, the print was relatively distinct. Reassuring too, when you’re trying to find your way home.

I had a successful day in Valentine yesterday, managing to tick off every last item on my shopping and ‘to do’ lists. I even managed to find a way to send $155 to my brother in Kentucky for a short-wave radio he’s found for me. It took a lot of running around, from the bank (where they do not transfer money for non-customers) to the post office (where they do not transfer money at all) to the stationer’s, where I bought a jiffy bag, which I stuffed with random papers plus $155 in notes, and back to the post office where they put it in a cardboard envelope and charged me $7.80 to mail it. With luck, the radio will be here within the week, and I can vary my listening diet.

The other significant call I made in town was on proprietor Duane Gudgel at the Plains Trading Company, a super emporium selling mostly books, with an excellent collection of Great Plains material, but a bunch of other interesting items – and some very fancy coffee. Duane has always been supportive of my project and had suggested some time ago that if I wanted to learn more about range management and associated matters I should call in at the Department of Agriculture. I did, was very well received, and picked up some handy contacts. As I left town I popped into Radio Shack to buy something. Both the young lad who served me, and his dad, who seemed to be teaching him a few retail skills, were named Sandoz. And related, ‘somehow’, to Old Jules and Mari.

Back here the sun had come out after another pretty dismal start to the day, so I set off along the south side of the river. I haven’t yet got into the habit of taking my compass with me, but must do so. The landscape can be hard to read. So long as you have the sun – or if the river is visible – it’s easy enough to get your bearings, but the course of the river isn’t always clear. It even manages to flow back west in places. Looking out at its serpentine course, I knew it was there somewhere, but it wasn’t in the obvious place at all. Still, I had a very good landmark in the shape of a dark horizontal line just below the skyline, the shelter-belt on the far side of the river, not at all far from home.

I mentioned soapweed yesterday, or the day before, and so have posted a shot of a pair of them on a little ridge. They’re yuccas. The common name derives from the fact that native peoples would pound the fat fleshy root in water and create a passable lather. I believe they also pounded the leaves, extracted the tough fibres, and wove them into some sort of fabric. Sounds itchy to me. My good friend Don Green, a retired prof from Chadron State College and the man largely responsible for the Mari Sandoz Heritage Center, calls the yucca ‘bear grass’. But why, I asked him. “Oh, I guess because you wouldn’t want it to grab you,” he said. He’s from the Texas Panhandleeritage center. Grew up around some pretty churchy people and now calls himself ‘a cowboy pantheist’.

Well, it was 36 overnight but with little wind (yet) and the sun shining from a clear blue sky, it could be a really gorgeous day. I’d better get my work done so that I can be out enjoying it.

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