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Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Mari Sandoz' statue - and a sidelight on that royal wedding

The statue of Mari Sandoz, outside the Center at Chadron State College

It’s a glorious morning down here by the river. It may be only 27 degrees out there, but the air is perfectly still, the sky is clear, the bluffs across the river are tinted pink by the rising sun, and the plink plink plink of water dripping into buckets has ceased.

This house is old. It hasn’t been used as a main dwelling in decades. So when you get snow piled on the roof and it starts melting, well, it finds little sneaky routes into the attic – and from there you can never tell where it’s going to come out. Not that I’m complaining. It’s snug in here, and peaceful; and with running water (from the taps, I mean) plus mains electricity, it’s more than I hoped for when I first started looking for a Sandhills retreat. I would’ve settled for a wood stove, a well and oil lamps. Good enough for those old-timers, and good enough for me. Yesterday I had two plastic tubs collecting drips in my bedroom on the ground floor, one in the bathroom (ditto) and another in the living-room – until I investigated upstairs and found where it was getting in. That solved it, and in any case by late afternoon, with the temperature nudging 50, the snow was all gone and the plinking had stopped.

As regards the roof, Matt keeps looking at it and wondering whether to cover it with tin when the summer comes. Sounds like a job I can help with. But right now there are other priorities.

There are fourteen cows left to calve. Little by little the herd is being turned out onto the range. They are wonderfully placid beasts, these black Angus – or is it the laid-back westernness of them? Back home, if we go hiking in cattle country in the spring, when the young have just been turned out to graze, they are more than just curious. They are frisky, skittish. They will follow you, en masse, and always seem to be gaining on you. If you walk a little faster, so do they. Relentlessly. I have more than once had to break into a fast trot to put a fence or hedge between myself and the pressing herd. But these guys here – they just stand and stare and then politely move aside. I once talked to a cattle farmer in North Yorkshire about my fears of being trampled. I wondered whether I was being plain silly. Not at all, he told me: he had recently had to pluck his child from her buggy when a group of cows started milling around them. They simply mangled it.

Well, it’s the kind of day when I really would like to take to the hills with a picnic lunch. Instead, I plan a drive to Chadron, a college town 80 miles west of Merriman along Highway 20. I’m hoping to visit the Sandoz Heritage Center (see the pics, above) and talk to the folk there. They suggested some time ago that I might give a talk to some of the students in English. I’m also planning to call in on the “Olde Main Street Madam” as she styles herself. Jeannie has a delightful of frontier period hotel on Main Street – and a bottomless coffee-pot.

I’ll also be doing some shopping. On my list is a shortwave radio. I don’t want to get too familiar with NPR, lest my late rapprochement becomes an infatuation; and I have heard that although the BBC stopped broadcasting its World Service to the US, it is possible to pick up Asian or African services – and maybe a spot of sports coverage. That would be a relief – particularly for my son. It was 1.30 a.m., UK time, when I texted him yesterday to find out how York City FC had got on against arch-enemies, high-flying Luton Town, whose fans last year got on the field and attacked our players. Ah… bliss: we beat `em 1-0. Back to Bedforshire, you low-life trash. And back to bed, Jack.

STOP PRESS: My elder daughter had the 12-week scan yesterday. The baby – heretofore a well-kept secret - was turning somersaults. So forget that royal wedding, and raise a glass to a Grandfather-to-be.

A footnote on the royal wedding. The other day a buddy of Matt’s paused over his cheeseburger, looked at me and said, ‘You gotta king over there, doncha?’ Good to know that someone else doesn’t really give a damn either.

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