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Saturday, 28 May 2011

Chainsaw Phil is back in England. We left the house at 0545h, drove to Rapid City, and I left him at the airport for a flight to Minneapolis. He looked decidedly glum, if slightly dotty, as he made his way towards the security control wearing his black stetson with the straw version on top of it. He liked it here.

As for me, I was surprised at how lonely I felt when I got back to the red house. I’ve had two solid weeks of hunters, trail riders, hunters with bows and arrows, and the man himself. I’ve got thoroughly used to having company and will have to adjust all over again, although it’s only just over two weeks till I’m back in Rapid collecting my partner. She arrives on the 13th. Woo-hoo!

I have decided that spring must be here to stay, despite a further three-quarters of an inch of rain last night.  It’s getting up into the 60s most days – 69 today – and only dipping into the 40s at night. And the soil is nice and damp. We’ve accumulated roughly a third of an average year’s rainfall in the last two weeks. So today I put in an hour or so on my vegetable plot. Even as I raked the soil and sowed my lettuce, beetroot and green beans I could hear Greg the archer, who listened to my grandiose plans and said quietly, ‘You’re very ambitious.’ Was that the assessment of a man who was overwhelmed by my energy and vision, or does he know that come July all my work will be destroyed by deer, raccoons, grasshoppers? We shall see. I have also put out half a dozen tomato plants and sown a few of what the Americans call zucchini squash but we call courgettes – or, if we let them grow too big, marrows. I went down into the empty cattle pen and dug up a barrowload of dark, rotted manure to sow the seeds in.

After that, lunch: some excellent free range eggs I bought from a place just outside Chadron as I drove back from Rapid. It was a bit of a climb up a steep dirt road, but worth it. I bought home-made chokecherry jam, a strong-tasting Nebraska cheese, and some home-made green pasta.  Not cheap, but good quality – and where my stomach is concerned I prefer not to compromise.

And now, for the first time in a fortnight, I have time to wander at my own pace, checking up on what’s happening out on the range.  So I put on my boots, stuffed some fruit and a water-bottle into my small back-pack and set off for a hike. Since I got back I’ve been deliberating about whether to put up pictures of all the flowers that caught my eye and have decided to go for it. It’s an exciting time of year if you like plants.

First, a penstemon – and a better shot than my first attempt a week or two ago. And then this shrub, which I’d seen in large patches all over the hillsides, noticeable for its dark, burnt looking branches. But now that it’s in flower…

I think it must be a skunkbush sumac. Maybe somebody reading this can put me right.

I can’t identify the next two subjects, although the first looks to me like a thistle. As I mentioned earlier, I have two plant books here, but I cannot find either of these listed.

I’ve been looking forward to seeing the yuccas in bloom, maybe in June or July, and wondering when the buds would start to form. Here’s the first one I’ve seen.

I’d never heard of pussy-toes until one of the archers mentioned them, and I think I’ve managed to get both the field and the small-leaved varieties. Again, I’d welcome being corrected if I am wrong.

My final subject is, I believe, a veiny dock. These have suddenly started appearing all over the place.

I’ll finish with a general view of the range, showing how very summery it’s starting to look…

…and add a trail for tomorrow. I am fairly certain that the snake I all but tripped over on the way out this afternoon was a rattler. I was certainly alarmed, but I managed to  get a couple of pictures. But I don’t want to post them until I’ve had a positive identification from someone who knows. Do I hope I’m wrong, with my plans for sleeping out when the nights warm up? Hm – ask me tomorrow.

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