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Sunday, 22 May 2011

I suppose it counts as a walk, even if I did spend much of the time on all fours burrowing under fallen trees and squirming my way down narrow ravines, tangled up with underbrush and clinging to the thinnest of roots to prevent myself dropping ten or twenty feet at a time. At one stage, after slithering down a muddy slope into a slow trickle of water I found myself teetering on the edge of a rocky eight-foot high waterfall. Nothing for it but to grab an overhanging branch, swing out and jump into the spongy green mess at the bottom.

And you know what? It was fun. It was a little like being an eight-year-old boy again. I was even tempted to roll up my shirt-sleeve when I got back to show off my scars and scratches. And somewhere along the way I took this photo of the trees along the riverside, finally putting out some spring colours.

As ever, I’d been trying to follow the river-bank – this time in pursuit of more of the Morel mushrooms which, the archers tell me, really are worth having. I got a solitary one, which I later added to the three or four the archers had found. By the way… archers? They’ve nabbed two turkeys, both with shotguns. I have to say I’m a little disappointed. I had visions of them dragging home a couple of toms every day, pierced by arrows and looking like porcupines. But here's the type of weapon they use, lethal and pretty hi-tech.

And they’ve been great company, all of them. The bonus is that Greg and Jim, the two dads, are an absolute mine of information on the Sandhills flora and fauna. They both work for what you might term environmental agencies within the state and are intimately connected with this landscape, always willing to share their knowledge – especially when it involves horror stories about poison ivy, ticks, deer flies, etc.

My walk – scramble, call it what you will – now took me into a flat, swampy area under a grove of old cottonwoods. I’m very fond of cottonwoods, although I’ve cursed them many a time when trying to make a camp-fire: they just don’t like to burn. The bark intrigues me, being thick, deeply fissured and grey – and nutritious for certain animals. Oldtime mountain men and explorers often kept their horses fed on it through the winter. I’ve turned this picture round to the horizontal, simply because I think it makes a much more interesting pattern.

As I splashed my way across the standing water I disturbed a heron from way up the top of one of the trees. No sooner had that one flapped its way noisily over the river than another one got up, then a third and a fourth. Looking up I saw perhaps eight or ten nests, and over the next few minutes about a dozen birds took off for the hills.

I hurried on. I still have vivid memories of being mobbed by an irate heron when I disturbed one fishing outside my cottage on Hornsea Mere, Yorkshire’s largest natural lake. With half an eye on the sky, I stumbled on a fallen tree and saw a brown and white snake slide effortlessly across my boot. Over the next hundred yards or so I must have trodden on three or four long thin sticks, and each one made me jump like a startled rabbit.

I ate a picnic lunch down by the side of the river, just beside a mature tree that had been felled by beaver. I didn’t measure this trunk, but I’d guess it was closer to three feet than two in diameter. I had no idea that beaver teeth were so powerful, or that they could cause so much damage.

With the weather deteriorating I decided to head for home, which meant a steep climb up another creek-bed towards the pines. Here I came across the first choke-cherry blossom I’ve seen so far. It has a sweet, heavy scent, not unlike the may blossom we have in England around this time. And there, growing right beside it, was the yellow flower of the golden currant whose berries, my book tells me, ripen in late June and make excellent jam, wine or pemmican.

By the time I got to the top, out onto the grassland, a rain-shower was sweeping in from the west. I managed to walk as far as Matt’s center pivot before it hit me, and was able to get a decent shot (I think) of the irrigated area where he’s growing triticale.

After snapping that I whipped out my raincoat and headed for home.  It was time to get ready for the branding party we’d been invited to. Quite a story, which I’ll put up tomorrow, along with some shots of the archers.

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