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Tuesday, 14 June 2011

I am very careful at home, very ‘green’. Or at least, I try to be. I manage most of the year without a car. I buy no processed food and bake my own bread. I can think of very few poisons that I use regularly. I avoid cosmetics, spray deodorants, air fresheners, insect killers by and large. I use soft soap in solution against aphids. Caterpillars on the brassicas: I’ll often just squish them with my fingers. And I generally get away with the non-chemical approach. Yes, England’s is a very benign environment. Nature’s out to get you, I suppose – or more specifically a slice of your crops - but it’s a very… gentlemanly war she wages.
Over here, clearly, it’s different. In the few days since I got this screen-door up, the weather has turned much more summery. The bugs are out in force and I’m in danger of becoming a prisoner in my own home. So this morning I nuked them. That is, I took a two-gallon sprayer from Matt’s workshop, deciphered the faded instructions on an ancient bottle of malathion and sprayed the front walls of the red house and the grass. To coin a phrase beloved of soccer fans back home, ‘it’s all gone quiet over there.’ I wonder how long for.
One disadvantage of living down here by the river – apart from it being bug heaven, I suppose – is that I don’t see so much of the sky as I’d like to. Just now, for instance, as I went up the hill to make a couple of phone calls, I was surprised to see thunder-heads building to the east.

Down here it seemed a perfect, sunny afternoon. I could sit and watch those clouds for hours. I used to when I was a kid; did what all children do on lazy summer days, I suppose, and fantasised about climbing them to the very top - not that we often got the spectacular, mountainous type you get out here.

The phone calls I was trying to make – with limited success – were to my offspring, all of whom are at critical points in their lives right now. My son has just completed a three-year course as a film-maker and needs work, urgently. He had an interview for a job… in a call-centre. My younger daughter has just completed three years at art school and is all keyed up for the end-of-course exhibition which opens later this week; and her sister, halfway through her first pregnancy, moves into a new house tomorrow. I guess I could have chosen a better time to be away for six months. Thank goodness for the internet, I say; and Facebook.

Well, I’ve done the housework. The place is presentable, and so am I: showered, shaved, and wearing a clean shirt – or rather, one that was recently clean. In fact I managed to get myself ready for the trip to Rapid way too early, so I killed a bit of time outside, enjoying a relatively insect-free half-hour pottering about the garden, inspecting the lettuces and French beans.

To tell the truth, progress has been slower than I had hoped, but now that the warmer nights are here I think I’ll see things take off at last. The one thing I’m worried about is that all that cow manure I put in the trenches may be an awfully long way down. Still, my observation of the grasses in the blow-outs is that they seem to send their roots down to an extraordinary depth in search of moisture. We shall see….

The zucchini squash too is starting to move in its state-of-the-art hillock filled with fold-yard litter.  All in all, I was sufficiently encouraged to make a second sowing of beetroot and lettuce – thereby lathering myself in sweat and creasing up my clean shirt.

I had a very cheering note from a fellow writer yesterday. I had ventured the opinion that I ought to be cranking out sage reflections on Mari Sandoz rather than a daily blog. Not at all, was the advice. There is another way of looking at this: you may have come out here to write about Mari, but look what you’re finding instead. Engagement with the day-to-day business of ranching and with a community. And, my correspondent added, you’re a Brit. Interesting angle. That was far more helpful to me than the writer in question could have realised.

Okay, Rapid City and don't spare the horses...

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