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Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Hiking Along Leander Creek, Cherry County

I’m falling behind. There is too much happening. Some day soon I will get around to talking about the expedition to find that historical site, which already feels as though it’s a historical event in its own right. Then there’s last night’s camp on a hilltop under a cloudless sky… But it can all wait. We’re hitting the road this evening, and spending two or three nights in Red Cloud and Lincoln, which should give me time to catch up.
Before I start on today’s business, though, an ‘in memoriam’ photo pertaining to the late lamented red house vegetable garden: the lettuce we ate with our steak a few nights back.

Actually, there are signs of life in the old plot, but I don’t wish to tempt fate by recording them. Still, while we’re in retrospective mood, here’s a picture A. took of me standing in what used to be the road to the red house.

So… the stormy weather seems to have gone, for now at least. I suppose I could look at that online forecast to see what’s next up, but I’m afraid it has lost all credibility. It makes me mad every time I think of it. It was spectacularly inaccurate. I shall wipe it off my ‘favourites’ list with a gleeful flourish.

All around us now we see the damage the rains caused. Well, I say damage – that’s a very mankind’s-eye view of what is, after all, just natural change. Mankind’s-eye view? I was going to say ‘homocentric’, but I didn’t want to be misunderstood. Perhaps I mean ‘anthropocentric’ in any case.

The most obvious and dramatic effect of the storms is on the draws, which seem to have crept further out from whatever river or creek they lead into. And of course every watercourse is faster, deeper and gouging new curves out of the landscape.

Yesterday we drove down to the highway, headed towards town and stopped where the road crosses Leander Creek. Matt had suggested that there would be a good hike down there, and he was right.  All I’ve seen of this creek up to now has been what’s visible from the road, a broad sweep of sand patterned with several thin trickles of water.

The trickles were broader yesterday, but, as we found later, you easily walk across them.  Further downstream, however, it narrows and deepens. You might jump it, if you took a decent run, but there’s no way you’d wade it – at least not when it’s in spate.

We followed its serpentine course for a mile or two before the pangs of hunger had us hunting out a place to eat lunch. But before we found one we came across another former settlement.  

I don’t know whose place this was under the cottonwoods, but I dare say Kitty’s dad will tell us when we catch up with him. When I first started travelling in Nebraska, which was twenty years ago now, it seemed I was always coming across decaying timber buildings – homes, barns, schoolhouses – out in the grasslands. I seem to be seeing far fewer these days. I suppose that once they start to collapse they very soon disappear from view. All we saw here, in any case, was this concrete foundation of a small construction, possibly a storehouse. Lying in the grass amongst remnant half-bricks and shards of pottery and glass, was this iron pump, with its handle a few feet away.

Back along the creek we found a sheltered spot, ate our bread and cheese, and brewed up some super-strength coffee on the trusty meths stove. Even as we sat there we saw several fragments of the sandy bank collapse into the flow. I had fears for this evening primrose (I think that’s what it is, but am too hurried to be looking it up in the books). It’s probably been swept away by now.

On the way back to the highway we had another look at something we’d spotted on the way out, across the water on the far bank. It was white, sizeable, and buried two or three feet below the ragged line of grasses that fringed the freshly cut bank. Could it be a buffalo skull? Sure it could. At the very mention of the idea, A. was off across the river with me in pursuit. And now I’m going to claim credit for tempering my flight of fancy with a second thought. ‘Course,’ I said, ‘I s’pose it might be a root of some sort.’

It was – and a hard woody root at that, although I have to admit that I cannot find the plant in either of my books. Help!

One of the bonuses of having so much recent erosion is that one can get a worm’s-eye view of the many grasses and flowers that inhabit every square foot of ground. If I were as knowledgeable as I’d like to be I could doubtless name half a dozen grasses and several flowering plants from this selection – but I must leave that to the experts, and hope they write to me.

Tomorrow night we should be in Red Cloud, down near the Kansas line, ready to spend much of Thursday being Willa Cather junkies. If we avoid adventures along the way, I’ll catch up with the recent past before we get to Lincoln on Thursday night.

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