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Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Midsummer's Day - and the Rain is Horizontal

Mid-summer’s day by my reckoning, and the rain has stopped falling. Instead, it’s sweeping across my field of vision horizontally, chased by a gale-force wind and heading for the Wyoming line. This weather seems extraordinary. Last night, I just heard on the radio, they had tornadoes away to the south and east of here, along the Platte river, with hailstorms and 70 mph winds. More rainfall is forecast for today.
After a wet and windy start, yesterday wasn’t too bad. The temperature peaked at around 61 and there were occasions when the sky appeared to be lightening. It reminded us of a British public holiday, and naturally we resolved to make the best of it. But of course, after I’d done my writing and we’d got the internet stuff out of the way the morning was given over to the turkey, now thawed and needing to be dealt with.

We cut off the legs and put them to one side, which enabled us to cram what remained into a large oval tin with a raised lid. We packed a few onions and carrots around the bird, laid several slices of smoked bacon over the breast, poured in about half a pint of (cheap) red wine and popped it in the oven.

We now came to the hard part, namely the red house stove, which has two main temperature settings: red hot elements, and grey lifeless elements. I exaggerate slightly, but you see the problem. Remember my bread? How I have to bake the bottom half then turn to BROIL to get the tops browned? It wasn’t dissimilar with the turkey. With the temperature set to 325 degrees, we presumed that we could afford to leave things be. Big mistake. Within an hour there was a smell of burning meat around the place. The wine had boiled dry and the top of the bird was starting to look like slightly overdone roast beef.

I won’t try to turn this into an epic tale, much as I am tempted. What we did was pay close attention for the next four hours or so, basting the bird regularly, adding several more glugs of the red stuff, and then turning the oven off. Scorched or not, the thing was cooked; of that we were sure. And it would still be warm when we came to devour it.

By this time the weather had eased and we turned our attention to the vegetable garden. You see, food is never far from my mind – and why should it be? It’s essential to our well-being. Out there the little tomato plants were starting to bend to the will of the easterly blast and the zucchini squash were in danger of losing their first precious leaves. This is where it pays to have a partner of Scottish descent.  You know what I mean: someone blessed with the virtues of resourcefulness and thrift. My kind of gal. What we can do, she said, is rummage through the garbage, pull out those used milk cartons and fruit juice containers – that was my job, naturally – and make some sort of protective sleeves.

A picture, they say, is worth a thousand words. So here it is, the Vitamin D Milk Commemorative Tomato Patch.

No sooner was that in place than A. adopted a reflective pose worthy of the Chainsaw at his most pensive and said, ‘What about that upturned sink you have over the barbecue pit?’ Cue the second picture of the day: the Patent Zucchini Protective Dome.

I would add a third illustration here, but the lettuces, although continuing to grow, are all but buried in sand splashed up by the daily torrents and don’t look too attractive. I should add here that, although we are enduring miserable weather, I’ve never been happier. This is the true nature of your average Brit: perversely cheerful in the face of adversity. Roll back the clouds, send in the sunshine, whack the temperature up to 90, and he (or she) will sag visibly and start complaining.

Now that A. has caught up on her sleep – the best word to describe her work schedule at home is punishing – she’s full of ideas. A couple of days ago she took down one of those photos of this place, taken before the red house was built, and made a sketch of it. The idea was to venture onto the bluffs behind us, with said sketch, try to find the point from which the photo was taken, and, from that, locate the various buildings that the Arents had here in the early days.

The experiment worked quite well. The outline of the distant hills is relatively unchanged in eighty or ninety years, although the foreground has changed considerably – there are now way more cedars, for example - so we were able to spot the location of the timber dwelling which came between the time of the dug-out and this house. We also suspect that the Arents’ barn was incorporated into the large one Matt now uses for calving.

There’s still a mystery surrounding the Arents’ first home, however. What people are calling the dug-out (foreground, below) is, we suspect, no more than a root-cellar. But I could be wrong. I often am.

We now turned our attention to the suspension bridge, or the remains thereof, and set off along the river-bank, heading upstream and picking our way carefully between the many swathes of poison ivy. We soon came across what was left of one of the piers on the north bank, almost encased in a wild grapevine. On the south bank we found another - still wrapped with heavy gauge steel wire and anchored into the bluff. Its  partner lay on the ground.

As to the original dug-out, we are stumped. People say, airily, ‘oh, it’s there all right’, but the bluffs are so scarred by rock-falls and wash-outs that it could be any one of a dozen sites.

We were now wet and hungry. Time to go home and eat.

The finished turkey may not look beautiful, but the chef is beaming for a very good reason: he’s just picked off a piece and knows that it tastes just fine. There is no other standard by which to judge it.

Today we were going to picnic. I pause to allow laughter to echo around the rain-swept bluffs. But who knows? As my grandmother used to say, peering through the gloom towards the west, and desperate to get us out of the house, ‘It’s definitely brightening up over there.’ She was half-Scottish.

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