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Sunday, 12 June 2011

Sunday morning. The washing-machine is rumbling away in the basement, and any time now I’ll be rumbling through the red house with the vacuum cleaner. Tomorrow evening I drive to Rapid City to collect my sweetheart. Some time between now and then I’d better shave too. It has surprised me to find just how slothful and slovenly a guy can get when there’s nobody around to impress.

But never mind domestic hygiene; what about personal safety? That’s a question that reared its head yesterday. It was mid-afternoon, there was a warning out about severe thunderstorms in the area, and I could see clouds building up to the north-west. So I decided to take a nice simple walk: up onto the top, and head due south till I hit the fence-line, then turn around and come back. I would just… see what I could see, and at the same time get a good view of any thunderheads that might start building up.

I actually saw one or two interesting things. Well, of course I did. I have come to expect it.

There were these delicious-looking fruit, for example. Just like plums, and very tempting. Very perplexing too, because this is barely the middle of June. They’re the fruit of the Groundplum Milkvetch – although I didn’t know that until I got home and looked them up. I couldn’t believe they would be poisonous, so I did dab a tentative finger onto their flesh, but I couldn’t really taste much, and I don’t think I missed anything.

The book tells me they’re supposed to be juicy (which they certainly are), and sweet (hmm…) and taste like raw string-beans. They’re popular with livestock and deer, and rodents, who will cache them. And they’re also known as buffalo beans, which I think I prefer as a name.

As I’ve already mentioned, I now walk with my eyes firmly fixed on the ground ahead of me. I am very snake-aware. And so I get to spot things like this fungus...

 … and what I think is a type of locoweed, Lambert crazyweed.

Not particularly palatable to livestock, and that’s a good job too, because it’s noxious. And if I’ve got that horribly wrong I hope somebody corrects me.

What I’m obviously not so aware of, now that I’m looking out for reptiles all the time, is the direction I’m taking. Here are the hills I had entered. We’re looking south. They seem kind of harmless, don’t they? Easy to navigate.

The fence-line I was aiming for is about half a mile, perhaps a little more, beyond the horizon. I plodded on, probing the ground with my stick, pausing occasionally to look up and see a curlew fly past. It was only when I realised that the wind, which had been behind me, was in my face, that it occurred to me to get my bearings. That’s not easy when you’re in the hills. They all look the same. I was in a dip, and by this time the sun was obscured by clouds. It was only when I saw the cattle dotted around a windmill ahead of me across a broad flat area of range, and beyond that, two or three miles away, a familiar ranch-house - Matt & Kitty’s place – that I realised what I’d done.

I wouldn’t have thought possible, but within twenty minutes or so – less than a mile - I’d deviated from my course by 180 degrees.

I hurried back towards home. The wind was gathering strength, a veil of grey was sweeping across the north-western horizon, and I could smell rain. I could also hear a constant low rumbling noise. Was it wind? Was it thunder? Something more sinister?

I got home before anything happened. And for the rest of the afternoon, and well into the evening, I was in an out of the house as the wind rose and fell, as white and grey and yellow-bellied clouds appeared, swelled up and disappeared.

There were a few drops of rain, a flicker of lightning, and that was it. This morning the sky is clear and blue. Great drying weather. I must go and fetch that laundry out

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