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Wednesday, 13 July 2011

64 degrees, damp and cloudy. This is the second cool day in a row, and it’s wonderful. It feels like home. And what good luck to go to Gordon yesterday and not fry. Remember that my jalopy, for all its two new tyres and shock absorbers, has no air conditioning. It has two buttons which once upon a time performed that function, but they stopped working many years ago. What I have that works is the heat ON and the heat OFF buttons, something a pioneer would have died for in winter. I make a point of reminding myself about that when the temperature’s up in the 90s and I’m sailing along Highway 20 at a sedate 55 mph with the windows wide open, the wind yanking my hair and a succession of trucks roaring past me. It’s called ‘thanking Heaven for small mercies.’ I had the same thing many years ago in New Mexico, with a venerable Ford LTD Country Squire, a great boat of a vehicle that went 12 to the gallon, weighed about three quarters of a ton, and prompted my neighbour to remark, ‘Well, Al, the thing with a vehicle like that is – you hit someone, they stay hit.’ I should add that that was 25 years ago, in the days of 89 cent gas.

The livestock market seemed strangely familiar. It wasn’t just that I bumped into Matt, and Kitty’s dad, as well as his cousin and his cousin’s son, who ranch up-river from here. I think it was the auctioneer. As I struggled to decode the torrent of sounds that poured from his mouth, catching a ‘dollar’ here and a ‘seventy-five’ there, but otherwise perplexed, I was reminded of the car auctions in Louisville, Kentucky. I visited them some years ago with my brother. He’s the one who came over in `92 and was making a living as a car dealer until the ‘cash for clunkers’ deal put him out of business. That place at Louisville had about eight different lines going at once, and the same number of auctioneers gabbling away: one for trucks, one for repos, three for Toyotas…. You had to know what you were doing, and my brother – with the help of his daughter – surely did, to the point where the auctioneer broke off to address him personally about his intentions on one occasion. It was a proud moment for me.

When I wandered into the ring at Gordon they were selling the beasts singly. I was interested in the guy with the paddle, whose job it was to usher each lot in and see it out through the other gate. I was off on a trip, fondly imagining how I could probably do that. (It’s the legacy of the forty or so jobs I’d had by the time I hit forty – plus a few since - that I’m always looking at fresh possibilities….) This guy seemed to have it pretty easy – or so I thought until an innocent-looking heifer put her head down and charged, whereupon he slipped behind his little barricade with the grace of a ballet-dancer. No, make that a matador. And next moment the lots were coming in dozens, and I decided, yep, he can have that job.

I sat and watched for a while, then realised that I wasn’t the only guy in there not wearing jeans and a plaid shirt.  (I once went to a rodeo, at the New Mexico State Fair, in shorts and sandals and was the only one in the entire arena not wearing the ‘uniform’.) There were quite a few women and children – one of them wearing a batman suit complete with mask and cape. Hm, I thought, I guess these kids must be pretty bored to agree to come to the auction. Then I realised that they were all tucking in to plates of beef and beans and some very dark, gooey chocolate brownies. Of course: the free grub. I was down those stairs ‘quicker than Grant took Richmond’, as an old friend from southern Illinois used to say.

After I’d cleaned my plate I took a walk outside. Way out the back, in amongst the various pens,  a couple of horseback riders were lining up successive lots, to-ing and fro-ing at a leisurely pace, looking very much like men at ease with themselves.

I’m now going to upload a video clip of the auctioneer selling a bunch of twenty-six heifers at around $146 per hundredweight. I say this cautiously. There is no reason why it shouldn’t work, except that last time I did it – with the waterfalls along the Niobrara, south of Cody – it was wiped soon after I put it up.  However, here goes.

I didn’t stay till the very end. I was worried about getting out of the parking lot, which was muddy and crowded – and that the sun was threatening to come out. On the way home I stopped to look at Matt’s center pivot. I need to correct an error I made a few days ago. He didn’t have his stubble ploughed under before the millet was sown. Instead he used the ‘no-till’ method, drilling the new seed directly into the un-turned ground.

It’ll be interesting to see how quickly this scene changes over the next week or two .

Today I have to plan another trip. There’s a writers’ event at Valentine this weekend, and a trip organised by the Sandhills Discovery Experience out at Ainsworth. I’d like to attend both, but that might mean two nights’ lodging, plus a tank of gas. I need to think.

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