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Friday, 15 July 2011

I spent a long time yesterday morning wrestling with a decision. Mercy is a ranch vehicle, which has been abused and neglected for several years. Had she been a horse she might have been put out to pasture; a milk cow, she would have been pet food.  The fact that she’s still going, has taken me to Chadron and Valentine several times yet still leaps up the precipitous west face here – I mean the track that leads from the red house to the higher ground – is close to miraculous. I have already put well over 3000 miles on her clock. But with no A.C. it’s not the most comfortable ride, even to town. I simply came to the conclusion yesterday that a round trip of 250 miles to Ainsworth, with the temperatures around 95, was more than I wanted to take on. So I ducked out of the Sandhills Discovery event, not without regrets. I’ll try to make Valentine on Saturday morning, mainly to hear Duane Gudgel talking about marketing.
So yesterday was suddenly free. And I capitalised. I wrote a chunk of the new long piece I am trying to get together, the one I mentioned in my July 4 entry – about my love affair with Nebraska. It’s very hard, when you’re in the middle of creating a piece – especially when you’ve had three or four stabs at it and are over-familiar with the content – to form any idea as to whether it’s really working or not. However, I have sufficient confidence in this to continue, knowing that I ought to be able to smooth off any rough edges later on. In my experience – and I reckon this will be my 19th or 20th full-length book (a dozen of them published) - it is so much easier to edit something you’ve written, however crude it is, than to start afresh.

Some time today I have to summon up the energy to clean and tidy. I have a visitor coming on Sunday, Don Green, former Dean of Humanities at Chadron State College. He’s on a long drive from his home in Florida, connecting up with various branches of his family. For some years he has been making occasional mention of his own work in progress, an autobiography. It’ll be interesting to find out how that’s coming on.

I barely left the house yesterday, just a quiet stroll amongst the jungle of sunflowers that have recently started sprouting like – well, like weeds. They’re all around the house and already four or five feet tall. In fact, I have just gone out (wearing very little indeed) and found one that all but reaches the top of my head. Matt says he may come by and mow then before long, but warns that that’ll encourage the sand-burs. Meanwhile I take pleasure in cutting a few down with a casual swing of the scythe I found in the cellar. Every time I pick that I up I think of the English writer Hilaire Belloc, who, as well as writing some superbly funny rhymes for children, wrote a delightful essay on mowing hay with such an implement.

The vegetable garden is – dare I say it – thriving. I am eating lettuce every night with my dinner, there are three or four zucchini starting to plump up, and I have thinned out the beetroot to the point where I can see them starting to swell at the base. No flowers on the tomatoes yet, but I’m seeing more and more French beans appearing. For the second night in a row we have had half an inch or so of rain. I can’t remember the last time I watered.

It’s getting on for eight o’clock here, three in the afternoon back in England. That makes it seven hours (I believe) before my daughter and her team set off on that crazy sixty-mile hike I mentioned yesterday. I shall worry about them until I hear they’ve made it. About ten years ago I walked forty miles in twenty hours, but I had a night’s sleep in the woods halfway through that – and I was fifty years old; but I carried a twinge of pain in my hip for weeks and weeks afterwards.

Only a couple of pictures today. One is of the wild flowers about a hundred yards down the track from here, verbena and cone-flowers, with the sunflowers massing in the background. I thought it looked… summery.

The second is of what I take to be an evening primrose (there are apparently as many as twenty different species in this neck of the woods). I suspect this may be the four-point. They are currently blooming in great drifts along the roadside between here and town. From a distance they look not unlike the daffodils we see at home in April.

In theory I am now entering a period of sustained productive work. I really would rather laze about, drink beer and take the odd dip in the river, but I have been here before, 4-5000 words into a piece, staring at a mountain that has to be climbed, and know that in three or four weeks, if I can just keep banging out words, it’ll be a little less daunting.

Before I start, however, I will post this, and find out whether A. is a grandmother yet.

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