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Friday, 5 August 2011

The other day I confessed to cheating, taking a photograph of the Bractless Blazingstar from a book. I knew I’d seen it out in the hills somewhere, and yesterday I came across a whole patch of it. Well, I suppose it could be the Tenpetal variety, but  since the flowers don’t open till the late afternoon and close the following morning, I would have to do a little more research to be quite sure.

One of the things that I find remarkable, here as at home, is the number of plants which allegedly have medicinal uses. This flower, for example, is said to have been used as an external fever suppressant, and as a salve for mumps, measles and smallpox. I often wonder how much experimentation went into the discovery of such properties, and how many people suffered ill effects before someone decided that a plant had no use whatsoever.

There’s another flower starting to pop up all over the place, one I recognised straight away as a late summer subject from home – or at least as a close relative. I see that there are as many as 25 types of it found on the Plains, but I think this is Canada Goldenrod.

I forgot to mention that when I was in the attic the other night, re-arranging the buckets, I came across the bat that has been trapped in the house for some time. Coming home from a walk yesterday, I stumbled upon this little fellow hunched up on the door-step.

At barely two inches from nose to tail, and with a wing-span of barely three or four inches, it looked like a young one to me. When I first spotted it, it was lively enough to spread its wings and flutter away a few feet, but by evening time it had died. Whether or not this was the one from upstairs I can’t tell.

I should mention too the wren-like bird who has taken up residence in the metal box outside the front door. It was apparently undisturbed by the noise and smell of my painting operation last week, and I still see it flitting in and out. As far as I can see it has built some kind of nest in there, mostly of twigs. In fact, I have just climbed up on a chair and poked the camera through the front door.

Doesn’t look very comfortable to me, and I can’t imagine that a bird would want to raise a fresh brood of youngsters at this time of year, with the first frosts barely six weeks away. I shall keep an eye on things. I haven’t mentioned it before, but A. bought me a rather splendid book, Birds of the Great Plains, before she went home. I’ve not mentioned it because I have yet to get into it. And already I am daunted at the sight of ten different wrens listed in the index. But I am relieved to see that only one, the Bewick, appears to have a tail anything like as long as this one.

Returning to the subject of my sea-faring ancestors, I have to retract something I wrote the other day – but that’s okay: my sister accepts full responsibility. She went and checked her sources, as a good historian ought to, and found that she was mistaken. Capt. John Wiltshire was not a crew member on the State of Nebraska, and I have to say I am rather pleased to hear that, now that I know what my sister found in her copy of a book about Annie Oakley:

"Shortly before Christmas, 1893, Annie Oakley and Frank Butler moved into their new house at 304 Grant Avenue [she doesn’t say what town this was, although I should imagine it was New York]…. Less than a week after moving in, the Butlers had dinner guests, an event that was duly noted in the social columns of the local newspapers. Invited were J. M. Brown, manager of the Atlantic Transport Company of New York; Louis E Cooke of the Barnum and Bailey Show; and a Mr. and Mrs. Cannon of Newark. Mr. Cannon was a noted one-armed sportsman. Also invited was Captain Wiltshire of the steamship Mohawk, which had carried the Wild West home from Europe the year before." There: captain. Very satisfying. And no wonder we had that signed photo of Little Miss Sure-Shot on the mantelpiece when we were young.

My sister adds a poignant note about our great-great grandfather, William Royan, the one who ‘appeared’ to look at his baby daughter in 1882. Both he and Capt. Wiltshire, his wife’s brother, had been raised on sailing-ships. The pair planned to make one last voyage under sail and then each take a lower position on the 'new fangled' steamships. When he heard that William’s ship had gone down with all hands, Uncle John bought a house to provide a home for his sister and the new baby, a well as a base for himself when he was ashore.

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I am starting to become aware of the number of days remaining before I take off for home - it’s only 60 - and I am watching my stocks of food. My aim will be to run them down to the point where I don’t have to waste anything. There are still two massive turkey legs to deal with, for example. Yesterday I came over all reckless and poured a large pack of pinto beans into a pot. Result? Enough chile con carne to provide eight dinners.


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