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Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Relief at last, in the form of a cool wind, some threatening clouds and a few drops of rain. It was barely enough to settle the dust, but the temperature dropped twenty degrees and suddenly I felt a little energy being rekindled.
It was a horribly uncomfortable afternoon, and once I’d climbed the hill to make a phone call the only exercise I got for the rest of the day was going outside to make regular checks on the thermometer. It was in the upper nineties from about noon and kept on climbing, very slowly, to the point where I realised that I was going to be disappointed if it didn’t reach three figures. It did, around five o’clock, peaking at 100.00 degrees precisely.

I had plenty to occupy me yesterday. I must have spent an hour trying to identify a clutch of plants that are blooming out the back here, with mixed results. In fact, I feel a bit of a failure, having gone through both books and failed to find this splendid specimen…

Or indeed this…

I am coming to the conclusion that neither of my books is as helpful as it ought to be.  

However, I did finally identify the splendidly named Bractless Blazingstar, which I came across on the hill a few days ago, only to find that I’d wiped the photographs I’d taken. Taken on a windy day, they were all blurred or out of focus. So, for the record, I’ve taken a close-up of the picture in the book.

There is a rationale behind this blatant cheating. I was listening yesterday to a number of audio recordings I made ten years ago. I’d come out to the Sandhills with a rather nice Sony tape recorder and a very expensive microphone. I’d borrowed both items from a BBC radio producer who was keen to make a half-hour documentary on Mari Sandoz with me – and very happy for me to take all the financial risk of coming out here for two weeks and chasing down interviewees. I spent some ninety minutes talking with Caroline Sandoz, and taped conversations with a number of academics, as well as Don Cunningham, editor of Nebraskaland magazine and an authority on the ecology of the Sandhills. Listening to him yesterday I noted that he spoke of some 700 plant species being found in the area, and it occurred to me to figure out – when I’ve nothing better to  do – how many flowers, grasses and trees I have seen, or at least photographed.

My one success yesterday, and it came after I’d flipped through both books several times and done a lot of muttering, was in ascertaining that this sticky little customer is the aptly named Curlycup Gumweed.

It was a bittersweet business, listening to my ten-year-old recordings. There’s some good material there – although I fear that some of the old tapes have somehow got corrupted. I have an hour and a half with Helen Stauffer, Mari’s biographer, a session with my later visitor Don Green, recorded at the grave-site with a meadowlark providing an atmospheric background, and an impromptu chat with a 90-year-old lady of Czech extraction whose father sent her to Rushville one summer afternoon in 1935 to buy Old Jules. He hardly spoke English, but he devoured the book in one weekend. He’d known Mari’s father and declared it an accurate and fair record.

The bitter part is that the documentary never got made. Not for the first time, or the last, I had a producer sold on an idea – only for it to fall foul of the commissioning process. I find can find a way to do it, I may try to get some of these interviews onto the Net.

This time yesterday it was about 84 degrees out there. It’s just 70 right now, and the forecast is for a maximum around 85. I shall celebrate by driving to Gordon and stocking up on groceries.

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