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Sunday, 11 September 2011

I spent a few hours at the Willow Tree Festival In Gordon. Mostly I took in the music. There was an Irish band, a bluegrass band, a singer-songwriter, and a pianist.

This guy particularly intrigued me. He lives at Cody, a little place even smaller than Merriman which has, I believe, 99 inhabitants. He has a degree in Maths, he’s a welder, and he played everything from a Chopin Polonaise to an arrangement of a Metallica number. If I needed it, here was a further reminder that you should never, ever, dismiss a place as too small, too ugly, too drab to be of any interest. It goes hand in glove with not judging people on first appearances. I’m not saying, by the way, that Cody is any of those things, just that as you whizz along Highway 20 it would be easy to assume that there’s nothing there. Back to what most Americans have told me over the years about the entire state of Nebraska. Flat, dusty, nothing there. It’s simple laziness. Stop anywhere and engage with people and you will find gems. Sometimes it requires courage, sometimes persistence; and yes, sometimes the well is dry and you move on rather than drill another one. When I was at that party the other night an elderly rancher, in jeans and boots, with calloused hands, remarked in passing that he’d been to Yale, and then carried on with whatever he was saying before I could ask for more.

Among a number of familiar faces I bumped into one of the people I’d met at Morelands’ last week. Jeanne Walter knows Caroline Sandoz and has agreed to accompany me if I go calling. The fact is, I am nervous about breezing in on someone I haven’t seen for eleven years whose memory, I am told, is showing signs of wear. It’ll be immensely reassuring to have someone with me.

On the way home I called in at the ranch supplies store, Bomgaars, and bought a couple of pounds of grass seed - and I’ll explain about that in a moment. Next door is a junk yard. I’ve been meaning to stop there since April to photograph the old trucks that lurk amongst the ranks of abandoned tractors.

Taking these pictures nearly killed me. It wasn’t that I was climbing about on piles of old timber, cast-off doors and the like, rather that the owner came by in his car. I believe his name is Mr Greenamyre. At least, that’s the name on the ballpoint pen he handed me. He was curious as to what I was up to, so I told him, and of course we got talking, which is what nearly did for me – standing on the dusty track in full sun for twenty minutes. Still, I learned that he was at high school with one of Mari Sandoz’ nieces – which I happen to know puts him in his mid-80s – and that he’s been in business since 1952. He too had heard of this Swiss lady who’s talking at Alliance next week, and is debating whether or not to go along. We finally parted company and I managed a few more minutes snapping away at his collection before I had to dash for the comfort of my new air-conditioned car. What a luxury that is.   

Back here I took out a pitch-fork, scratched the newly-laid soil around the house, and scattered handfuls of grass-seed. It’s an annual mix which, I am assured, ought to germinate before the frosts come. My idea is at least to bind the earth lest it all wash away in the next rain. I watered it in well afterwards and will hope for the best.

Tomorrow, if things go to plan, I shall prepare these windows for painting. But that’s asking a lot. It’s been a while since anything went to plan.

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