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Sunday, 18 September 2011

Saturday was a day of contrasts: cool and grey early on, beautifully warm later, but just now, as I got a nice fire going and prepared to cook a steak, a storm passed our way and we’ve had half an hour’s rain. Well, it vindicates my decision to postpone the Leander Creek walk. I don’t know how long it will take to get out and back, but I would not have wanted to get caught in the rain.
I worked most of the morning, and into the afternoon, then put my boots on and set off across the hills. I was out for two hours, maybe more, but never got further than a mile or so from base. I think that, having spent most of my life – certainly most of my hiking life - focused on a distant objective and always watching the time, I am finally getting the hang of wandering aimlessly, with no thought of getting anywhere – and always staying near enough to home to be able to get back quickly if the weather turns. That approach is allowing me to see a lot more.

Today I scratched around in what I thought were likely spots for ancient artefacts – high spots where the sand has been exposed and washed downhill. I found a few pieces of rock that bore signs of having been worked, and several pieces of fossilised bone, but the only thing I brought back with me was this rather odd piece.

At first I thought it might be a piece of plastic jewellery, but it isn’t. It’s made of stone. Perfectly round, as you can see, but clearly made that way - or trimmed around the edges at least. The reverse side is quite flat. I’d like to think it is old, but it looks way too regular. It’s a puzzle, that’s for sure.

Anybody who remembers the big bone that Chainsaw Phil found way back in May, might be interested to know that I sent a photograph of it to Rick Otto, the superintendent at the Ashfall Fossil Beds who was so helpful to us when we called by last week. Here’s what he reckons:

This bone appears to be the lower portion of a shoulder blade (scapula)
from an elephant. (The part by your hand is where the scapula would
have come in contact with the humerus). Considering the location it was
found it is probably from a gomphothere, one of the four-tuskers that
are commonly found in "Ogallala Formation" sediment. A rough estimate
on age would be 8 to 14 million years old.

I’m getting to the point on my stay when I’m remembering all kinds of loose ends that need tidying up. I realised the other day that I often mention the dogs up at the ranch but have never posted a photograph of them. So... here they are, the canine tearaways who put on such a display of aggression whenever they see me drive up, Hoka on the right, young Cinch on the left. Butter wouldn’t melt, would it?

While I was out this afternoon I came across a few prickly-pears bearing fruit. I’m very fond of the taste of the tunas, but was disappointed to find most of them small, damaged and seedy. Still, I think that these pictures give an idea of how sweet and juicy they can be.

Regrettably, I have to admit that even at this late stage I am being confounded by blooms that do not feature in either of my books. This delicate subject looks a little like a larkspur but surely cannot be in flower this late. Nope, I’m not even going to make a stab at it, but it is rather lovely.

I am starting to feel a little wistful. I have got used to wandering freely out here, undisturbed by other people, by noxious fumes or the distant noise of traffic; I’m going to miss that, and these great expanses of sky. I can find many of these freedoms at home, but they generally require planning, preparation, and a journey. To have all this right outside your door is a real privilege.

Next stop Chadron, and a meeting with this Sandoz woman who’s visiting from Switzerland. Should be interesting. But finally, a picture I took as I sat and watched this storm approaching this afternoon. To me it suggests the approach of autumn: the pinky-brown tone on the hills to the left is the bunch-grass, pretty much the colour it was when I arrived in April.

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