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Tuesday, 27 September 2011

There are times when something is bugging you and you just don’t know what it is. Occasionally it niggles away at you for days, a sense of something not done, or that needs fixing – except that the feeling is so vague that you can’t pinpoint it. You can even wake up, as I did this morning, feeling out of sorts and wishing you knew why.
I drank my tea and went out to check the temperature: 56 and rising fast. The sunlight was coming in, almost horizontally, shining on the bare earth that I’d piled up, and graded, against the side of the house some weeks ago, and seeded with a rye mix. And that’s when I realised what was troubling me. I’d given up hope that the grass would ever appear, but there it was, emerging like a slightly threadbare emerald carpet.

I was far more pleased than you might think, because over the past couple of weeks I have watched wave after wave of fat, greedy grasshoppers crawl all over that bare earth; and I’d convinced myself that they were eating the seeds, as well as any emerging shoots, and that my efforts had been wasted. It could be that they were doing just that, but I have sprayed the area against insects twice in the last few days. Maybe there’s a connection, maybe not. I sowed the seed in the hope that I might walk away from here in a week’s time with fresh green sward in place against the newly painted façade. I had a clear picture of it in my mind – red against green - and the idea that I’d failed was getting to me. So, fingers crossed.

Out on the range the grasses are in an entirely different phase, and I just wish I could make my camera record their gorgeous colours. So I keep trying, with mediocre results.

Yesterday I drove Mercy to town to put some gas in the tank, and while I was down there I took a bit of a farewell tour. I realised that I’d yet to take any photos of  Merriman, other than  from the air – and since I’m already booked in to give a talk on my adventures to the University of the Third Age (U3A) next spring I want to be able to show a British audience what a town of 118 people looks like. So here’s what you see as you drive into town along Hwy 20.

And here’s the business hub of the place: the bar, the gas station and in the background the café.

While I was down there I called in on a guy I’d met at one of the parties I’ve been to. I found Will doing what proprietors of small businesses always end up doing, sweeping the place out. He has a body shop tucked away in an alley off Main Street. We talked about a number of things, and he was soon telling me about his adventures in London and his thoughts on the beer they serve there, and how he got shouted at by drunken louts for being a ******* Yank…. but I was only half listening. Something that was hanging on his wall had caught my eye. A canoe, I thought.

I was wrong. It’s the rotted hull of an old sailing-boat, made of steel, with lead sealing the joints. That, my friend explained, was brought to the Sandhills by an English nobleman who bought a place just north and east off the highway, back in the 1890s. He had a lake on his land, fancied the idea of sailing on it, and had this craft, along with several others, shipped out. Will salvaged it from a blow-out. So what happened to my fellow-countryman? It seems he had a rather good racket going on, a sort of dude-ranch set-up where he fetched in Englishmen who wanted a taste of adventure and the cowboy life, put them to work on the spread and charged them for the privilege. It all went to pot when he took off to California one time and left the inmates in charge of the asylum, so to speak. There was a blizzard, and they had the bright idea off  bringing the cattle in off the range – right into the stack-yard, where they climbed all over the winter’s supply of feed and pretty much destroyed it.

I said goodbye to Will, took a few more shots of town, and drove home, thinking about all the other stories I’ll never hear – and wondering, not for the first time, why anybody ever bothers to write fiction.

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