A Ten Pound Bag
Chapter 66: Thunder
Copyright© 2020 by Emmeran
I love the prairie and the plains. I grew up out there and I’ve always felt better out on the open land. The smells are right and the atmosphere I can understand. The prairie, from my understanding, simply has more water. It’s at a lower elevation and the water table is often within twenty feet of the surface of the ground. Small waterways abounded, particularly before industrialized farming took over, and it was truly the land of milk and honey.
Plains were drier and the water wasn’t quite as easy; it was still available, just not quite so frequent. That meant you simply had to dig a little deeper to access that water. The plains were also flat and almost smooth, not riddled with brooks, ponds, and gentle rolling hills like the prairie was. The plains were perfect for large scale farming.
The Nebraska prairie in 1822 offered something that was hard to find in modern America. Stars! With a clear sky and a new moon, the stars began at the horizon with the same pitch black darkness you saw only when closed inside of a vault or coffin in the modern world. You could see stars you simply didn’t know existed. It was a shame to have to travel through time to avoid light pollution, but it was very much worth it.
The prairie was like the ocean in many ways; the stars were only one such example. Another way was the weather. Much like the ocean, the weather was untethered by mountains, trees, and heatsinks out here. When the Gods of Weather came out to play, the plains and the ocean were their favorite haunts.
Now, they say that the visible horizon in flat land is about fifteen miles, due to the curvature of the earth. But storm clouds aren’t at ground level and you can see them much further out, sometimes as much as a hundred miles away. But, just like over the ocean, the clouds over the prairie can move fast if they want to. Anybody who grew up out there knows it’s time to move quickly when you see the thunderheads building. A thunderhead was building to the northwest.
I sniffed the air and gave my gelding a little more rein to work with. He upped the pace to a canter. The pack horses weren’t trailing behind us any longer, they were almost abreast of my gelding and pushing for more. I trusted their instinct and gave the gelding free rein. He shifted speed to a gentle lope and made a slight change in course. I was simply along for the ride and Brin was running behind us to keep up. I could see the storm approaching in the distance and it looked to be less than an hour away.
The horses ate up the ground at an amazing pace and the lope didn’t seem to require much effort on their part. It was like a slow gallop and was easier on the rider than a canter or trot. Within ten minutes, I could see the Platte river valley up ahead of us, I could see our destination and now it was only a matter of getting there and sheltering before the storm struck.
Fifteen minutes later, we on our way down the gradual slope into the Platte valley and I could see groves of trees ahead of us. I set course for a large grove of willows, knowing that there would be water there as well. As we approached, there was more and more brush, then small trees, and the horses fell back into trailing line as we wound our way through the brush. There was a willow grove ahead and we headed for that.
In the middle of the willow grove was a gully with a small stream running through. We crossed the stream to put the wall of the gully on the windward side. I dismounted and let the horses water. I unsaddled them while they drank and then picketed them under a medium-sized willow before quickly starting to setup my lean-to under another nearby willow. I set up the lean-to with its opening away from the wind and quickly dug a V-shaped trench to funnel the water away. The rain started as I stashed my packs under cover and Brin climbed in quickly as well.
The storm was approaching from the northwest and I could feel its cold wind begin to blow away the heat of the day. I got out some dried meat to eat and pulled on my rain poncho.