Hey! (April 2007)

            On a fine green spring day, setting out eastward from I-505 on the north side of Putah Creek behind the first orchard, comes the yell. “Hey!” shouts the farmer; he invokes “PP”, the private property principle. When it comes to beauty and nature, I’m with Bakunin – property is theft, at least when the receiver of the stolen Indian property is just hogging the view. We’ll see how fast Traveller feels like going on this nice soft turf, and before the landowner and I could get very far along on our shouted debate over the proposition that the revolution had been for the pursuit of happiness rather than for property, he started worrying that other of his property was making a break for liberty and started calling his dog Sushi, who was running quietly along behind us. Sometimes dogs would rather run with horses than bark at them. Jean and I had a little terrier come along with us up the north side of the Sacramento River downstream of Knight’s Landing for several miles, until its owner, driving parallel to the levee in his pickup, caught up with us all and sweetalked his dog back.
After this hit and run, we had a pretty nice ride for 8 or 10 miles east towards Davis along the creek, the largely parallel Willow Canal, and through the fields, orchards and a nature preserve between them. This part of the valley does not suffer from much human pressure, and it’s not bristling with keep out indicators, nor so many abandoned appliances, sofas and recliners, not too many shotgun shells and bald tires half-sunk into the soil.
            On the subsequent two weekends, on the other side of 505, the west side, I found what I think is my best ride.
            We started at the northern outskirts of Winters and went west from 505 along Willow Creek to where it joins Highland Canal, and thence north mainly along the canal for quite a few miles, ultimately all the way to Esparto. There is nothing spectacular about this ride; it’s just that it’s hours and hours of varying scenery, all attractive.
            Dirt and grassy footing perfect for comfortable gaiting, the canalside starts out passing an abandoned farmhouse, always an excellent sign – in this case, one with an orange tree spotted with fruit, more scattered on the ground beneath, now that there was no family to gather it. A lumber yard silent on a Sunday, a pasture of goats, little houses on a couple of acres. Then along a road for a mile, crossing and going straight east across big, rectangular, flat, straight-furrowed empty fields and up to the base of the eastern foothills of the Coast Range. Just where the folds of the hills interrupt the plane of the valley the waterway makes an abrupt right and heads northwards.
            Right here the canal broadens out to 20 or 30 yards wide and weaves along the foot of the hills, bonnie, bonnie braes indeed, and we followed the contours in and out, riding along the flat grassy bank. Underfoot it was soft and green, speckled with tiny little wildflowers. Ahead of us the canal, now more like a long narrow lake, wound along the bases of the hills fingering down, the banks and then the water itself disappearing around the bends. Breeding pairs of geese paddled hither and yon. Ahead of us some of them were calling. Tears came to my eyes, and I stopped and got off, to be in it.
            After another little ways, it became a canal again. For hours and hours more it was spooky, silent orchards, grazed hillsides, a vineyard, green fields that could be living demonstrations of perspective with rows running away to vanishing points, seas of grain with invisible gusts of wind sweeping across in waves. The canal banks bent in an out, sometimes along the contours of the foothills, sometimes striking out across tongues and inlets of the plain, occasionally interrupted by weirs that make small waterfalls. Sometimes the water ran so close to the top of its banks that it seemed like a gentle, winding stream. It went alongside a wild, uncultivated reserve, and past an alpaca farm – shorn, their scrawny bodies and ostrich necks topped by a poof of furry untrimmed head make them more startlingly ridiculous-looking than any Park Avenue poodle. In a couple of places streams coming out of the hills have to be routed under the canal, so one must turn at a right angle and ride up or down the stream to find a crossing. Following one, the soft mown ground encouraged Traveller to exaggerate the hidden possibilities of danger lurking in the creek’s overgrowth on one side and the close in overhanging old orchard on the other into justification for a fast gaiting charge for half a mile, until we emerged at an untravelled road with an old pre-War poured concrete bridge over the creek where we could cross and head back down to the canal.
            Sometimes on this ride and others in farming areas this time of year, when you look out across a field of some tall ripening grassy crop like wheat or rye, a blackbird suddenly flies up out of the deep green carpet, then another from near where the first emerged, and another, and one by one a flock appears. The first one flies 25 or 50 feet and disappears back down into the grass, followed by the others, but the flock is so numerous and the flight so short that for a little while some birds are still appearing at the same time others are disappearing, briefly forming a twisting, erratic monochromatic arc. Then the last one alights and once again the only color is green.
            On the first day of April, resting in the grass along Highland Canal in a small grove of oaks beside a rushing wier, while Traveller grazed I hosted the first ticks of the year.
            Celebrated Earth Day out in the Valley making a big circle around the D-Q U, the Indian university, east of 505 between Winters and Davis, north of Putah Creek. We were in a thundershower; collected sticky clay Valley mud in boot cleats and horseshoes; fell asleep on the open ground. I was lying where the hay from the field in front of me had been stacked last fall, breathing the rich, warm smell of the brown rotting residue from the bales and watching the clouds, when a sparrow flew over with another close after, then a third, hurrying not to get left behind, all like adolescents on their way to someplace something might be happening.

            At 8 mpg I added a lot of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere getting here.

            To quote the late Kurt Vonnegut,

            When the last living thing
            has died on account of us,
            how poetical it would be
            if Earth could say,
            in a voice floating up
            from the floor
            of the Grand Canyon,
            “It is done.”
            People did not like it here.