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.
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
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
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
died on account of us,
poetical it would be
Earth could say,
voice floating up
did not like it here.