June rides were up in the flat farmlands between Winters, Woodland, Davis and Dixon. In late May and early June the ducklings are hatching. Riding along a canal, when we startle a mother trailing babies too young to fly, she flops and splashes ahead to decoy us away. The brood paddles frantically to keep up, but the sobriandando is too fast for them and in desperation they upend and disappear. Mommy maintains the show for a quarter of a mile before she finally takes to the air and circles back.
One of these rides took me up from I-80 near Dixon to Putah Creek, then along it to the pretty old graffiti-covered cement bridge on Road 95A. It was hot, but in the shade of the old walnut trees cool clear water came gushing up out of a pipe to irrigate the orchard. I lay prone to reach it with my lips and drank my fill. It had the sweet taste I remember from when I was young, drinking from a hose on a hot Central Valley summer afternoon Ė rained from the same sky and filtered through the same soil, it must be.
Near Davis I met a woman on horseback who asked where I was from. When I told her, she said she said she didnít understand why I would come all the way over there, where it was so flat and ugly, when the place Iím from, over in the coast range, is so beautiful.
I showed her Travellerís gait, and told her it was meant for flatlands. I like riding amongst row crops, stripes of brown soil and sometimes blue or silvery lines of water between every line of green. My sense of passing time meshes nicely with the rate of change of perspective created by the speed of the gait: a shady clump trees or a lone giant oak or walnut, a block of stacked hay bales, a farmstead gradually approaching and then showing different sides; a treeline coming nearer, resolving into an orchard to go into or along the edge of, or perhaps a stream to offer a shady pause and a drink for Traveller.
The prettiest are the flooded rice paddies, the rich green and brown of the dikes snaking through sheets of water that are blue with reflected sky. But going along between a field of emerging tomatos on one hand and ripe wheat on the other, I became hungry for spaghetti.
The main people out in the fields of row crops on summer Sundays are Mexicans with shovels fooling with the irrigation. These are the 3% of the south of the border illegals who are in agriculture. They drive beat-up pickups or even sedans out into the fields, unlike the bosses, whose pickups are recent, undented and with white unpeeling paint. Dismounting and sweeping a mile radius with binoculars, this time of year one sees anywhere from none to three isolated figures, walking slowly along shovel on shoulder, or paused motionless leaning on it, a hundred yards or two from their vehicle. Once in a while my intentions take me right by one. They barely glance at me, never wave, even though weíre usually the only people in each otherís sight. Maybe they donít know what to make of me; maybe they resent me as their image of an old country padron. (Except once several years ago, while I still generally rode just along canals, I was gaiting along on Diedre, a beautiful white horse, and a Mexican across the canal turned and watched us as we rode by and applauded us; que bonita.)
Since the beginning of the year Iíve ridden all the way from the dam in Pleasants Valley where Putah Creek comes out of the Coast Range, all the way across the valley to the Sacramento River, with no gaps, almost 25 miles as the crow flies.
In the middle of the month, I unhooked the trailer to get the truck fixed. When I hooked it up again, I got the tongue on the ball, hooked up the electrical and the safety chains, and forgot to latch the tongue. I happened to notice it two hours later 80 miles away.
At the end of the month, the paso club had a playday. Larry wouldnít let me ride his carefully-bred and expensively-trained first-year show mare, afraid Iíd detune her. Subsequently the horse fought him nearly to a draw over whether they were going to go back to the finish line after exiting the keyhole.
Iím getting good at killing horseflies with a knife. If you come straight down on them smoothly while theyíre on the horse they donít seem to be able to see the blade coming at them edgeways and you can cut them in half.
Daniel Levitin in This is Your Brain on Music says that 10,000 hours of practice is necessary to make you an expert in any endeavor. He could be right. I figure Iíve spent maybe 3-4,000 hours on Peruvians, maybe another 1,000-1,500 hours handling them on the ground, so I might be halfway there.