October 2007 (half a dozen pictures at October 2007 slideshow; hit F11 for fullscreen.)

Scorched earth … love not war … a movie review … the Santa Anas … lost enough

            From the town up to the Sierra foothills is mostly almond orchards. The crop has been mechanized to the point that even now, during harvest, the orchards are almost eerily deserted. At most two people are at work in an orchard, operating machines that shake the almonds out of the trees. sweep them into windrows, vacuum them up and dump them into gondolas, and belt them up into the trucks that haul them to the hulling plants. To make it possible for the machinery to work, the earth has to be machined to tolerances of 2 millimeters, i.e., less than half the width of an almond. To keep the surfaces naked and unobstructed, the orchardists scorch the weeds off with motorized torches.
            After two days in this shaded and artifactual environment, I decided to ride north into a region of vineyards and row crops. But first we had to pass through a belt of orchards. Here a horse, not to mention one with steel shoes, is a bull in a china shop. And here we crossed paths with one graceless matador. He ordered us off, yelling and cursing, and chased after us in his jeep, his little dog yapping along. Twice when it made tentative lunges at Traveller’s heels, I turned him and the dog skittered back, but the second time the enraged boer threatened to run me down for it. Rather than further court felony charges, though, he did restrain the dog and we continued the last hundred yards at a regulation gait.
            The most dangerous encounter I’ve ever ridden into was under the freeway through Richmond (the murder capital of California), where black gangsters suspended business to challenge Cancione and me. But I found this maddend farmer more unsettling. So later that day, on the return leg when I was hailed by some latinos at a cattle pen I needed to pass to go through some extensive cornfields, I began to feel less unwelcome when they said to go right ahead. Then an Anglo lounging with his feet up on the dash of a very big tractor beside a fresh-plowed field gave me a friendly wave as I passed right next to him, and I began to regain my equilibrium. The recovery was completed the next weekend up by Dixon. In the middle of fields we squeezed around a white van with curtained windows stopped on a dirt track. Just as I got beyond it, the side door slid open and a man jumped out. “Scared the shit out of me,” he said brightly, tucking in his shirt. “Sorry,” I said over my shoulder as we gaited on, and from inside the van I heard an indistinct voice, definitely a woman’s.
            The Sunday that the Santa Anas were at their rawest and Agni the god of fire was capering joyously across the Southland, the hot dry wind was sandpapering Traveller’s and my nerves as we rode north into it, up the eastern foot of the Coast Range. The inside of my head, my nose and my throat seemed already pieces of a dessicated skeleton scattered on a desert floor. When we turned around and had it at our backs I sweated in my shirtsleeves – this is not the right weather for late October. Matters were not improved by the fact that it was my first all-day ride back on my endurance saddle, my butt wasn’t used to it and it hurt like hell after the first hour.
            The next weekend, though, the Central Valley redeemed itself. From about the juncture of 5 and 505 we rambled north as far as the Colusa County line and a couple of miles beyond, through the rice fields and duck ponds that spread between the Dunnigan Hills and the Colusa Basin drainage canal. There was a distant haze all around, no horizon visible in any direction. We reached a spot where there was nothing to see but grass, reeds, water, and willows, in all the greens, yellows and browns of fall, and I suddenly didn’t know where I was. I had lost all sense of orientation to the world in which I ordinarily located myself. For once I had ridden far enough.

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            Elizabeth: The Golden Age: It’s worth trudging through the hour and 54 minute-long forest of wooden dialogue for the sight of Kate Blanchette in shining armor on that big white Andalusian.

Pictures at October 2007 slideshow.