We are cycling through summer. In the paddocks the foggy grass and cocksfoot are tasselled and downy as wheat. Bartali and I head up Hills Creek Road, over the bridge the farmers patched up while waiting for the council. The evidence of flood still lies in the tangled branches in the fencelines, though below us the Ida Burn is turpid, slow, only a few pools and and a thin stream running between them.
A farmer is discing a bare paddock. The air smells of warm earth, and though rain is forecast at last to come, today the soil and the dry grass on the flats and hills is testament to long days of heat and no water.
As we bike, a flock of dark birds swoop and turn above the road in front of us. Starlings, perhaps, or blackbirds. We haven’t once been harassed by magpies this season.
Further on paddocks are mown for lucerne, some with the long yellow trails of dry lucerne, ready for baling, while clean shaven paddocks have rows of tawny bales. The haysheds in the paddocks are begining to fill. And there’s a smell in the air of jam cooking. Phillipa, who ran the Ida Valley Kitchen Cafe, lives near here, and I imagine, as I sniff, she has a deep pan of raspberries boiling.
“Stay in top gear,” Bartali says, “and we’ll go like the clappers.” We do. The wind fresh as we hurtle down Woolshed Road. There’s the smell again of burnt sugar, though no houses in sight, a warm, sweet, waft of air. Perhaps its the fields of lucerne in purple flower perfuming the air, or the patches of broom, their seedpods ripe in the heat.
Riding on country roads like this it’s easy to imagine we are part of this land and rural life, just two other creatures moving through it, like the herd of cattle who fling their heads up at the sight of us. They’re fawn and black and chestnut. They break into a gallop, like wild horses, and charge along the paddock beside us, their coats glossy in the sun.
I hear another noise behind me. “Car!” I yell to Bartali.
“What? Another one,” he calls back. It’s the second one to pass us in an hour.
But soon, back on the tarseal, all illusion of oneness dissipated, we’re minding the traffic now, and the trucks, and the wide metalled road distances us from the animals and the golden grass. And then again, like a blessing, that smell of jam in the air as we ride into the village, the rural air still holding sway.