Sun, how missed in a country valley.
It hasn’t been a year for wildflowers. The blue vipers bugloss straggled on through summer, but it’s the white yarrow now that dominates the verges as we cycle past. At a distance their massed planting are frothy and bright. Up close the flowers are delicate and airy. And each side of the road, the long driveways are lined with yellow – yellow birches, yellow poplars, golden yellow oaks, and my favourite, the yellow/green turning scarlet rowan trees.
We’d waited a morning for the rain to come and end, but by lunch the sky was still low, the clouds dense and foggy about Blackstone Hill and the ground sogged. We hadn’t seen the sun for days. When Bartali and I took our road bikes out, it seemed so long since I’d been on my bike I almost fell on the road trying to edge my foot into the pedal. We circled, testing the wind, and headed down the valley. Winter almost upon us and I wanted to see what was happening in our valley.
The Ida Burn, for a start, thrumbled and rolled in muddy waves under the first bridge. We rattled over the repaired sections of the road. Easy to see where the flood damage had come from. The stream each side is almost up to the level of the road. The paddocks mostly green and close cropped, until we came upon a paddock golden as if it was mown tussock. In the weak light I couldn’t tell what crop it was, but turning back saw the crunched- off dry stalks of lucerne, a paddock grazed not mown. In some paddocks the heavy coated sheep were grey with moisture, other paddocks empty, the sheep already on the tops or near the sheds waiting to be crutched.
Yesterday in the rain I’d said to a farmer, are you pleased about the weather? And he’d said no, I’ve got 12,000 sheep to crutch and it wont stop raining. Is it not easy crutching sheep in the rain? No, it’s a bugger of a job. The farmer who had finished crutching his sheep a few weeks back, was having trouble getting the rams up to them.
“The road’s so wet we can only take the bike, one ram at a time, up and down ten times to 3000 feet. The tracks that greasy, you can’t get a ute up it.”
“Couldn’t the rams walk up themselves?”
“They’re too fat and heavy, they’d be too tired for the job once they got up there.”
We kept a good pace down the valley, to the 11 k mark where it began to rise in a long stretch of hill.
“We’ll turn around here,” Bartali said, and for the first time ever, faced with a hill, I said “I’m fine to go up the hill.” I wanted to go up the hill.
Normally I’d be thinking please turn around, please turn around. Maybe it’s the vegan diet. Extra power. Or else because there’s no wind- driven hail, no snow, no icy swathes of wind or uphill stretches. We turned around though, and Bartali, pointing back behind his wheel, said tuck in there, and we were off. 85 percent effort, kilometre after kilometre. My lungs felt good.
I remembered times we’d done this and I’d fought to keep each pedal pushing, watching the back wheel and the fenceposts, just hanging in. Today we whizzed along the tarseal, up and over Margot’s Hill, though I still couldn’t catch Bartali, hill- avoider or not, the gap opening up between us every time I let my focus drop.
Then a scramble to get back in behind.
“Are you there?” he’d ask, “Yes,”, “Are you there?” “Yes.”
At the end of the valley the cloud was lifting. There were the Home Hills, tawny and rugged with gullies, and a strange light in a line along Blackstone Hill, brightening to lime a lucerne field, flaming the willows. Sun, how missed and how blessed on a country road.