Three Miles of Gravel

This afternoon when I got tired of watching the jays chase the smaller birds from the feeder while the puppies pulled at the cuffs of my jeans I took the keys from the rack and headed out into the cold sunshine the dry yellow locust leaves crackling under the soles of my muddy farm shoes, the gravel was dark where the morning’s frost had thawed and dripped off the tips of the few remaining oak leaves that over hang the road, I checked for bucking pick-ups before pulling onto the road in my little blue import the tires churning in the gravel where it has accumulated in furrows at the bottom of the driveway washed there by heavy winter rains large hand shaped grape leaves in the vineyard across the way have begun to turn yellow along their edges still no grapes on the young vines from this point on none of the neighboring properties are visible from the road giving one the sense of isolation that attracts all of us to this little foothill large leafed maples and aged live oaks create a canopy over the road opening every few hundred yards where a driveway dips down through the blackberry brambles to the East or rises into the heavy undergrowth to the West just before the road drops down the switch back toward the donkey farm the canopy opens revealing a small pasture planted thinly in immature firs but the far corner is bare revealing a carpet of yellow-green grass where three horses graze most days, two are plain, one black the other camel colored but the third is pale gray covered in black spots of many different sizes some as large as your palm some the size of ripe plums others as small as postage stamps scattered all across its flanks, they all have long black tails which they swish up and over their flanks flicking the black flies away, often I slow to a stop and watch them move languidly through the lazy space imagining their musky smell and velvety muzzles in the palm of my hand, they’re not there today in their place is a large pile of scrap wood burning a cloud of white smoke unfurling into the air above the road and I continue on my way down the hill around the switchback, where it lets out the newly planted sugar maples glow bright red as if lit from within on the property where the purple-blue flowers of the leather leafed ceanothus attract clouds of bees in the summer and the sign that last week read $4 a dozen now reads $3 a dozen, tawny ground squirrels run out in front of my car as I trip along the potholes but I don’t slow for them as my speed and their dashing from it is part of the game further the patch of road where in the spring the gold finches cover the gravel like so much fairy dust is bare now except for dried leaves like balls of crumpled parchment paper skittering across the road in the light breeze and the thin white clouds skitter across the pale blue autumn sky, the telephone pole covered in moss from ground to tip where the barn owl perches in the dark rises over the pasture where the bobcats hide in the blackberries too dense to pick, I follow the road where it curves toward the immaculate property where the rancher raises calves until they’re cattle then sells them to slaughter and brings in a new batch, brown black tan white without or without spots, sometimes they have horns sometimes not, and always there are a couple of bison thrown in for good measure, I wait here at the stop sign and watch them graze silently before turning onto the blacktop where the asphalt makes the ride smoother and less wild.

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