You expect the desert to be hot and dry, but for some reason, brittle brown grass and soaring temperatures come as a bit of a surprise in other places--even if it happens that way year after year. It seems, if possible, drier than a desert, just because you have the memory of a promising green spring to hold up in comparison.
That was what I was thinking as I was walking in the American River Parkway on Saturday; it was a little inaccurate, since I never saw the place before at all, let alone in the spring. Still, the place was terribly dry, as if just thinking the word "spark" might be too much for it. The dry margin of the riverbed, with a grove of eucalyptus trees growing out of a vast, alien plain of sunbaked rocks, was surreal. Impressive as the thirsty, forgotten borders of the river were, the river itself was a grand contrast. At the edge, where the current had slowed, tiny fish darted about in two or three inches of water.
Further out, the river was running with a good will. Raft after raft of boaters passed by swiftly, riding the current with little assistance from the oars. One group, which I didn't see, as I was behind the willows looking at the fish, was singing, "Row, Row, Row Your Boat," and they had plenty of breath for singing.
It was an interesting place to sit and watch for a bit. All of the bright rafts floating by made it look as though the American River was the latest and greatest place to be on a Saturday afternoon, but its history goes back much further than that. Part of the land across the river from me had been owned by John Sutter of gold rush fame--indeed, the discovery that touched off the gold rush happened on this same river. A sign in the park informed the passerby that bits of gold are still panned out of it at times. . .but until the weather cools, I think I myself would prefer to watch the fish.