Twice yesterday I bumped into a huge mixed flock of sheep and goats. I heard the animals, before I saw them, in each instance, because of clanging bells that several have attached to their collars. The river has its way of slowing time, which is not a bad reason to go there, but the sheep and goats do something more. They seem to make time go backwards and suggest that things, not long ago, were less complicated and less urgent.

The first meeting we had was when I had made my way to the part of the river that held the best prospect for a fish. I was walking upstream and the flock was moving downstream on either bank. As it happens, they beat me to the spot but I could not begrudge them. Instead, I made my way out of the river and walked about a kilometer downstream.

Our second meeting was just before I arrived back at the car which was tucked in a grove of eucalyptus trees. The flock was busy foraging on either side, not of the river this time, but of the track that runs more or less in parallel with it. There were cattle egrets standing on the backs of the animals looking for something tasty to come into view. The air here was hot and dusty from the hooves scraping against the dry earth. I saw several dogs that keep an eye on them and wondered if they were likely be trouble me. But the dogs looked me over a couple of times and reckoned I was harmless.

It wasn´t until I was leaving the flock behind that I saw the herder. His horse was on one side of the track tied up to a huge concrete bollard and he was leaning against a similar bollard just opposite.

We got to talking. I asked him how many animals he had and he said 1000. Some flock! The goats, he told me, were less nervous and would often lead the way. He saw that I was carrying a fly rod and asked about the fishing and I showed him a couple of photos of the two larger fish I had taken. The two flies, about 15 inches apart, that the barbel had taken were still attached to my leader and I explained how one fish had risen to the surface to take the dry fly whereas the little nymph was taken for a little bug close to the bottom of the muddy river by the other fish. That second fish had been feeding in the water and left a little trail of sediment as it sucked mud from the bottom, filtered out whatever was of value and expelled the rest from its gills.

Then we talked about frogs. At this time of the day (it was about 8.45pm) he told me that the air should be full of the sound of frogs. Where were they? And water snakes. They used to be everywhere. Where were they? Eels too. Where are the eels? It is often sad to contemplate, as we now have to do so often, how the present is only a shadow of the past. But the evening was lovely and we were surrounded by good things and so would not open any doors for melancholy to sneak in. We spoke at some length about the state of the river. I asked if he would mind if I took a picture of his horse. I told him about this little blog and how people far away might look at his horse and think for a while about a river they may never visit. He was fine with the photo and I was tempted to ask if I could take his photo too but it seemed unnecessary and a little intrusive.

When the conversation drew to a natural close it was time to head back at the car. Villafranco is about half way from the river to my house and the thought of a cold pint was pretty tempting. When I drove off the flock was moving in my direction. The herder was still leaning against his bollard but would be up on his horse again soon. I waved as I left and he waved back. I thought, as I turned along a dirt track in search of bigger roads, that a chat with a man like this had been a very fine way to end the day.