Vagneur: A refugee from the Intercept Lot

Tony Vagneur
Saddle Sore
Tony Vagneur

As I opened the gate to one of our cattle pastures, he caught my eye right off. (The first rule of hunting is don’t look for game — look for movement.) That particular pasture is close to the bike trail where people zoom along on bikes or walk reasonably fast, holding onto leashed dogs. A stationary person going through a backpack is mighty unusual.

It was about 7:15 a.m., usually very quiet except for Lizzie and her friend strolling by with their dogs. My dog, Tux, was tuning in to this person in a suspicious manner, and I figured to keep him in the Jeep until that person had walked on by out of our line of sight, so we waited until he had disappeared behind large cottonwoods and a copse of willows.

We got to work, following the water to see where it had gone, moving tarps around, forgetting about the man and then, wait a second. There he was, once again, giving me a start, cutting across the pasture, skirting the edge of 30 or 40 cows and calves, starting to spook them a bit. The mystery man was headed straight for the river. 

“What the hell?” was my reaction, wondering if maybe he’d put up a camp down by the river in the thick cottonwoods, where it’d be difficult to spot him or at least was planning on something similar. Tux and I took off in a straight line, figuring about where we’d intercept him, about a quarter of a mile away, wondering what kind of interaction might be facing us. Short of carrying a gun, he didn’t have much of a chance against a man with a shovel and a very protective dog. 

Close, maybe within 10 yards, he didn’t hear me, didn’t appear to see me, and I knew we had a problem. So I got closer and hollered, upon which he abruptly stopped and immediately said, “I need help.” “Oh buddy, oh yes you do.” 

He was freezing to death, literally, shaking like an aspen leaf in a wind storm and having trouble talking but insisting that if he kept going, might he find a bus stop near that faraway highway in his vision. Yep, there’s a bus stop over there, but you can’t get there from here — you’d have to cross the river, which is running fairly high. 

“That would kill you right off if you tried it, so you have to go back the way you came,” I said.

If he had actually gone down the very steep bank to the river and realized he couldn’t have crossed, he might have died down there from hypothermia along its edge, unable to climb back up. The temperature was in the 30s.

On the verge of tears, “I can’t go through that fence again,” to which I concurred and appreciated, told him to walk with me back to my Jeep, where we’d figure it out. His light winter coat was soaked from the night’s rain, and he was shaking so badly it affected his speech and every movement. Even though we were walking slowly across fairly level ground, he needed to stop and rest several times. 

The Jeep was warm from driving. “Take your coat off, and get in there,” I said. I put the heater on high, could’ve melted a box of candles. I left him there momentarily while I finished my irrigation chores, and then we headed out. Although left unsaid, my intention was to take him to the hospital emergency room. But play it cool, so you don’t unravel him. 

“Let me drive you into town, waiting at the bus top will be cold, and it might take a while.” He was very appreciative. It took us about 40 minutes to get to town, but before then, he’d plaintively told me he wanted to go to the library: “They open at 9. I can go in there and read. And stay warm.” The shaking had stopped, his mind was thinking in the present, and he even laughed when I told him my attitude toward bad luck: Fuck it.

He didn’t want the offered money, but I stuffed it in his hand and told him to get out of the Jeep. “The library is open and stay out of my cow pasture.” He laughed again, and we parted with a handshake. 

The man just mentioned was one of those displaced by the construction at the Intercept Lot. His motor home had been towed away in his absence, he said. Hopefully, he got that straightened out and has somewhere to call home. He couldn’t tell me where he’d spent the night before. Wishing him the best going forward …  

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at