Back home for Christmas
It’s Christmas and my daughter Lauren, 22, mentions that it’s the first time in her life that she hasn’t been in the Roaring Fork Valley for the holiday. I’ve been here more than 50 years and surmise that it’s also the first time that I haven’t been home for Christmas. Our Aspen roots run deep, going back five generations for her, and for a time, our thoughts about it all are profound and sentimental. The story is long, but suffice it to say that on Christmas Eve day, I pulled into the headquarters of a ranch somewhere near the San Luis Valley, recently purchased by my daughter’s mother and stepfather. It was an intended surprise gone partially awry, but saved mostly at the last minute by her stepfather, and the look on my daughter’s face as I walked into the house was a combination of incredulity and, “well, of course.”Much later, rummaging through an old tack room, looking for my saddle, which I couldn’t find and settling for a well-used, familiar looking one, my mind was on new territory. The sun had dropped, its lingering throes producing brilliant red hues, and I rode at a brisk pace, giving my horse his head through the tall sage, tinged purple and black from descending darkness. In the distance, alongside a small creek, I saw a man dismount and lean up against a huge, gnarled and bony cottonwood, gray with winter but hanging onto clumps of red leaves that had refused death’s insistent song. The man waiting was my grandfather, holding onto a nervous bay horse and impatient to get going again. With a smile and half-a-look back as his foot hit the stirrup, he asked me if I didn’t think I was a little far from home. I called him “sir” and pointed out that I was riding one of his saddles.And then, as I looked at the predawn morning through the windows of my room, the dream left me and I got up and looked out on the quietest part of the day for an hour or so, getting the lay of the topography around the newly acquired ranch land.In a sense, my ex and her husband have taken me in, probably reluctantly at first, providing me a second family in a way that relatives might look out for a long-lost cousin, but we’ve become friends over the years. Of course, it makes my daughter’s life brighter in that she doesn’t have to travel all over to have celebrations with two households, and we all get along rather well, anyway, even without holidays. Headed for home late on Christmas Day, I was glad I spent the most important part of the holiday with my daughter, and had a good feeling, knowing that should fate end my run before further descendants come along, they can be told in the affirmative that I was there, rattling the hallways and large rooms for a brief whisper of time. It will be important for them to have the thread of continuity, to know that ancestors saw the hovering, majestic peaks with the same eyes, no matter how, or when. Back at the old ranch, here in the valley, I reclaimed my position, taking care of the cows and helping keep order until it all comes together again on the new spread. Returned to my cerebral escarpment, I find comfort, aloneness my forte, feeding the Hereford yearlings after dark in the light of a sparse moon. At daybreak, my good friend Sara can be seen climbing over the feed bunk fence, pitchfork in hand, a wisp of long, blonde hair falling from under her Stetson, and the eager, shining look in her big blue eyes puts a smile on my face and a dance in my step. A sudden, soft velvet brush of a breeze against my face covers me as a woolen blanket might on a cold night, and I’m tucked into the solace of home.Tony Vagneur skis in between feeding times at the ranch. Read him here on Saturdays and send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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