Tales of the lonely traveler | AspenTimes.com
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Tales of the lonely traveler

If it happened 150 years ago, it might have meant death for someone, but even as it was, it wasn’t very friendly. A comrade from town and I had been assigned fence-fixing duty by my dad and as we headed up the narrow draw behind our house to begin the mission, we rounded a corner on an irrigation ditch and ran into two or three guys our age we’d never seen before. The electricity in the air was palpable and for a speechless instant, both sides quickly calculated odds and began formulating what might serve as the predominant line of B.S. The taut barbed wire between us served as somewhat of a peace-keeping barrier or we might have charged each other in a power display reminiscent of the Wild West, sans guns. The fence mentioned above was more or less on our property line, although at the time I had the rather self-important attitude that if land was within reasonable view, it must be owned by my family. That night, my father, rather than getting solidly behind a range war (as we hoped he would), suggested we let the day serve as a lesson about property rights and taking care of your own side of the fence. Pretty dull stuff for boys of 12 or 13, but we sucked it up and my buddy went back to town. I continued to have further encounters with the boys from the “other side” that summer, but said engagements became more and more friendly, and by the time school started in the fall, the Holloways and I had forged the beginnings of lifelong friendships that still run strong.In retrospect, it seems odd that we would object to having peers in the neighborhood, but we were, possibly, a strange bunch. At the tender age mentioned above, my dad used to load me and a couple of horses into the old Diamond T stock truck and haul us up toward Lenado, letting us out at a mutually agreeable campsite and then leave, saying he’d be back in about a week. I’d spend my days repairing fences, necessary to keep cows off the poisonous plants on namesake Larkspur Mountain, or packing livestock salt to licks high on the ridges, enticing the cattle up steep terrain and keeping them out of creek bottoms. I don’t much remember the nights, other than it was difficult to get used to sleeping on the ground, but then, after coming home, I’d sleep on the hard, wooden floor because that was what I’d become accustomed to.Today, it might seem impressive for a kid so young to be able to handle that much responsibility, taking care of not only himself, but also horses, equipment and cows. But in those days, it was a relatively common occurrence amongst Woody Creek ranch kids, although from a very young age my inclination to travel alone was a bit unusual. Thankfully, my dad played along with my early instigations of the solo trips. So much time spent in the mountains had the opposite effect of what people generally believe, at least at first blush. They think us mountain kids know the relationship of every tall peak and lake above timberline, and it really isn’t so. Our parents kept us working the home valleys so hard and so diligently, we seldom had time to investigate the surrounding scenery. But we could tell you where the lava rock turns to obsidian and at what elevation, in our old stomping grounds, or where to find exceptional Ute arrowheads. We won’t, though. Traveling alone is a habit hard to break and my horses and I still manage to spend long periods of time out in the woods, clearing trails and/or moving cows from one area to another. The days seem to have increased with validity and the nighttime stars get more intriguing with each coming year, but what I’d really like to do is meet that arrogant kid I was those many years ago. Tony Vagneur looks forward to summer. Read him here on Saturdays and send comments to ajv@sopris.net.


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