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This time of night

Tony Vagneur

My eyes watch as the full moon rises over the horizon almost as fast as the dark curtain of night had earlier draped itself over the narrow valley. Patches of silvery snow come to life, outlining the scrub oak and pinon that cover the mountainsides.I’m on the handle-end of a pitchfork, peeling hay from the edges of large, round bales previously set out for my convenience. Strip a little off, punch through it with a three-tined fork, and sling it into the feed bunk for an expectant herd of recently weaned Hereford steers and heifers, all yearlings. In a way eerily reminiscent of the walking half-corpses in the old movie “Night of the Living Dead,” these yearlings feel and hear my presence and begin the march to the feed bunk. It’s an unhurried, slow and deliberate, methodical march. Nothing short of a nuclear blast could stop them; not a bulldozer, not a case of dynamite – they would just keep coming, their rough tongues licking pink lips and noses in anticipation of the nighttime meal.Memories of my great-grandfather feeding Hereford cows in a similar manner more than a few years ago, on a different ranch not that far away, bring back good feelings, but somewhere under the surface I feel the odd current of both an incongruity and a juxtaposition of contrasting and clashing cultures. By this time of night, the private Gulfstream jets and other miscellaneous aircraft at Sardy Field have been stilled by the curfew, but the lifestyle they represent emanates from them just as surely as the moonlight reflects off their shiny exteriors.Somewhere tonight, caterers make last-minute, death-defying party changes; bartenders check twice to make sure they have the proper vintages and labels required by the expected crowd, a bunch they’ve seen before; sexy, secret underwear worth a month’s pay for the maid goes on over skin pampered by an afternoon of meticulous manipulation and massage; dinnerware valued at more than the price of an average suburban house is polished and buffed; and the carefully sewn hides of once-wild animals are draped over the backs of those who choose to so decorate themselves. The mood borders on euphoric as the creeping, cresting climax of another A-list, Aspen celebratory night begins with simple preparation. The exceptionally stark, steel-gray hue of the moonlit sky makes the tingling cold in my hands and feet more noticeable as I continue to peel and sling, listening to the tussling sounds of the herd’s pecking order sort itself out. Thoughts of a warm house are not far from my mind, but the joy a sensuous woman’s curves can provide takes precedence on this exceptional night, and the feeding goes a little faster now.Out here, on a cold, still night, hearing only the mute sounds of the yearlings and the steady rhythm of my warm breath against my raised collar, the essence of life somehow seems to present itself in a basic way. The bovines don’t complain because I’m a little late; they’re just happy to see me and let me know it by their compliant return to the feeding ground. I do my small part, then leave and they spend the rest of the night ruminating on the things that are important to them.Tomorrow, I will struggle to get my feet into the best fitting ski boots that applied science can design, boots so well-fitted they are actually comfortable, once on. My quiver of skis has a new pair in it, a couple of mogul-eating mo-fos that can also do a three-turn maximum down Copper without threatening to eat me alive. Tomorrow, on my feet, I will have the finest ski technology that money can buy, but tonight, I’m dancing in my soul with the finest cow dung on my boots that nature can provide.Tony Vagneur’s column appears in The Aspen Times every Saturday.


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