Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
The span of a lifetime isn’t much in the grand scheme of things, and the trail I’d been looking at has existed for at least five generations, a well-worn cut down a precipice consisting of more rock than dirt.
Its intrigue has mesmerized me for a very long time, a path whose existence is undeniable whenever I glance that way while driving by. The last time I walked down that track has remained clear in my mind for 55 years, and its continued existence has enticed me, stronger and stronger over time, to revisit its very dimensions and to reclaim the memory for eternity.
Last week, my big horse Drifter took me to the edge with long, clomping steps and then he hesitated, as if questioning the wisdom of traveling so far back in time. I answered with my spurs and down the corridor we headed; a rush of adrenaline flooding my being. At last, I was there.
Clawing its way up from the depths of my mind, I could almost hear and see the busy scene behind us – a huge threshing machine, powered by a John Deere tractor, chopping and blowing oat straw into a tall, delicious golden pile while the separated seeds were augured into a truck parked alongside.
Teams of mighty draft horses pulled neatly laden wagon-loads of bundled oat stalks up to the giant contraption, and strong-armed men from neighboring ranches tossed the bundles into the ravenous maw of the incessant machine.
It was mid-afternoon on a hot, September day, and my dad had sent me down the trail to fill a couple of gallon containers with Woody Creek water for the thirsty men. It was a difficult job for a boy of 10 and a steep walk of about a half-mile, but there was no arguing with the old man.
Trudging back up the trail, it seemed impossible to make the top with such heavy cargo, but at last the threshing machine and my father came into view. I soon rued the sight, for my dad wanted to know what “the hell” had taken so long. With that, I impetuously tossed one of the full glass jugs at his feet, which immediately exploded into a million pieces. Then came the thrashing I probably deserved, which in the end, embarrassed both my father and me. He always underestimated the depth of my obduracy.
The path was now laid before us, narrow from disuse, and Drifter went cautiously, stiff-legged, testing my resolve. Long ahead and steeply straight, the trail got gloomy as it entered a willow patch and its murkiness seemed uncaring.
Other thoughts rolled across my mind, injustices that had been perpetrated upon me in those days, either real or perceived, the most glaring of which was, years later, the sale of our original Vagneur ranch. I argued passionately with my dad to prevent it, but he had siblings to assuage and the tables were stacked hard against me.
I prodded Drifter down further, spurs jingling and chaps slapping my legs, wondering if it was that 10-year-old boy I sought, to soothe his bruised ego, or if I thought somehow I could right all the distant wrongs by facing the past from the future.
The darkness ahead seemed increasingly precipitous and more ominous, as though it might swallow Drifter and me up, and my curiosity stalled. Blessed by recent events, I’d traveled most of that iconic Vagneur ranch this past summer, investigating nooks and crannies important only to me. This spot, on the very edge of the ranch, was the one remaining place I had not explored.
Halfway down, we stopped and pondered a bit, my horse and I, before turning around and heading back the way we had come. Perhaps in everyone’s life, there is a dark place best left alone, a stash of demons better left buried than resurrected, the notorious Pandora’s box that shouldn’t be opened.
I still see that trail when I drive by, but the burning quest to explore it has been sated by the power of intrinsic considerations too ethereal to question.
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