Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO, Colorado
Deep in the woods between Sloan’s Peak and Kobey Park lies a delightful glade, a grassy enclave where many trails converge, a place empty of humans, except in the fall of the year. As the nights grow cold and the grass slowly dies, men in camouflage, covered by blaze orange vests, converge on the area, setting up tents, and the place is transformed into a resemblance of old-time mining camps.
Thus it was that, as a Forest Service volunteer, I met a couple by the names of Rex and Roxie, whom I got to know well over the course of three years. They always set up camp close to the main trail in the above-mentioned meadow, and I traveled by their location frequently.
Rex was a big, burly guy, forever dressed in blue jean coveralls, with a bushy beard and a rapid, almost hypnotic Southern drawl that always seemed to kick into gear the moment he saw me. I never went by when he wasn’t out front, wondering about this or that, or telling me the story of his life.
The first year, his wife was invisible, and I’d have never known she was there if Rex hadn’t mentioned it. The second year, she’d peek around the tent flap, just to see what I looked like, I guess, and when we eventually shook hands in the third year, it was clear she dressed similarly to Rex and was nearly as big.
After dark one evening, I rode the three or four miles down their way, on a quest to warn them (and others) of an approaching storm that threatened to dump 3 or more feet of snow. We already had three feet on the ground and much more would cripple all those camped in the area, creating an emergency situation.
I found them at a neighbor’s tent, and when I hollered through the darkness, announcing my presence, Rex bolted from inside, stumbling into Roxie, who was waiting impatiently on his four-wheeler to go home. Rex had imbibed a good deal of alcohol, and as he began to slur his way through a joke with dubious punch lines, Roxie patted the ATV and asked Rex to head for home.
He just laughed at her, and continued on with the story. At this, Roxie chambered a shell into her high-powered, .270 caliber rifle, quietly ordering Rex to mount up. Being no fool, he climbed on in front of her, fired up the machine, and turned to the side, still talking to me
Now, I’ve witnessed a few domestic disputes and have learned to not interfere, especially when the woman appears to have the upper hand. So, watching this rapidly unfold, I took up the reins of my horse, readying for the resounding rifle blast, fingered the hammer on my own personal protection, thinking I needed to keep an eye on ’em both, and listened vainly for static on my portable radio, a reassurance that I had contact with the outside world.
Instead of pulling the trigger on Rex, which would have been difficult with their proximity to each other, she slammed the butt of her gun into the side of Rex’s face, telling him to get his “goddam ass in gear or get it shot off.” The blood spurted quickly from his bobbing head, there was an almost-silent sob of incredulousness, and then as he drove off, a slurred, “See ya, Tony.” I headed back to camp.
It’s hard to tell what the real stakes were in that game, but shy Roxie held all the cards for the longest breath. Two days later, my cousin Howard took his snowcat down the cold, lonesome trail and pulled Rex and Roxie’s pickup truck through four miles of impassable snow to an acceptable road. They haven’t been back.
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