Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore
Aspen, CO, Colorado
There’s a light in the window drawing me near, one pane in an otherwise dark house, pulling me closer through the rustling leaves of autumn. Inside sits a man of the outdoors, a well-weathered grandfather, lonely at his post with wire-rimmed glasses uncharacteristically fixed under a furrowed brow of serious consideration.
A large man, he seems out of place before a small desk conveniently folded down from an old-fashioned room divider. He thoughtfully scribbles in a journal – not the passions of his heart but the daily book of his crew; how many hours each worked, which fields they harvested, the final count of the cattle herd. Tomorrow, we’ll go riding, he and I, through the mountains and over the hills, the old dog teaching a young pup.
In youthful excitement, I stub my toe, and as I regain my footing and glance back through the beckoning window, the solitary old man is gone, and behind the ghost of his memory stands a much younger man, pulling on his winter boots and looking my way. “Come on, son,” he says, “we need to hurry.”
At the barn, a young, first-calf heifer is in distress, and as we assist her in the calving process, there is a great confidence born into my psyche, the knowledge that life and death situations can be calmly dealt with if one knows what to do. The slick, little calf slithers out onto the straw-covered ground as my dad clears the mucous away from its nose and then stands back to watch the mother do her job. We watch as conscious life lights up the little one’s eyes, and it instinctively and awkwardly attempts to stand. My dad, who has witnessed hundreds of similar scenes, stands opposite me, tears in his eyes. “Life is truly a mystery and a miracle,” he says, and we walk to the house, easy in our step but too proud to hug each other in the victory of triumph over tragedy in which we’ve just played a hand.
He’s the same man who took me out into the night, late after dinner, and we watched the constellations and galaxies make their march across the sparkling sky, much clearer then than it is today, his patience admirable in trying to make his superb knowledge of astronomy stick in the mind of a kid worried about a million other things. It was never about religion or spirituality but always about the enormity of the universe and the things we knew and the things we wished we knew.
Today, as I gallop across a rock-strewn hillside or look to the heavens or reflect upon the mystical spark of life, I cannot help but sometimes wonder about the veil that separates me from my grandfather and dad and where our journey takes us once we leave this mortal coil. It doesn’t much matter, for in the end, equality is the lesson death teaches us at the grave, and we all meet the same inevitable fate.
There’s something to be said about continuity, the connection between generations, something that, if we live through the exuberance of youth, keeps us grounded in our view of the world. Whether my ancestors felt as deeply about the lessons they taught, or if it just seemed that way, particularly in retrospect, we’ll never know.
The day draws closer when the veil will lift for me and I’ll take my ethereal position on the other side. Someday my daughter might be tempted to peek behind the lighted windowpane of time in an old ranch house and find herself peering at a bespectacled, gray-headed man she’ll immediately recognize, his being deeply rooted in nature and the earth beneath his feet. His fingers likely will be pounding a keyboard, not recording numbers but trying scrupulously to share a bit of his soul with posterity, hoping the memories and the importance of the generations go as deep for her as they do for him.
If he’s done his job well, she’ll already know what awaits her eye before she glances in.
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