Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore
Aspen, CO, Colorado
After you’ve been around awhile, you’d think the surprises would end. Maybe you think you’ve hiked every trail worth the energy, met everybody you thought cool or important and settled in with the self-possessed knowledge that there couldn’t possibly be a line on Aspen Mountain that you haven’t tried at least once.
Maybe it’s all true, but with such a plethora of activities and interesting people hanging around, the big surprises come when the past suddenly becomes the present, giving us an increased appreciation for what the future may hold.
A couple of weeks ago, I hiked a hut trail I hadn’t been on in more than 55 years. It looked a little different in the white of winter; soft, new-fallen snow obscuring the carpet of pine needles that surely lay underneath, but the feeling, the memories were still intact. Long-deceased ranchers such as Nino Trentaz, Stanley Natal, Vic Goodhard and the cowpuncher (who lived at Lenado and whose name I forget) were riding with me still, after a long cattle drive. The cowpuncher, to my 11-year-old assessment, had learned to talk straight out of comic books, using words we don’t hear much anymore.
And so the old cowboy said, as we started around a switchback in the trail, “That sumbitch (horse) had me tight agin the rails, purt near broke my damn leg plum off.”
And then, like so many of those old-timers, he launched a stream of tobacco juice to put exclamation on the point he was trying to make.
In the 1970s, a horseman who’d seen it all but was still looking, a kid yet at 71, stopped by the ranch to watch me ride some colts I’d been breaking, and after we’d downed a few rounds of beer and I.W. Harper whiskey, we headed to the Snowmass Rodeo. He had his eye on a young local cowgirl wrangler, cute as could be, about 20, with long blond hair and a backside, even if a little wide, that was made for comfort.
We’d arrived in separate trucks and gone our different ways, but I noticed he was keeping the cowboys in front of the bucking chutes entertained. In the middle of the show, an energized saddle bronc dusted him on the way by, knocking him flat and almost killing him, it seemed. Old vaqueros don’t intimidate easily, and with a little help, I got him out of the arena and headed toward his truck when the flaxen-haired wrangler miss pushed me aside and took him the rest of the way. As they walked off, I noticed a circle of fresh blood on the back of his shirt, but I figured he was well taken care of and didn’t say anything.
After the rodeo, I had to walk by his vehicle to leave and curiously noticed that the windows were decidedly fogged up. They were rolled up tight, except one wing was cracked a bit, and with the rhythm of the universe, the Chevy truck was rocking back and forth like a teenager’s car on prom night. I reckoned the swaying motion was either that of an old man dying or the result of frantic, late-night throes of passion. Purely out of concern, you understand, I hollered through the darkness and the partially open wing, asking if everything was OK. “Get the hell outta here,” hissed the youthful blond, and I figured I’d best leave well enough alone.
No one ever did own up to just what exactly had transpired in the pickup truck that night, but one thing couldn’t be ignored: The hit from the bucking horse had cost that cowboy about a pound of flesh off his back, something that slowed him down for a few weeks but failed to mask his smile.
Almost two decades later, at 90 years old and as effervescent as ever, our Lothario got run over by a car and killed as he was walking across the street to his favorite bar.
There aren’t many of those old cowboys left, and some of us, no matter how young we think we are, seem to be getting eyeballed as the next generation of old-timers. I’m not sure I like that.
Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at email@example.com.
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