Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore
Aspen, CO, Colorado
The taste of spring is in the air, and thoughts of the coming solstice keep taking shape in my mind. It’s impossible to think about future summers without giving grace to those from our past, the predecessors who miraculously put the magic in soft breezes rustling gently through towering cottonwoods in full leaf; in excited fishermen heading to favorite spots; and in people taking to the streets and trails, pleased to have sunshine and warmth after a long winter.
A recent check of carriage houses around town indicates that none of them actually are used for carriages anymore, nor for keeping the occasional horse or two that might be forced to spend the night. Some remain marginally empty and unused, their pasts not dishonestly (but propitiously) robbed to become “quaint” appurtenances to large houses, but for the most part, they serve as upscale guest quarters or artists’ studios.
If you listen closely, the clicking hooves of trotting horses, led by the boy from the livery stable, can be heard on gravel streets, alerting you to the arrival of your hired steed. The boy ties a shiny-coated horse to your hitching post out front and goes his merry way, delivering other ponies to those who have requested a driving horse for the day. If your early-morning coffee was strong, the carriage (landau, coach, brougham, hansom or whatever you call it) has already been pulled from its house, and the pulling horse is quickly hooked up, and away you go to a day of intrigue, entertainment or work.
I have photos of my paternal grandmother and great-grandmother in a carriage, circa 1915, stopping by a ranch up Maroon Creek on their way to the lake. Other photos show my teenaged grandmother and a group of friends driving a horse-drawn buggy up Independence Pass for a picnic.
Many people couldn’t afford the luxury of such convenience, and the most-used form of transportation was walking, or “taking shank’s mare,” in the vernacular of the day. “I don’t have a horse so I guess I’ll take shank’s mare,” was a common remark. In any event, a walk might have been the elixir that presaged a quiet, reasonably stress-free day.
Even today, the West End is eerily quiet, likely more so than it was all those many years ago, but enticingly, today’s racket of the automobile was mostly nonexistent. No Land Rovers cutting short the corners, captained by squint-eyed women with cellphones stuck in their ears. Keep in mind, however, that various steam engines and stamp mills around town created noise of a different sort. Plus, it was impossible for the railroads to sneak in and out of town without alerting the entire citizenry.
Bountiful vegetable gardens were found at almost every house, surrounded by well-cared-for flower gardens. The murmuring irrigation ditches, some still intact, fulfilled their intended purpose, and there was a general sense of well-being as one walked along the streets. Every once in a while, a chicken house could be encountered, the squawking count of poultry inside announcing its presence.
There was no refrigeration other than ice boxes filled with chunks cut from local winter ponds and stored in sawdust. Milk was a big problem, if you had a large family and required that sort of thing, and a cow or two might be found residing in the backyards of many houses. Feed could be bought directly from ranchers or from the livery stables in town. A bucket of fresh milk was a prized possession on any block and often brought in extra income.
In the 1960s, the town fathers (we weren’t a city – not yet!) found Red Rowland to be in violation of then-existing zoning laws and told him to get rid of his milk cow, which he kept behind the red brick house at First and Francis. Red said, “Hell no,” and after some intense political wrangling, the last existing milk cow in Aspen was grandfathered in, escaping the omniscient grinding of the hamburger machine.
And today, the town grinds on in that magical way it has, keeping us mostly pleased in the present and looking forward to the future. Not only are we blessed, but we’re totally spoiled, too.
Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at email@example.com.
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The past sneaks up on us in the strangest of ways, and I don’t mean bounty hunters flashing those “Wanted: Dead or Alive” posters in our faces.