Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
If you think about it, you mighta been the kid who hit town one drunken, November night, found a ramshackle room somewhere along Main Street and upon awaking to a foot of fresh, fluffy snow, ran out the door in the emerging light of dawn, shaking your fist at all of Red Mountain, vowing you’d ski that whore into submission before the winter was over.
Education’s a brute for most of us, even those over-achievers who have a hard time with north, south and the everyday appearance of world-class ski trails. Eventually, enough reality seeps in to make us acceptable to the rest of the crones and trolls lining the fence, where many of us rub shoulders with those looking for one more “unforgettable” shot down a favorite chute, or another chance at love with the enigma who lives across town, or God knows what, maybe just a chance to rest on our laurels a bit.
And if you head northeast, close to an iceberg alley along the Newfoundland coast in the heart of summer, there’s another reality that exists, but maybe no different in the end. An 11- or 12-year-old kid, decked out in shorts and a T-shirt, warm jacket and lunch tossed in ahead, readies the family row boat for a solitary jaunt across a small cove, maybe a mile wide. The cobble-strewn beaches appear barren of lifelike forms, oh, maybe a bird swooping and pecking here and there; if you’re a kid, taking off on such an adventure seems like a lonely, but exhilarating task.
These little fishing villages, far to the north, seldom number more than 15 or 20 houses and there isn’t much conversation about what one does for a living. The shore, for the most part, hugs the Atlantic Ocean and the brutality of what the natural world can suddenly unleash rolls up these tiny inlets with life-affecting regularity. It would be rare to find a person thereabouts who hasn’t lost a family member to the ravages of the sea.
Twenty years after you foolishly and triumphantly shook your pale-skinned fist at the looming specter of Red Mountain, thinking it was the misnomered “Ajax,” you’ve learned most of the “secret” powder stashes around, managed to slide into government-controlled housing, or maybe even got successful enough to buy a free-market place of your own.
And the kid in Newfoundland, strong and adept as he is, struggles with the oars a bit, but never loses sight of his goal, even as the waves take on the appearance of white caps. To the casual observer, there is no one to witness this scene of man against the elements, but if you scan the area slowly, there stands an old fellow, stopped in his tracks, wondering at the dory’s progress. And if the old man should leave, pressed by something he unlikely considers more important, there is a young woman, leaning against the frame of her upstairs window, waiting to make sure the small boat and its oarsman make shore safely.
Powder snow falls like thick velvet through the night, making thoughts of work impossible, and before you even manage to shovel the walk, you’re hoofing it to the bottom of the gondola or 1A, trading barbs with other early birds on what could turn out to be the best day of season.
If you up and left your home in the tiny fishing village, it’s likely it’d still be there when you came back 20, maybe even 50 years later. It’d take some fixing up, no doubt, but people would slap you on the back and call you by your given name and they would be genuinely pleased to have you home again.
And as the gondola slowly cranks its way up the mountain, carrying you and your new fat boards, you exclaim to no one in particular that, “There are no friends on powder days.” You’d be wrong, for as I said before, education’s a brute.
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