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When life flashes by in memories

Tony Vagneur
Aspen, CO Colorado

Earl and Topper, a couple of mismatched dogs, are ripping around the yard, and as the warm afternoon sun eases me down, I begin to relax, my mind free-falling into memories of past and present, yesterday and tomorrow.

It’s like dying, some might say, your life flashing before your eyes, but on this day, it must be a slow death for the memories come not quickly, but in a steady rhythm representing almost 60 years. I’m sitting on the porch of my daughter’s Woody Creek house, a small, renovated cabin that used to serve as the bunkhouse for the Vagneur Ranch Company. The same bunkhouse the late Al Senna and I used as a base when re-supplying the wilderness cow camp. Back when Al was the range rider and I was but a young tag-along.

Casting from left to right, one sees first Vagneur Mountain, rising up directly behind my leisurely perch; then the long view of Woody Creek, both east and west visible in the same glance; the backside of Red Mountain, and then Aspen Mountain, its trails reflected in eye-squinting brilliance; most of McClain Flats, Aspen Highlands (including the Bowl), Garret Peak, Willow Creek, Mount Daly, Snowmass, Capital, and a few more; and if I turned in my chair, the overflowing cornucopia would only continue, but like I said, it’s a relaxed day.



Immediately across the canyon, on land tilled by four generations of my family, stands the decrepit remains of the only existing building, an 1880s ranch house, last inhabited by people in 1949 or 1950. Cows have left their mark ever since.

Geographical features stand out on what was our westernmost mesa, names which I haven’t spoken aloud for decades: The Big Hollow, the Little Hollow, Davis Crossing, Paradise Pasture, Mystery Gulch, the “L” and Homestead Mesa. Like ski areas, ranches need names to explain the locations of various events.




It’s the same land where my grandfather, my father, and I fed Hereford cattle together, deftly balancing on a feed sled pulled by a team of ranch-raised draft horses, and where in my teen years, I’d try to meld two worlds by skating behind the sled, Marker toes and long thongs locking me into a pair of blue metal, 210cm Kastle’s. Going home, I’d run the skis down an icy, 40-45 degree chute, similar in width to Schiller Road. I’d set slalom courses in our hillside orchard. The old man cussed me about it all, but with a smile.

And if I look a little further, there stands the clump of Gambel oak on the far side of the ranch, the spot where my first love and I tied our horses while, with trembling but eager hands, we unbuttoned each other’s Levi’s under a canopy of springtime enticement, bringing new dimensions to life in Woody Creek.

Somewhere inside, the teenaged boy that once ranged the land, making love and skiing cow pastures, still lives, and as the sun crashes behind the mountains, I’m thinking I might take him skiing with me tomorrow. His legs may be livelier, his eye for dangerous thrills more fortuitous ” it feels good to ski with a kid ” anyway.

As the ol’ Ed Bruce song, “Texas When I Die,” as sung by Tanya Tucker, goes: “When I die I may not go to heaven/I don’t know if they let cowboys in …” With dogs playing around my feet, my daughter safe and healthy, a warm spring sun cascading down, and my eyes overlooking a unique, snow-covered valley full of history, energy and vibrancy, I’m thinking that heaven surrounds me, and always has.