Whistling in the dark | AspenTimes.com

Whistling in the dark

Tony Vagneur
Aspen, CO Colorado

A tall old man, somewhere in his 80s, was reluctant to give us his hand for a preoperative intravenous insertion, insisting that we do something first, but neither of us EMT trainees could figure out what he wanted, such was the frustration in his voice. He sporadically pointed at the corner closet until finally, one of us had the good sense to look in the cramped, tiny space and rummage around until the man’s eyes lit up. Out came a walking stick, intricately carved and painted, about 5-feet long, and as he tucked the length of wood under the covers, tight to his body, the old man at last gave himself up to procedure. As I bent over the back of his well-worn hand, threading the needle into an almost invisible vein, he whispered that he couldn’t “go into the dark without Joe,” his constant companion.

My daughter’s small dog, Earl, has forever had the complete run of one of my horse/cow summer pastures and is, without question, king of that domain. Whether it’s taking a run at one of the cows or finding a new treasure in the grass, Earl performs his job with intense seriousness. Driving home in the evening after moving the irrigation water, wind whistling through the open-top Jeep, the sun dropping behind the horizon, Earl, who normally exudes the essence of independence and toughness with his head held high, stares me down, asking permission to come over onto my lap.

We’d ridden all day, my horse Drifter and I, periodically getting buzzed by a red-tailed hawk which strafed us with a deafening scream on the way by, and then taking the up-current after he passed, showing us his backside, a seemingly conscious maneuver. I’ve had ravens follow me for miles, perhaps in anticipation of what looked like a wreck about to happen, but never had the pleasure of consorting with a hawk for so long. Later, as the sun dipped behind the mountains ahead of us, our hawk friend took one more dive at our cherished silence, causing Drifter to lay his ears back in annoyance, yet again. The sunset fleshed itself out into pink-tinged brilliance and as we came into a small clearing, there was a hawk of the correct description perched in a decaying aspen tree, neck and all-seeing eyes cocked in our direction. We went quietly by, Drifter’s ears on forward alert as he craned his neck to the hawk’s roost, getting the last glimpse possible before we ducked deep into a dark draw. The day’s argument had vanished, and we made our peace beneath the dying sky.

She’s a good-looking woman who’d lie to you about her horse and cow ability, such is her intensity in wanting to be part of the team. It’s a common trait, no more pronounced in her than in a hundred guys I’ve known over the years, but when there’s only two of us and the cows are contrary, it’s easy to expect more from her than I should. Which, of course, leads to hurt feelings and frustration-laced conversations, and then to silence, making for a long ride off the mountain.

We made the horse trailer about dusk, and as the last cayuse was loaded inside, there was a sense of moving on, of leaving the afternoon tension behind. There was a good tune on the radio and as we bumped along the dark, dusty road, she ran the back of her hand along my arm with a sleepy smile and before either of us knew it, her head was buried deep in my shoulder, my hand on her knee, and we knew it would be OK.

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