The valley lost a good one this week when Robert S. Heron of Basalt died. If you’ve never heard of Robert S. Heron that’s because not many people knew him other than by his adopted name, “Cowboy.” I knew Cowboy for over 40 years and it’s only yesterday that I learned his given name was Robert. Cowboy was one these unpolished guys who could fix anything, drive anything, excavate and grade anything. I don’t know who first gave him the name but it fit well. He had what seemed to me an untamable spirit that probably would have done him well on one of those thousand-mile cattle drives of the 1880s.
To his credit, he was a pretty good hand on a horse and helped us a number of times on our ranch moving cattle. Pretty much on every single one of those days, he kept up hour-long monologues about the intricacies of grading roads and moving dirt from his many years as a machine operator. Who would have thought that grading a road involved cant angles, aggregate layering, drain tile, borrow pits, and shoulder swales. Spend an hour with Cowboy and you’d likely expand your vocabulary along the lines of a civil engineer.
Cowboy was a funny combination of the fastidious and the let-er-rip school. On snow days he was always the first to shovel his curb and entry, yet he had probably the most ungoverned yard in western Colorado. The lawn mower and pruners weren’t for him and to Basalt’s credit, I don’t think anyone gave him a hard time.
Was he a misfit with his old cars, smokes, worser-homes-and-gardens property, and rough ways? Probably. But it wasn’t an act, just obeisance to a spirit not entirely suited to the valley’s increasingly polished and gentrified trends. It might be my imagination but I suspect many who knew him wish they could stay that true to character and hold that sort of self-possession as the rest of the world conformed and contorted to fit in.
I’ll miss the guy more than I realized. That’s how it always works! Adios compadre.
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