Saddle Sore: The trials of life |

Saddle Sore: The trials of life

It starts simply enough as we slither from the womb, naked and alone, into a world we didn’t ask for but certainly receive. The comfort of our place of origin is forever barred to us once we are snatched from it, and leaving somnambulant infancy behind, we toddle forth on unsure legs, our realm unfolding itself to us slowly but magnificently. Single-handedly we travel onward, and what we grasp of this remarkable kingdom is truly known only to us, even in the most crowded spaces of personal relationships and philosophic babblings.

Looking back from towering, snow-covered peaks or grassy meadows enclosed by the summer sighing of high-country pines, a vision of that young kid crosses my mind’s eye, the one who reached out for all he could grab, the one whose fingers got burned so many times, the kid who brushed it off and went for all he thought he needed or wanted.

As part of my initiation into this world, my father would take me high into the mountains, dropping me off with enough provisions for a week, not as a kid camping for fun but as part of the ranching crew with a list of work that needed to get done. And I learned quickly that one must make do with what one knows and what one has, for to do otherwise would be foolhardy and disastrous. In the middle of the night, the snort and pulling back of the horses, tied to a high line, reminded me there were other creatures stalking the same country I was riding. Twelve years old and confident, I ignored my racing heart and breathed quietly, fingering the rifle in my hand and assessing the imminence of danger.

Death is no stranger to a kid on a ranch, but when your grandfather, the built-in hero and leader of your youthful learning, dies, a pall settles over life with a darkness that can never be fully shunned. Followed a few years later by the sale of the homestead ranch, loss became an expectation, but with true grit and a fondness for alcohol, I eventually learned that tragedy can breed triumph by putting much of it into perspective. Thankfully, and as diaphanous as mist in the dark, I walked away from alcohol at 50 without ever looking back. Well, with regret for all the time lost on hangovers.

After my granddad died, sadness was derailed by jubilation as I experienced the fire and bite of first love. Being alone at 10,600 feet for days at a time was never as challenging, but once the sweet nectar of love and all that it promises tantalizes our being, the rest of our lives are spent hanging on to its thread.

With dedicated reasoning, I plunged into college life, garnering dean’s list recognitions, drinking taverns dry, stealing innocence from curious sorority girls and reading poetry written in ink as faded as my future seemed. After graduation, it was back home — I had to get Aspen’s indefinable magic out of my system before anything else was possible. Too late, I realized, it was in my soul.

Marriage strikes in Aspen’s ’70s, and visions of a family, children, stability, being strong and having a partner, love, devotion and dreams of a solid future blow up, and we’re left with bad feelings, a sense of failure and wonder at how something so harmless and positive turned into such a destructive force. Twice, I pondered those thoughts. Ah, but from that, I have a daughter, a stroke of good fortune and love that cannot be superseded.

An adult life of building businesses, ranching on the side and raising a child; enjoyable years lining soccer fields and going to horse shows; circumspect days honoring a dead brother, and at some point my world shifted on its axis; the sense of struggling and barely getting by softened, and the dreams, such simple dreams, began to flesh themselves out. Hundreds, easily a thousand days on Aspen Mountain, moving cows and packing salt for months on end, and inevitably, I’m getting longer in the tooth. My future holds more writing, maybe, and eons to spend with my grandson if he’ll let me.

My daughter has been my light; my horses, cow-savvy and tough, glisten in the rays of the early-morning sun, and my partner, Topper the dog, and I have a good understanding. Fortunately, I have several strong friendships that mean everything to me and likely very little to the rest of the world.

And I know I will go out as I came in, naked and alone — but I’ll find my way. And I also know that so far, I’ve had the best and worst that this town can offer, and there are no regrets about that, either.

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at

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