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Tony Vagneur: A hidden world beneath us

Tony Vagneur
Saddle Sore

Someone said, “I felt an overwhelming sense of heaviness, a slowness in my body,” and wondered what it was. “Probably not related to the coronavirus, I’m sure, just the coming on of an energy change.”

This person went on to say she didn’t worry so much about her own mortality, although she had a few more things to accomplish in this life and wanted the grace to finish whatever that spiritual calling might be. That sounds reasonable, although maybe circumstances in today’s world aren’t all that judicious.

Spring brings spring fever, which is an energy change for many of us. I was asked to do a spot on Aspen Public Radio (in partnership with The Aspen Historical Society) as to what effects self-isolation and social distancing are having on my life. Most poignantly, perhaps, if I can use that word, is that I can’t hug my loved ones as I used to do.

What a thrill to see my grandchildren run full speed in my direction, arms up at the last second, maximum trust engaged as they leave the ground and fly into my arms, never questioning whether I will catch them.

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Depending on how long this “lockdown” continues, such joy may never happen again with my grandson. He is getting over such displays of affection, no doubt brought on by encroaching maturity and by today’s required social distancing, something a 6-year old might not fully understand. I see the questioning in my granddaughter’s eyes, standing feet away, “Why can’t I hug you, Ampa?” Some days I see a lot of adults milling around who probably don’t fully understand social distancing either.

When you lead an agricultural life, much of your time is spent alone, just by nature of the work. For me, I’m either riding a tractor, harrowing the fields, or driving hay machinery; or riding my horse, moving cattle from one place to another; or clearing deadfall out of regularly used horse and cattle trails, wielding my trusty chain saw or fancy brush cutters.

There are exceptions. When you’re working cattle, it can be an issue keeping safe distances when it’s necessary for the cattle to go through the squeeze chute, which usually takes three or four people in close proximity to operate and perform the necessary medical examinations.

The same for branding — one guy alone on his horse can rope a calf and drag it to the fire, but it takes a couple of men to hold the calf down while another sizzles the brand on its hide and one or two others administer the required vaccinations. That’s working in very close quarters. Spring branding and other work is coming up soon, and how we’ll accomplish all this “close quarters” work remains to be seen.

Spring is a good time to celebrate Earth Day, for now is when the bare earth, the dirt, awakens from its winter doldrums and the splendor of wild flowers, weeds and green grass make their brash appearance known and it’s a time of renewal. Also on Earth Day, a time of hopeful perpetuation.

The importance of the earth, the basic dirt of our home, has been playing a major part in my thought processes lately. As earlier mentioned, a new pup has entered my life, and my mind, in relation to our morning walks, is influenced by the viscosity of the dirt. Is it freshly frozen from a cold night, good for fast walking, the mud kept at bay from my shoes, or is the pathway inches deep in boot-enlarging muck, a hindrance to my spirit but a joy to my dog?

It’s a complicated thing, dirt, which contains a hidden, living world that our naked eyes will never see; one of which most of us are not aware.

No doubt we all think about our mortality from time to time, and we should, especially in light of a new virus lurking the neighborhood, but the relationship between we humans and the earth hit me the other day as I tilled fields my great-grandfather cleared and developed. I channeled my ancestors for a bit, and as the chill breeze worked its way through my gloves, the musky smell of freshly disturbed earth filled my nostrils and my significance was put in perspective. “Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”

Others will till and care for those fields, maybe not with the same agricultural and generational care, but it will happen, generation after generation until there are no more fields. Or people. In the meantime, those fields will be insidiously filled with buildings, yards, cemeteries, or weeds, an afterthought only to a world unaware of the importance of dirt and our dependence on it for our very survival.

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at ajv@sopris.net.


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