Tony Vagneur: Always notice the beauty in the natural land and in your family |

Tony Vagneur: Always notice the beauty in the natural land and in your family

Tony Vagneur
Saddle Sore

I’ve never read a book penned by Louis L’Amour¸ which some might find unusual, but in my saved list of outside quotes that may someday become usable comes the following, “Too often I would hear men boast of the miles covered that day, rarely of what they had seen.” That’s what I’m talking about.

It was opening day of elk season in 1960 or ’61 and we were taking a group of men up the mountain horseback behind the ranch to spend a few days trying their luck. As we rode along in that early morning half-light between darkness and light, we could see across the valley to the Elk Mountains, Mt. Daly, and the rest, their tops illuminated by the sun, just coming over the horizon high above us on our uphill, northern side. As we stopped to rest the horses, one of the men exclaimed something to the effect of, ”Look at that, will you, have you ever seen a more beautiful sight?”

At 14, I’d been looking at that view all my life and to be totally honest, had never given it a stirring accolade such as I heard that morning. Previously, there really wasn’t much thought about it – those mountains were there, they were part of our world, and they weren’t going anywhere. As my friend Alex said the other day, after a while, the view becomes like wallpaper, seen, but not really. My dad’s nickname for Mt. Daly was “Belted Mountain”, far more descriptive than its official name. However, after the hunter’s remark that early morning and for the first time, I was forced to look at that view with new eyes. Today, every time I cast a glance that way, the lesson is always somewhere in the back of my mind. But it’s more complicated than that.

True, the mountains aren’t going anywhere, but not so with people, wonderful people who hold special places in our hearts, part of the fabric of who we are. We love to see them when we can, sometimes the visits far between; and unlike the mountains, someday they will be gone and we will cherish those times we had together.

The other day as my trusty steeds and I wound our way up the mountain, we found ourselves in a veritable wilderness of lushness. Never have there seemed to be so many wildflowers of all varieties, prodigious on both sides of the trail. Pink and white wild roses, lupine, blue bells, columbines, sunflowers, and on and on it went, some I have never seen before. A utopia for lovers of wildflowers.

And then the word came, my cousin Ken Vagneur had died. One of those electronic devices we are all compelled to carry spelled out the transition, and even though totally impersonal, it carried the same clout of finality as a personal word.

It didn’t take away from the beauty of the day, and if anything made the splendor deeper, more magnificent, adding grace as I thought about Ken and our relationship over the years.

Ken and I weren’t close, but we had much the same blood, which gave us a kinship that goes beyond understanding, beyond qualification. We were family, even down to playing cross-country croquet on a hillside that can only be described as uncivilized for such an activity. Our deepest conversations, far apart and few, were rooted in our relationships with our fathers.

Several years ago, we came together on a business agreement, a conversation that took less than two minutes, and then Ken asked me if I’d heard of Ian Tyson, Canadian singer and songwriter. Absolutely, one of my favorites, and his. Every couple of weeks or so, I’d receive a Tyson CD in the mail, or he’d hand me one when he’d see me around. It’s reasonably certain that I received every original Ian Tyson CD ever made.

Ken was independent, living life as he determined it should be, without apology. Several years ago, I wrote a column about decisions we make in life and dedicated it to Ken. The idea came from a song Ian had sung on one of his CDs, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”

As I look across the valley at the mountains, Capitol, Daly, Snowmass, the rest, and remember the day in the forest this past week with the wildflowers, I am reminded of not only the significance of nature in our lives, but also of individuals who have lasting meaning on a level we don’t entirely understand.

The insidious disease that forced him to struggle against the inevitable has lost its grip. It’s done, over. Wherever you are on your journey, Ken, you have undoubtedly transcended the rainbow and the clouds are far behind you. I’m gonna miss you.

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at


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