Tony Vagneur: And what do we do on the Fifth of July? Get back to work, Tux

Tony Vagneur
Saddle Sore

It’s usually not difficult to find a spot – I spied a dead tree, been lying on the ground for years, bark long gone, just about the right height for a seat, and unpacked my lunch. The ambient temperature was approaching the high 80s, but this grove of cottonwoods provided more cool shade than needed, and the grass under them was green and silky. A soft breeze wafted through the leaves and around the trunks; somewhere high above a couple of warblers were having a serious conversation, and behind me in the distance, the quiet gurgling of the irrigation ditch provided peace.

The little glen in which I sat was not ideal, not in some people’s minds, for around one edge were the neatly stacked remains of many endeavors; scaffolding, timeworn fence material, the abandoned hood of an old tractor, wire of various design. Off to my right sat a very faded green Ford pickup, maybe late 70s, worn out but testament to the industrious men and the dreams they carried all around this valley in that truck.

My dog, Tux, a black and white border collie, was happy to let me eat my sandwich undisturbed as he soaked in the cool water of the ditch for a while and then went to work on a short piece of vertebral deer column he’d found in the hayfield. Coyotes or winter, or both, I thought, as I paid silent homage to the difficulties of wildlife making it through winter around this country.

Just to the northeast of the tall cottonwoods was the large shady spot in which some of the cows gather when we’re pasturing them in the valley lowlands. Now that they’ve moved on to the high country, it is the afternoon gathering spot of two young muley bucks and a dry doe. The velvet is still on the antlers.

Off in the distance, the faint hum of 82 could be heard, but it being a holiday, there wasn’t much at all. On the hillside on the other side of the highway, across the river and up the mountainside, the faint barking of a dog could be heard, telling an unknown story and grounding me in the midst of the combined wild and civilized in which I relaxed.

The cottonwood underneath me turned into a very comfortable and welcome backrest when I slid to the soft ground. Tux went for another dip and as I’d finished lunch, he sidled up for some serious affection and recognition. He hardly ever does it, but this day he got right up next to me and laid his head on my chest. His wet body collided with mine and it was too nice, too peaceful, the entire scene, to even think about making him move. We took a short snooze.

Just behind my head was a single-axle wagon, 1890s vintage, with large, magnificent wooden wheels. It took me back to Redstone, where I’d spent the previous day celebrating the Fourth, watching a live, moving parade. Military veterans led the show, followed by myriad floats, good-looking women on horses, great music, and more candy thrown than a kid could eat in a week. My grandkids loved it. Lunch at the iconic Redstone Inn, one of the best around, topped off the day.

Ira, my old drinking and commiserating buddy has moved on, I know, but that didn’t keep me from looking through the crowd, hoping to get a glimpse of the man returned for the holiday. If you ever wondered what a 21st century mountain man would be like, it would be Ira. It’s been 20-some years since last we talked, but I’m sure I remember him mentioning, with his ever-present “possibles bag” hanging from his sash, that he was born in Placita, just up the road. He visited there a lot.

My friend Holly took the time to discuss the importance of history, giving me some bygone tidbits, explaining how her family had settled Janeway and showed me what was once her grandmother’s house on Redstone Boulevard. We’re gonna get together one of these days for a historical tour through old photographs.

What a grand day it was in Redstone, where I used to spend a lot of time, and reliving the down-to-earth celebratory recognition of a special day made my refraction time under the cottonwoods that much more special.

“Come on, Tux, let’s get back to work.”

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at