Tony Vagneur: Decades of fortune, struggles incurred following our rainbow |

Tony Vagneur: Decades of fortune, struggles incurred following our rainbow

It’s the connection, somewhere it’s the connection.

Sitting in my upstairs room, poetry books and scribbled writings in pencil scattered over my desk and instead of sitting back, feet up, enjoying the small domain that is mine, I sit instead straight up, staring out the window, my mind reeling with a young man’s thoughts. The left shoulder of my green, small-checked snap-button shirt is stained dirt brown from carrying an irrigating shovel over it for most of the day, and I’m dead tired.

Maybe it’s the loneliness weighing me down, having been left here in late May by my parents, not another soul on 1,200 acres, and the responsibility all mine at 16. The memory of a giggling young girl talking on the pay phone as I picked up the mail at the Woody Creek Store stirs me, and I wonder who she was.

It’s a different world today — instead of riding a horse on one ranch to move the irrigation water, I haunt the valley pastures and hay grounds in my Jeep, going from one location to another, checking this division box, moving a tarp down this ditch, and walking the lower end of hayfields over there to make sure the water covered the ground.

The Woody Creek Store has morphed into the Woody Creek Tavern and the pay phone disappeared somewhere along the way, maybe a good thing. I still think of a Woody Creek girl, one I care deeply about, and loneliness isn’t one of my complaints.

It’s not an uneasiness, but more a wonder, have I stayed too long? Have I played too hard? Two grandkids and their beautiful mother tell me I’ve done my part in adding to the gene pool, but not a lot else has changed, it doesn’t seem. From that kid of over 50 years ago, looking out from my upstairs bedroom, I’ve learned that getting dog-tired at something you love is part of the soul of life; aloneness suits me; and my heartbeat still quickens with anticipation as I gather in my horses for a day in the mountains, unknown adventures lying ahead.

No, I haven’t stayed too long, although the years move much faster now, and perhaps I’ve thought about it too much and maybe haven’t enjoyed it as much as I should, letting inconsequential worries take up my mind. And strange thoughts start running through my consciousness, notions you may feel are outdated, but seemingly apropos in my case.

Bluebirds, fluttering around the old Clavel Homestead, my great-grandfather’s first home in the valley, don’t show fear of humans and they take turns sitting on top of a cedar post alongside the still-standing, dilapidated house. As my partner Margaret snaps photos, I wonder, if birds can fly over the rainbow, maybe I could, too?

As I tie my horse to a small pine just before the timberline forbids such meadow extravagance, brilliant blue skies, the feel of musky earth under my boots and a large bull elk eyeing me down, all call my attention to one of those otherworldly thoughts.

“Somewhere over the rainbow way up high/

There’s a land that I’ve heard of once in a lullaby/

Somewhere over the rainbow skies are blue/

And the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true.”

We don’t get through it unscathed; we leave behind a trail of broken hearts, dead ancestors, mistakes we didn’t learn from and impossible dreams that seemed so real at the time. We’ve battled depression, faced down divorce, damned-near died skiing, other things that weren’t so pleasant and yet, life is good.

Years ago, Mrs. Pat Fender, matriarch of the Sopris Creek Hereford Ranch and wife of the incorrigible Bill Fender, asked me if I had to choose, would it be between riding my horses through the summer mountains, tending cattle, or would it be slicing through the moguls on Aspen Mountain in the winter? I’ve pondered the question ever since, thankful I’m lucky enough to not have to make the choice.

“Someday I’ll wish upon a star/

And wake up where the clouds are far behind me/

Where troubles melt like lemon drops/

Way above the chimney tops/

That’s where you will find me.”

Maybe I’ve been there all along. Hopefully, most of us, at this altitude, have been that fortunate.

This is for Ken Vagneur, with credit to Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg, composers. Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at

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