Tony Vagneur: Words that still ring true today

Sometimes there’s a quote that catches my attention, and it gets put it in the folder. One always wonders what will become of such a collection. Upon reflection, some of them seem to have relevance to life in this valley, so herewith are a few.

“In nothing does man, with his grand notions of heaven and charity, show forth his innate, low-bred, wild animalism more clearly than in his treatment of his brother beasts. From the shepherd with his lambs to the red-handed hunter, it is the same; no recognition of rights — only murder in one form or another.” — John Muir, naturalist, explorer, and writer, 1838-1914. (In today’s world, the Sierra Club is forced to deal with John Muir’s racism, but that’s another story.)

If we extrapolate this quote out a bit, there is this from “Who Owns the West?”, by William Kittredge: “A hundred and fifty years ago some sixty million buffalo were roaming the North American prairies. The last wild ones were shot out south of Jordan (Montana) in 1886, by William Hornaday, a taxidermist, for display in the Smithsonian. He went back to Washington, DC, with twenty-four hides, sixteen skeletons, and fifty-one skulls. It was his nineteenth-century way of preserving the last wild buffalo.”

Stretching this out a little more, we can get an insight into the sometimes-runaway thinking of the human brain. There was in a California Bristlecone Pine forest, a certain tree (Prometheus) believed to be the oldest of its kind in the world. A researcher named Donald Currey, trying to determine the age of the Bristlecone with a core drill, found that to be troublesome, so he took a chainsaw to the wooden pinnacle, knocking it down so he could count its rings. In so doing, he did determine that yes, the tree had been the oldest living thing on earth, until he killed it in order to prove it so. Do they give Emmys for that kind of creativity?

We could spend the rest of this column (ad infinitum) talking about wolves and grizzly bears, but those are stories for another day.

Here are some words we should be mindful of in the local world in which we find ourselves today, increasingly surrounded by wealth and some of its less attractive behaviors: “There is also an artificial aristocracy founded on wealth and birth, without either virtue or talents. … The artificial aristocracy is a mischievous ingredient in government, and provisions should be made to prevent its ascendancy.” — Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826).

Yes, Jefferson is talking about government, but the comment applies to our everyday life in this little burg just as well. Don’t let the man who has a need to stand on his wallet for recognition and essence entice you into believing he is smarter or better than the discussion group at your favorite watering hole. Fat chance, I know.

The second president, John Adams, had this to say about private property: “The moment the idea is admitted into society that property is not as sacred as the law of God, and that there is not a force of law and public justice to protect it, anarchy and tyranny commence.” We may be on the edge in a few of our large cities but it is happening in some areas of the Roaring Fork Valley, as well, but on a smaller scale.

People new to the area, apparently not sure what “No Trespassing” and “Private Property” signs mean, are increasingly encroaching on areas they shouldn’t. If called on their trespass, they sometimes tend to argue with the property owner, suggesting they are being unfairly targeted and, well, further suggesting that since they’re neighborhood “locals,” private property rights don’t matter anymore. Except their own, I’m guessing.

Several years ago, after working numerous hours getting a hayfield cut, dried, raked and windrow-ready for the baler, I drove by the field for a final check and spotted four adults going up the windrows, scattering the hay from side-to-side, leaving a mess. Being somewhat incredulous at this behavior, and calmly questioning their motives, the middle-aged member of the group replied, “We’re looking for grasshoppers — going fishing this evening.” Oh, well, sorry to bother you.

People like to say the Natives didn’t own property, didn’t have property rights as we know them, and that would be correct, but if you think about it, there was cause for warfare between the tribes. Hunting areas were revered and protected by the various communities and interlopers may have soon found themselves the target of those being invaded or trespassed upon. Counting coup was invented before the arrival of the white man.

And from Mark Twain, to properly end this: “Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please.”

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at