Vagneur: Meaningful interactions with wild things |

Vagneur: Meaningful interactions with wild things

Tony Vagneur
Saddle Sore
Tony Vagneur

We hear talk about the wild things, and what do we envision? Leopards flashing up trees, elephants bathing with elongated trunks, caribou running across frozen tundra, or perhaps wolves stalking lunch with a know-how that still scares grown men? Closer to home, could it be black bears pillaging Aspen’s crab apple trees? Or maybe it’s the simple things, the not-so-glorious creatures that without which our life experiences would be so much less.

He was mostly green and brown, and whether he was a frog or a toad doesn’t really matter to the telling of the saga, for he had a personality that could stimulate fairy tales in those with imaginations broad enough.

I’d let my young horse graze the glistening grass while I tended the irrigation water in our upper Woody Creek hay fields. The day came when the tailwater from higher above reached a small ditch along a fence separating the manicured meadow from cow-pastured river bottom and as I placed a canvas dam in the trench to set the water, the frog came into my life.

Peaceful, he sat on the bank soaking up the early-morning sun, watching me as I worked, never showing fear but appearing very curious. I liked him right away, but what can you say to a frog? Oh, everything. You can say whatever you want to a frog, and besides that, you can believe that maybe in the immensity of the mystery of the universe, the frog may, on some level, understand what you’re saying. Or you can just daydream with a frog, the both of you quiet and somnolent in the broadening warmth of the encroaching daylight.

We made an odd trio, I suspect. The gray horse dragging the reins behind her as she nuzzled the lush sward; the frog patiently waiting on the bank, legs tucked underneath him; and me, in thigh-high rubber boots, straw cowboy hat and a shovel in my hands, talking as I worked.

The days rolled on, and each morning we would meet, the frog and I, and whatever our relationship, it grew closer, mostly I think because one doesn’t generally see the same lonely frog in the same place day after day. Maybe he had been ostracized by the rest of frogdom. Maybe he just liked me or, even more unlikely, he could have been lost. But we’d about reached the end of that particular ditch, and I began to forewarn my friend that soon, in a couple of days, the sustenance-giving water would disappear and perhaps he’d better think about finding a new hangout.

After the water was gone and for the next few days, I’d ride by that spot, looking to make sure disaster hadn’t befallen my high-jumping friend. All seemed well, and our encounter has remained one of those unforgettable experiences of life.

There have been other wild encounters — bears coming perilously close to entering our hunting tent, breathing heavily in my ear, attracted by the hanging venison in a nearby tree or another ursine intruder, attacking our tied horses while at some distance away we had our backs turned, surveying the Elk Mountains from an excellent vantage point — but those weren’t confronts of a personal kind. Not like my interaction with the frog.

On another day, in a more modern time, I was returning to the cow-camp cabin from the horse corral when I spied a young fox playing with the end of a lash rope I’d left lying there. Not wanting to scare him away, I got down on all fours and slowly crawled toward the fox and the rope. I’d stop every step or two, aware that the fox had seen me, and then stealthily take another step or two, finally reaching my end of the long rope. Gently, I pulled the slack toward me, and the fox followed a step or two, then grabbed the rope again. It wasn’t long before we were engaged in a tug of war, fox against man, a contest I could have easily won, but instead gave the fox every concession possible to keep his interest alive.

Too soon, the fox darted off into the willows behind the cabin, and although I waited for him to return, the game was over. It might have ended there, but for the next several days, the fox returned at about the same time each day, looking for entertainment of some sort. He would chase sticks, would come very close and then dart away, and once took a short siesta while I sat and watched, but never could I convince him into another caper with the rope.

Those are the kinds of interactions with wild things that are memorable, the ones that have meaning to me. There are others saved for another day.

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at

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