Vagneur: Romancing the rain | AspenTimes.com

Vagneur: Romancing the rain

Tony Vagneur
Saddle Sore

From the beginning Tuesday, it was evident that the day would be unusual and likely filled with excitement. Ahead of us on the trail, myriad hoof prints, mostly from an outfitter's day-before dude string, were overfilled to bursting in the middle of a rain-soaked trail, and my body rocked to inconsistent movement as my horses slipped and slid, struggling with the mud. It was clear that a substantial rainstorm had preceded us, at least by a day but likely even more recent.

"That was a helluva storm," was my thought, about 10 minutes before the next deluge started.

Ever since I was a kid, I've liked riding alone in the rain and have done more than my fair share, I reckon. If you're a rancher, the adage goes something like, "You ride after cattle when it's raining and put up hay when the sun shines." Somehow it doesn't seem quite right to put in a full day in the saddle without getting wet at least once, and I've probably eaten more soggy sandwiches than not, especially before modern contrivances provided a way to keep bread dry.

After we started locking the family cow camp (can you imagine packing in for a several-week stint only to find that some unwelcome schmuck had left a frying pan half-full of a growing, green and rotting concoction on the wood stove — or worse?), people had a hard time believing we meant business.

One day, I arrived to find the place broken into, a note on the counter saying, "Severe storm — had to break in." To the person's credit, there was a $20 bill lying under the note, thank you. It got me wondering how severe the storm actually might have been.

My good horse Willie and I got caught in many wild and crazy storms up there, usually a long way from camp, but we always survived. Coming back from Porphyry Mountain one afternoon, out in the open of Kobey Park, a storm of fierce proportions overtook us — rain and hail accompanied by an angry wind, coming so fast and thick that it might have been a winter blizzard but much wetter. At a full gallop, we sped for the densest stand of evergreens we could barely see and climbed into the thick of it, seeking some relief. Even there, the storm was almost intolerable, and Willie, a big, kind-hearted horse, stuck his head into my slicker, seeking protection and warmth. What a grand animal.

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This week, about the time we reached Bear Park, the rare rumble of thunder came from far off, not loud enough to spook my horses, although the dog gave me a quick glance just to make sure everything was OK. There was no crack of lightning associated with this ineffectual burst, and almost immediately the innocuous breeze stopped, alerting us to the ripe, heavy-laden clouds overhead, unable to contain another drop of moisture, and suddenly the sky unleashed a torrent that made the previous storm seem but a warm-up.

Lonely traveler that I am, the onslaught was welcome, even encouraged. Such rain is guaranteed to send most outdoor adventurers to ground, and I was reassured onward by the knowledge that no one else would be about, not within many miles. The horses were inspired by the coolness of the downpour, and my dog, always alert to every olfactory molecule in the air, increased his attentiveness to details along the trail, especially those in sheltered areas. The intensity of the rain varied that day, but it never stopped.

Ah, but just when you think you're all alone in the wilds, someone proves you wrong. As I skirted the edge of the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness, fresh horse tracks could be seen on the path ahead. From the strength of the rain, I figured whoever it was led me by only about five or 10 minutes, and had I not been on a cattle-related mission, I would have taken a different trail. Still, even as close as we were, or paths never crossed.

Later, a good meal and a hot shower cured the chill in my bones, but nothing can dilute the memory of a good day like that. Simply put, that was a rainstorm to be cherished.

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at ajv@sopris.net.