Vagneur: Spare wit and wisdom from the ‘Cuttings’ folder |

Vagneur: Spare wit and wisdom from the ‘Cuttings’ folder

Tony Vagneur

The following is a well-appreciated comment a few years ago from a friend in New Zealand: “Thanks so much for your stories; they bring back my most cherished memories of my decade in and about the Roaring Fork Valley. The skiing, restaurants, bars, and lovely ladies form an important mix of memories, but it’s the life of the rancher that interests me the most.”

He did the gentlemanly thing by sending me a copy of a book about his family and ranching Down Under. 

I get quite a few comments curious about and appreciative of the ranching life; so in one of those moods, I took a dive into the “Cuttings” folder and came up with some words that I don’t think ever made it into a finished column but talk about ranching and a few other things, good or bad. Forthwith. 

The cattle would be safe for the night and in the morning, you’d be at the stockyards bright and early, ready to negotiate with buyers. No one went home empty-handed, but it could be a slow-paced, shrewd game of nerves, one my dad was teaching me back when.

We’d sit on the fence surrounding our cattle and wait for the buyers to come around, mostly from the large packing houses, making their offers. A year’s worth of work was on the line. We’d counter, they’d go away, and then come back a little later.

It isn’t done like that anymore, but it might still be fun to hop the train over the hill and catch some of the Denver Western Livestock Show.  

We’re all about money, owning things, and, since COVID reared its ugly head, a quiet piece of the world away from the crowds. What are to become of these sold properties with new owners, new owners who don’t have the stories, and even more basically, don’t have the memories?

With an uncontrollable impulse much like the onset of puberty, young people thronged to 1970s Aspen with a city-escaping frenzy that turned the town into a mecca of poorly disguised, middle-class degeneration. We became a community of zero tolerance toward outsiders while proclaiming our uniqueness; personal freedom was thought of as an original idea, and escaping reality was commonplace.

A lot happens in the gondola that people wouldn’t want the outside world to know about, and I’m not talking about the making out or the oral sex or just the regular sex, even. No, I’m talking about people bragging about their “big” deals in front of us mere mortals. 

Other people say that “A true horseman doesn’t look at the horse with his eyes, he looks at the horse with his heart.” Or, “To look into a horse’s eye is to see one’s soul.” Those sayings seem to ring true, and we all have to admit that there is something mystical about horses. They have a spiritual allure that draws in all but the most calloused eye. It’s not magic, but almost. 

Regret is the most potent human emotion? Words are for people who can’t read sign. The Case of the Golden Calf 4/18/1918. Main Street Aspen paved in 1938, same year the highway was paved from Carbondale to Aspen. Lift One replaced with 1A in 1971. Indy Pass finally completely paved in 1969.  

The ranchers weren’t so worried about the lack of money. It was the people coming to Pitkin County who thought they could get a piece of nirvana by buying up a large ranch and then parceling it off, piece by piece, until their initial investment was paid off. This sacrilege was committed by folks many considered rich — rich enough to buy the land (apparently with a lot of borrowed money in some cases, but not rich enough to keep it without chopping it up). 

Much of this history is correct and very interesting, but some of it is just a regurgitation of incorrect detail or superfluous legend, poorly reiterated by writers too lazy to verify facts or with the sole intent of embellishing reality.

As my good friend Stan Boothe said years ago (And if you know Stan, you know he is not one to mince words): “If you’re gonna be a rancher, you better be tough enough to shoot lightning three feet out your ass.” 

In today’s Aspen, we hear a lot of talk about the “Aspen Idea” as formulated, or perhaps promulgated is a better word, by the Paepckes of Chicago, Illinois. It’s fun to listen to people talk about how the “Aspen Idea” was what originally brought them to Aspen when probably it was more about skiing, partying, and people of the opposite sex more than anything — but that doesn’t sound as good when one’s on a mission of self-promotion.

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at