Vagneur: The myth of the West is all that’s left | AspenTimes.com

Vagneur: The myth of the West is all that’s left

Tony Vagneur
Saddle Sore

We were driving down Highway 24, a young man and myself, pulling a loaded four-horse trailer at about 65 miles per hour, listening to me extol the virtues of the passing landscape as being especially great cattle country. Out of the corner of my eye, the sight of grazing animals caught my attention, and before I could say “cows,” I realized I was staring down a herd of llamas.

“What the hell? That ain’t the spirit of the Wild West,” I exclaimed.

“Nope,” said my passenger, “that’s the New West.” A sullen silence began to overtake us as we weighed the depth of his remark, but there were worse things ahead. Within a few miles, off to our right, we spied a panoply of new homes, just far enough apart (or close enough together) to create an impenetrable wall to the wild creatures among us. Disgustingly, they were, in total, a subdivision under the auspices of some jackassed name, meaning clearly, “New-Fangled Ranch,” each home site covering 10 to 15 acres.

In the spirit of the “New West,” I suspect most of those lovers of open space couldn’t tell the difference between a cow pie and a wild mushroom.

Recently, a friend getting ready to sell her Aspen house was telling me about the many forms she has to fill out and the declarations she has to make before the real estate listing can be considered complete. It wasn’t that long ago when a handshake was enough to bring honesty and integrity to the table and we didn’t need a litany of rules to protect both buyer and seller. Ranchers here in the valley floor built property line fences around natural obstacles, such as ravines and cliffs, the lay of the land being a practical matter. Naturally, with an increasingly litigious society and an eye toward technical and legal correctness, many historic fence lines have been moved and distorted, not necessarily to the benefit of either owner.

And don’t tell me that lawyers created the demand for piles of paperwork and straight survey lines. Greed and over-stated self-importance created a need for lawyers, and to this day, we still don’t understand that.

The myth of the West is about all that’s really left of the spirit of the West. So many of us have moved westward, looking for that indefinable feeling of independence, of freedom, of being our own person, that we’ve totally mucked it up. It is very difficult to tell, at least on the surface, the difference between the West and the East, simply because almost everyone who moves west for the intangibles also brings with them a psychological load of city-bred constraints, and slowly the magnificent breadth of the West is being chiseled down to the lowest common denominator.

Today, ask a trespasser to leave your property and you might be told it isn’t “fair” for you to own so much land and not willingly share it with one who so clearly loves the great outdoors. This is the same problem we had with the Native Americans or they with us — we couldn’t understand how, or why, a small tribe of savages required great tracts of land to keep their way of life intact. It was about the wildlife, the natural order, really, for the Utes and others, but we didn’t get it and thought, in our great wisdom, that we could convince such remarkable native hunters to live on regulated, communal farms. And once we stole the land from the Natives, we doled it out to ourselves in 160-acre homesteads, another great myopic mistake.

“Do you ride horseback a lot?” a friend asked me last week.

“Hell, yes, I ride every day, first thing in the morning to irrigate, checking the headgates and later, on many days, to move cows or pack salt for the cattle,” I said.

“Riding a horse to irrigate,” he marveled. “That’s almost unheard of today.”

The other day, I walked to one of our irrigation ditch headgates with a young man we hired to help out this summer, just so he could see that part of our operation. After about a mile and a half of walking, he said, “You know what we need? We need a four-wheeler.” The equine of the New West, a motorized vehicle to get around the ranch.

I turned and faced him, “You know what I use? I use a horse.”

“I don’t know how to ride,” came the reply.

In the interest of fairness, it must be disclosed that the loaded horse trailer we pulled was full of not horses, but furniture and boxes, accoutrement owned by my nephew, Andrew Henderson, who has moved back to the mountains, his birthright from a family that helped settle this great valley. Welcome home, Andy!

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


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