San Juan Jon: The Rancher

San Juan Jon: The Rancher

by Jon Lovekin

(Editor's note: One of the pleasures in publishing Telluride Inside… and Out is getting to know new  [to us] writers. Susan and I independently ran across Jon Lovekin on Twitter. She took the next step, checked out his writing, liked what she saw and asked if he would be interested in contributing to TIO. Herewith, another article from Jon.)

Ranchland Clouds built over the plains as they always do each day this time of year.  The wind blew soft and hot keeping the gnats at bay.  Mud was deep around the building we were working on after the record setting 6 inch rain over the weekend.  The sun burned deep into the skin and I thought of that boy working on that ranch 29 years ago and only 30 miles away. I had thought of the Rancher now that I worked in La Junta again and looked up his name in the phone book.

I didn’t recognize him at first when I pulled up to the address in Fowler where the phone book said he lived.  There was an old man in a jump suit sitting in a porch swing connected to an oxygen tank who was staring at me as I looked again at the house number.  I got out, strode around the truck and said, “Hello, does Ken live here?”

“He used to” replied the man who I knew instantly was him.

I told him my name at which his face softened and he repeated it softly while gazing steadily at me.  I came closer and asked him what he knew for sure.  He told me he was riddled with cancer and was dying.

We sat and talked for a long spell.  He told me how his brother had died of West Nile just the year before.  He said it was really strange but it reminded him of something he had seen in the mid 1930’s.  He, his brother and his dad drove a Model T up to the lakes not far from La Junta.  They were looking for some horses.

Back then, folks just let their horses go as they couldn’t keep them and had no use for them being so poor.  Lots of horses gathered round the lake those years.  They had lost some horses they cared about and they drove to the lake in that Model T looking for them. What was strange, Ken said, was that this particular year, most of the horses were lying on their backs and pawing the air as they died of some ailment.  His voice choked up as he said that his poor brother, out of his mind, lay in his hospital bed, clawing at the air just like those horses so many years ago as West Nile killed him.

Lest I forget the character of the man sitting next to me, a mere shell of the towering terror he was to me as a lad, a truck drove by with the driver resting his arm on the window.  As he went by Ken hollered “Hey!” and the driver jumped causing us to laugh out-loud.  Ken looked at me and exclaimed,

“Did you see him jump!” and laughed and laughed.  By this I knew I had found the man who laughed till he fell down the time I brought the horses in.

I had spent the day rounding them up, mostly mares and fouls but also several wild stallions.  I trotted them from their grazing to the ranch area and had them funneled down to the gate into the arena when they whirled and ran at the last minute.  Old Andy, the horse that became my closest friend that year, wheeled with them and I caught the saddle horn as I flew off the horse.  I managed to hold on as we galloped off to the refrains of that hard man's laughter.  It was hours later and getting dark that I brought those horses in once more, this time at a dead run, sweating, and straight through that narrow god damned gate!
We talked till dark, sipping coffee reminiscing about that summer that we had batched it together just me and him on that big spread.

Jon Lovekin Jon Lovekin's interests: Geological Engineer, Photographer, Telemark Skier, 29er Mountain Biker, Writer, Oh, and FJ40 Landcruiser driver!

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