Sunday, August 16, 2009

Yippie Ti Yi... A Shepherder's Wagon

My mind wanders back to a summer at Duck Lake, Colorado, near the top of Guanella Pass. The owner of Alpendorf Alpine cabins shows me her European style cabins and her honest-to-goodness wooden sheepherders wagon that she's restored and uses for her guests. Here at 11,000 or so feet, one can spend a romantic night and dream of days gone by.
In nearby Geneva Park, our government still issues permits to use the public land for cattle and sheep grazing. Today, Sheepherders can be found working in Montana, Idaho, New Mexico, California, Utah, Nevada and Colorado.
In the 1800s, the sheepherders were mostly boys from our South. Later, the Basques came over from Spain to tend the sheep. Today, Peruvians have taken over the job. They hire on for three years, sending every penny to their families back home. The sheep graze by the hundreds, sometimes by the thousands, watched by the sheepherder and their dogs. The early sheepherder’s wagon, its water barrel latched tight on the outside, pulled by a horse, had an oh so interesting interior. Equipped with a wood-burning stove for both cooking and warmth on those cold mountain nights; built-in cupboards, a fold down table, a kerosene lantern, and a wonderful bed tucked in the back made this small space comfy cozy. Think of it as the first ancient RV model.
The Alpendorf's wagon is just too wonderful. Perched between fragrant spruce and pine and swift running creek, you overlook the lake. So quiet, except for the winds murmuring soft songs. I want to stay.
I’m thinking back in time and how lonely the sheepherder's life would be. All alone in those high mountain valleys, surrounded by snow covered peaks. It's just you, hundreds of sheep, a dog or two and a close-up view of our amazing nature. Tons of white clouds racing against a deep blue sky, tiny wildflowers everywhere you look. At night, a million stars surround the different phases of the moon. And the quiet… except for a couple of bleats from the sheep now and then and the munching of a horse grazing nearby.
Was it here on a mountain top that one shepherd concocted the Shephard’s pie in the light of a beautiful golden pink sunset? He would use lamb, surely, not beef. Yes, he would have onions, canned vegetables and potatoes. Or … could it be that this dish was named after a man whose surname was Shepherd … from New York City?
But that's another story.

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