Last night’s storm shook our old log house, about ripped the adobe right out of the walls. It was the first snow of the year – heavy stuff that grabbed hold of everything. It would make the day’s wood splitting with Curly a little tougher, certainly more miserable.
The morning packed a cold punch. All sound was muffled except for the crunch of my boots. Our old Bronco coughed and hacked to a start, then sputtered slowly down the road. The headlights bobbed through the woods where the weighty snow was bending big branches. Ice wrapped around pine boughs and naked aspen limbs. Fence posts donned small white berets, tipped slightly; the barbed wire fence was frosted in designs that would disappear with the sun.
My stomach growled along with the Bronco, looking forward to breakfast with Curly and the boys. The brothers, all but one, Tabby, and the two sisters, still lived at home. They are a solid breed of mountain men: short, stocky, solid, a little like the seven dwarfs minus a few. They’d lived their lives, except for military stints, in the woods and are a little rough around their ample edges. All had beautiful brown skin and lively eyes.
A few farm lights flickered in the short clip to the Trujillo Ranch. As the crow flies, their house sits 20 power poles from our barn, straight across the valley on the road heading up to the shooting range. A few power poles draped with wire stretched from the highway along their gravel road. The local peaks – Wheeler, Baldy, Touch-Me-Not – keep an eye on the place. We had a code: if there was trouble at night we could flip the lights on and off to call for help.
Two wooden wagon wheels greeted me at the metal gate. A weathered Colfax B-25 sign faced the house, so the brothers always started out the day knowing where they were. Pulling into their yard, the grounds crawled with old machine parts, no longer working but not yet ready to be thrown away. All the buildings – the barn, garage, house, sheds – were only a short waddle away.
Some clothes, frozen stiff, were slung out on the clothesline. A maze of fences built with aged cedar posts and chicken wire wound around the place. Of course there were piles of firewood – piñon, pine, aspen, pitch – ready to burn. They always had plenty of firewood.
The valley was waking up. A few cattle, snow coating their backs, chomped on hay by the barn. Some sheep stood still in the pen. A dog bark broke the silence, signaling someone was coming. The staticky radio covered the sound of my knocking on the door. So I looked through the porch window and rapped on the pane. Curley headed to the door, weaving like a pick up truck loaded with too much firewood. Out the door popped his perfectly-toothed smile, and then he scolded me for not just barging in.
“We been waiting on you. What the heck you waiting for?”
Inside, it was way too warm. The stove was spitting from pitch, kicking heat everywhere. There was a surprising neatness to the place as if their mother were still around keeping an eye on them. But she’d been gone a long time. Where once she’d shooed them out of a bar with a broom, wrangling them back to work, now they were in charge of each other.
All the Trujillo men were old and none had ever married. They had traditional Hispanic names – Saturnino, Timeteo, Andreas, Antonio. But they went by Curly, Tim, Andy, Tony.
Strong of heart, they were the kind of guys who’d drop off split firewood or a bucket-load of food for a needy neighbor. They stashed hard candy in their coveralls in case they’d run into a kid, or small bottles of Schnapps in a pocket for an old friend.
The brothers were beautiful old Hispanic mountain folks, but they were hell on breakfast.
This was not a yogurt and fruit crowd. A day of hardy mountain chores lay ahead and they needed real fuel, real food – ham, bacon and elk sausage crackled in the pan. Pancakes bubbled on the grill. Eggs smothered in green chile and cheese, muffins, toast, milk, juice, black coffee. A no-holds-barred breakfast, slathered in butter. Full-on cardiac fare.
The piles of food were fantastic; and the way it went down was even better. These guys had taken to a new level all the stuff your mother tried to teach you not to do at the table: talking with your mouth full, elbow jabbing, sausage snatching, grunting, burping, swiping food from face to sleeve, even defensive moves like a blocked bacon grab.
A thing of beauty.
Mid-meal, amid gnashing teeth and grins, Curly flashed me a raised eyebrow wink and ain’t-life-great-especially-breakfast grin.
They didn’t talk much; they’d been around each other so long they had little left to say. And like brothers, they could get on each others’ nerves easily. So they hen pecked each other. And Curly, he always got it the most.
It was then that Curly was told – he’d been bossed around his whole life by his brothers – to call and see if the dump was open yet.
“And don’t mess up the phone,” they hollered.
Around the same time the year before, first snow, Curly had been yelling into the phone when the power surged, then died all over the valley. The heavy snow had triggered the outage but Curly’s brothers blamed him for dialing wrong, and they didn’t want him to do it again.
Outside, the snow was getting heavier on all the power lines, already stretched to the max. So how could Curly have known that when he started to dial that the main artery lines were ready to snap under its burden of snow?
“Damn it, Curly. You did it again.”
Welcome to the southern Rockies. The lights will stay on for you as long as Curly doesn’t need to make any calls. And don’t forget to flip the light switch if you need a hand or anything at all.
— Joe Haukebo, Publisher
This article appeared on page 6 of the Winter 2002-2003 print edition of SkiCountry.