Sunday, March 06, 2016
His eyes grew moist as he told of the freak snow that dumped three feet of snow on the flock. The snow threatening to kill all the sheep and Alfonzo and his father Amos with them. Alfonzo was thirteen in the fall of 1951 and is choked with emotion even now. It was only October and they were still tending the sheep in the high mountains of Apache Canyon above Chama. The Cumbres and Toltec train clattered in the distance. As the snow mounted only one thing mattered. How do we get the sheep down the mountain and to the safety of the valley floor?
It was a moment of truth and the truth was that the sheep couldn’t make it out in three feet of snow. And Amos and Alfonzo couldn’t the last for three days and 17 miles without shelter. Alfonzo recalls with crystalline clarity that the first night they slept under towering pines and on the second, wet and weary, Amos covered themselves with a tarp topped with pine bows and needles. He is felled two mid-sized pines and drug them behind horses to sweep a route for the sheep to pass. On the third day they made their way to the crossing of the Rio de Los Pinos below Oshir. At the crossing help arrived with food and dry clothes and they brought the sepp the rest of the way to Mogote and the Abeyta Ranch.
All survived because of Amos's resourcefulness and a father's love. And because of both the flock of sheep that began with a single orphan ewe in the 1920s delivered their wool to Tom Barr's shearers last weekend. It’s a Jeremiah Johnson tale set in the mid-twentieth century, one that illustrates how tenuous yet enduring a life from the soil was and still is.