‘Oysters’ from on high

Randy Wyrick
NWS Oyster Feed4 5-15 CS Vail Daily/Coreen Sapp Katie Stephens, left, and Brandee Smith, both members of Eagle County 4-H, toss cow chips into a bucket during the Cowboy Games at the 15th annual Rocky Mountain Oyster Feed.

There’s nothing quite like the look on a human being’s face who’s eating his fourth Rocky Mountain oyster and learns its origin.

Some stare as they turned them over and over in their hands, picking off bits of breading and tasting it, eventually getting into the spirit of the event, and getting the spirit of the event into them. Others are less inhibited, proclaiming out loud that if the French consider snails fine cuisine, then real Americans, who know better than to eat snails, can eat Rocky Mountain oysters and do so with gusto.

What are those?

Take, for instance, James from Golden and his wonderful wife – both good sports. They were in Glenwood Springs, saw an ad for the Rocky Mountain Oyster Feed, and decided to stop by the Eagle County Fairgrounds Saturday night for a little dinner and dancing.

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Folks like James, who dug into their dinner plates still harboring the illusion that they were eating seafood, were brought up a bit short as it was explained to them the origin of the delicacy they were enjoying. A cowboy across the table from James gently explained that gentleman cattle are “altered” in such a way as to render the gentleman cattle incapable of reproducing – and we ain’t talking latex Trojans.

James, bless his inquisitive heart, asked if that didn’t make for a bunch of lethargic cattle wandering around the fields with their major life’s ambition removed.

That, answered the cowboy, was the idea. The last thing a cattle rancher needed was for beleaguered bovines to form a support group.

James looked a little like a kid who’d just learned the truth about the Santa Claus, but decided that the booty was worth knowing the truth. Realizing he was already in it up to his palate, there was nothing to do but go back through the line for more.

His wife opted for the beef, the more traditional beef. It’s what’s for dinner.

What is this?

The Rocky Mountain Oyster Feed is an annual fund-raiser for 4-H youth exhibitors and the Eagle County Fairgrounds. Over the years, the money raised has purchased things like sound systems, livestock pens, cages for exhibiting animals – the kind of stuff a kid needs to keep himself and his animals out of trouble.

They give away three scholarships each year. This year the amount was increased to $1,500 each. Two went to Austin and Vincent Stoltzfus, and the Greg Burton Memorial Scholarship went to Cody Gerard.

This year’s was the 15th annual Rocky Mountain Oyster Feed. That’s a lot of oysters, a lot of beef, a lot happy people.

This, like most years, the fair board, volunteers and local 4-H kids fed and entertained 600-700 people in the true cowboy way. The Whistling Bullets 4-H Club, for example, had a shooting gallery with pellet guns and archery.

New this year were the Cowboy Games, orchestrated by Kendra Scott and Chris Whittaker.

No self-respecting horse would be allow itself to be anywhere near these Cowboy Games. Scott and Whittaker wouldn’t allow it, either.

“I’ve never been more humiliated in my life in any cowboy games than those,” laughed Kessler, an honest-to-Stetson cowboy. “The games took the cowboy right out of all of us.”

There were tiny kids’ bikes to ride through thick dirt; there was the dress-like-a-kid-with-bad-taste-in-clothing obstacle course; there was the elk-hide drag, an exercise in trust in which one cowboy sits on an elk hide and his partner drags it behind a four-wheeler; and of course there was that intergalactic favorite, the cow chip toss.

Kessler guaranteed that no matter popular the event gets, they’ll never run short of cow chips and competitors probably won’t be made to lick their thumbs between throws.

Kim Spahmer of Flying Colors put together the Western art auction, and Wendy Sacks coordinated the silent auction.

Also new this year was a raffle for a 2004 Dodge Cummins diesel truck, donated by Grand Junction Dodge. The raffle helps offset state budget cuts that started that last year.

Budget cuts are personal when you’re a 4-H kid.

One of things 4-H teaches is that nothing is free. If you want something, you earn it. Money follows work, and work is every kid’s responsibility. They raised money by selling hot dogs and soda to people who didn’t want fare of the day. They made hand-made quilts (actually their moms made it). They made stick horses to auction – which are actually a better investment than regular horses because they don’t need shoes, visits from the vet, feed, truck and trailers, and you don’t have to muck up after them. They hosted carnival games.

“We cannot thank the community enough for their continued support,” said Kessler.

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