Guess what! It was 65 degrees Tuesday in Basalt.
The grass is green. Our lilacs are starting to bud. I went for a road bike ride. I wore flip-flops to yoga. I had that distinct spring stink of sweat on top of sweat baked in the sun — so bad it’s good.
Here’s the thing: We have this thing downvalley called spring. After living at a higher elevation for over 10 years, I’d almost forgotten it existed.
This is the time of year when I feel like I know some kind of special secret. Pssst, guess what. If you want more space, if you want better weather, if you want to be able to go out to eat without spending half your weekly paycheck, if you want to go to Whole Foods or get an oil change and still be able to ski X number of days a week, you can. It’s called Basalt.
I’ll admit it’s taken me almost two years to find my downvalley rhythm, to stop feeling like I’m missing out on something all the time. Part of that comes from the “grass is always greener” mentality that colors the minds of every spoiled child whose otherwise perfect, sheltered little life is tainted by wanting whatever it is he or she can’t have. And part of it comes from a very distinctly Aspen mentality, this whole I-don’t -drive-past-the-roundabout attitude that makes you feel like maybe you made a mistake.
Yes, it’s wonderful to never have to drive a car. It’s amazing to be able to walk everywhere, including from your front door to the gondola.
God knows I miss stumbling down Spring Street all blurry-eyed after an extended apres session at the Sky, more often than not stopping at City Market for a snack I normally wouldn’t indulge in, something involving bread or cheese. I’d go home and either nap or shower up and down a quick espresso so I could head out for Round 2. Though, truth be told, I never was a good power drinker, and that’s part of the reason we decided we’d probably survive without the whole drinking-all-day-and-all-night thing.
I struggled with leaving Aspen a lot more than Ryan did. He fell in love with the Fryingpan the second we got here and has announced, on more than one occasion, that he plans to die in this house. When we got our wood-burning stove installed (yes, you can still do that in Eagle County), he proclaimed, “Now that I have this stove, I never have to leave this house ever again.”
It was harder for me. Clearly, my community is in Aspen. Whenever I’d meet someone new in Basalt they’d say, “Do you have any kids?” And when I said “no,” their eyes would glaze over and their faces would start to crack with that frozen smile that said, “Oh well, then, I really have no use for you, then.”
It took me almost two years to realize moving to Basalt doesn’t mean leaving Aspen. What it means is that I’m fortunate enough to own a piece of paradise (and a river runs through it). So I have to drive my car along the river, past the bighorn sheep, a golden eagle or two soaring overhead. No one loves Highway 82, but there’s something about coming out of Snowmass Canyon when the curtain of red rock and scrub oak opens and the upper valley reveals itself, a stage of high peaks and ski slopes that’s kind of exciting every time.
I guess what I’m trying to say is, it’s OK to love it all. I can’t stand people who identify with one part of the valley and express disdain for the rest. It’s like, you know that saying — “I’m a citizen of the world”? How about being a citizen of the valley? That’s a pretty good start if you ask me.
Ultimately I came to this conclusion: Even if I achieved my dream of becoming a successful novelist, and someone bought my manuscript and optioned it for a movie and I finally saw that seven-figure paycheck, I still couldn’t afford a place in Aspen. And while affordable housing is a great option for people who make that lifestyle choice, I have a hard time wrapping my mind around the fact that it’s not really an option if it’s your only choice. There’s something oppressive in that for me, the idea of being pigeonholed financially and having no potential for upward mobility or financial gain in real estate, especially when everyone else around me is sitting on pay dirt.
But here’s the one thing I still struggle with: Why can’t Basalt be cool? Every day when I drive through this picture-perfect little downtown with its old brick buildings, its rivers and its insanely beautiful scenery, I’m perplexed by how empty it is, considering we’re sitting at the confluence of two mighty rivers in the heart of the valley surrounded by more wilderness than you could ever explore in one lifetime and we have Whole Foods, hello.
It’s like, where the hell is everybody?
I know Willits is booming, but shouldn’t that feed, not hinder, Basalt’s growth? I feel like we have those long-standing signature downtown Basalt businesses that easily could anchor some new ones; they just need to be cool — like a tapas bar, a gourmet pizza place, a microbrew tasting room or (God willing) a juice bar. That would breathe some life into the place. Isn’t this where all the locals live?
Maybe the hip factor will evolve over time, and maybe it won’t. But when it comes to quality of life, all I have to do is pedal my chubby ass up the banks of the Fryingpan River in late March to remember I’m exactly where I want to be.
The Princess has already started working on her tan. Email your love to firstname.lastname@example.org.