Gustafson: Now and again | AspenTimes.com

Gustafson: Now and again

Britta Gustafson
Guest column

When asked where I'm from, I often wonder what sort of reaction my answer will solicit.

The answer is "Here, Snowmass Village, born and raised." The follow-up question is frequently an up-toned "What was that like?" suggesting disbelief or perhaps pity for a perceived sheltered experience and maybe even just a hint of envy.

I squint, shrug and squeak, "Good?" nodding back as if to return the question.

What was it like? Well, I have no basis for comparison, so it was "good." Maybe like growing up in a vintage ski poster from Zermatt or Chamonix. Yes, it was pleasant, beautiful and teeming with community values and a sense of togetherness. Or maybe that's just how I want to remember it, as childhood memories can sometimes be part fantasy, especially for a dreamer like me.

At the time, everyone arriving here was getting a big piece of the pie. Developers and small-business startups alike were scoring, and so were those with all versions of American dreams. Even those arriving in an old green van with a dog, a cat and $50 in cash (the way my parents arrived in 1970) were able to settle in, hunker down and prosper. Imagine discovering this place: It must have felt like they had struck gold. The opportunities seemed endless.

It was removed from the rest of the world, was disconnected and required a journey. There were no social media to spread the word, no interstate highway, email or even fax machines — a Shangri-La for the lucky few to stumble upon.

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And it was an adventure living here. Even in the early '80s at the age of 5, I really did walk half a mile, through the snowy woods, my feet sinking to my hips with each step, as I made my way down a mountainside to the school bus.

Maybe because I had limited religious exposure, or maybe because I was so cold and exhausted when the Aspen public school bus arrived, I honestly believed for a few years that my white-bearded and balding bus driver, Gene, was God. I was sure of it.

So with God driving me to school, in his free time, and the world clearly revolving around me, as it does for most kids at that age, I would say I have fond but perhaps overly idealistic memories of my childhood here in Snowmass.

There was a real drive for self-made success, and the real motivation was that it did pay off. My parents had journeyed here, teaching us by example to work and play hard and to more or less expect good fortune, as it was here to be discovered.

Local legends circulate that the Ute once called Brush Creek "The Valley of the Lost Souls," because anyone who tries to leave is destined to return. It is hard to find many other towns that can compare to Snowmass' natural beauty, abundant culture, endless recreation and sense of community, not to mention all the impressive people who call this place home. I, too, found myself drawn back here. I want to raise my own family here, and I fantasize constantly about finding my own, probably quixotic, success story.

However, maybe because my own memories were part fantasy, I have found living here is not without its struggles.

The pie has been sliced, redistributed and in some cases devoured. Ambition rarely pays enough to buy a one-bedroom condo, and even with subsidized employee housing, thoughtfully provided by our Snowmass Village political founding fathers (and mothers), it can still be hard to root in.

Don't get me wrong — there is still a fantasy life to be had, but without my youthful blinders on, I can see that my kids will be shaped by a different kind of grit. Today's parents drive to the bus, leaving their SUVs with heated seats and DVD players to walk our kids right to the doorstep of the state-of-the-art school buses.

Many here are now so wildly successful that I sometimes feel in awe and other times inadequate. It is a culture of extreme now. Extreme nature, extreme adventure, culture, art, wealth, even parenting and philanthropy are taken to the extreme here.

But if I can find my niche and occupy it with another grain of fantasy, I will continue to be grateful to be here, to be from here and just to be allowed to smell the pie. And if I can somehow hang on, I look forward to watching my own kids discover what this landscape, community and culture have to offer. And yes, I can honestly say I thank God (at the very least for getting me to school on time).

Let's exchange a piece of my mind for a little peace of mind; after all, if we always agree what will we talk about? Britta Gustafson appreciates an open mind; share yours and email her at brittag@ymail.com.

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