Gustafson: The rhythm of our herd | AspenTimes.com

Gustafson: The rhythm of our herd

Britta Gustafson
Then Again

Driving along Owl Creek road this time of year is like falling into a painting. The hillsides are ablaze with a kaleidoscope of colors so vibrant they carry me off on golden waves of warm feelings and dreamy memories. The rich, red Glendale Ranch barn with its clean white trim beautifully compliments the deep blue sky while the setting sun, on its last nod to daylight, fires up the scattered clouds in a fleeting dance of hot pinks — a timeless, ageless scene. The mellow fields, soft and dry, are strewn with baled hay rolls and grazing horses. And that long, slow, straight road quaintly out of cell range allows even daily commuters to take it all in.

At its peak, autumn offers each leaf a final moment of glory before it falls, melting back into the earth, reminding us of how short its time was on this planet and of how fast the summer came and went. I can still see the spring-green buds unfurling in my mind. But now this season is the brilliant reminder of just how fleeting life truly is, and Mother Nature truly takes a mesmerizing final bow.

Recently on one of those picturesque evenings, I noticed as I have many times over the years, the cars pulling over one by one, lining the road as silent onlookers stopped to step out of their routines and observe the distant spectacle of migrating elk as they dominated the field across from the barn. Each car that passed seemed inspired to join the movement or follow the crowd. I guess the instinctual nature of herd mentality is often a matter of semantics. Still we could easily take it all for granted and carry on with our busy lives, but for some reason that night, the herd of people seemed to outnumber the elk.

With my kids in tow, we slowed to a crawling pace and rolled by with all the windows down. The haunting primal sounds of the bugling elk echoed over the field, and the faint breeze in the air carried it right to us.

It seemed possible that the respectful distance people kept while collectively enjoying a peaceful front row seat to this perfectly set show of nature was in concert with the season and with our visitor demographic at this time of year.

What I found most inspiring was the sound of human silence in such a crowd; the positive but still low-key energy embracing the oncoming offseason with it's more soothing pace.

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It was a beautiful thing, a spontaneous experience shared with strangers and neighbors alike that only happens this time of year; a subtle movement inspired by the things that have universal appeal — sunsets, wildlife, spectacular vistas, tranquility and respect for both nature and one another.

These fall moments help set the pace for our daily lives. They are our cue to begin to wind-down as we ease into the offseason. It's the intrinsic rhythm of our natural environment that becomes living in harmony with the unique tempo of a mountain resort.

Like the harvest cycles that define the pace of many cultures and have throughout history and across the globe, we reap our bounty through the peak winter months and have now adapted to also enjoy an additional crescendo through the course of our brief and gorgeous summer season.

Late fall allows us a break where for a few weeks we can enjoy typically mild weather. We can do our version of spring cleaning, preparing our lives for the fast pace ahead. We can catch up with neighbors and friends, finish upgrades, take care of self maintenance, stock up on supplies and, as my kids say, "calm the hubbub in our minds." Was also can stock up on the patience it takes to handle the literal and figurative storms of the season ahead.

Sometimes we indulge ourselves in the fantasies of an endless on-season with its inherent financial reward. And still I wonder how good it would really feel if that were to come to fruition. Would it be conducive to the lifestyles we have become accustomed? Would it disrupt the rhythm of our resort village and lives? Could we maintain that pace year-round, nonstop?

We are all products of our natural and cultural environments and have adapted to the rhythms of our communities. Our biological, sleep and seasonal cycles seem to keep us in balance. I wonder if we would lose that balance without our offseasons?

Undoubtedly certain business models are not made to sustain long droughts. However, perhaps the mistake is in the assumption of an ongoing steady stream. Harvest cycles have been a human model for thousands of years, and we still model much off of their influence.

Unlike the elk, most of us cannot uproot and follow the resources. The rhythm of our village, the high seasons and offseasons become a part of our experience, and the more time one lives in Snowmass the deeper that connection becomes. Our bodies and even our psyches adjust to that tempo and it becomes a part of us over time. How valued and almost sacred these precious offseason respites have become in our busy town and busy lives.

While the Earth and the human race often feel in tension with one another these days, it was a relief to experience a moment of harmony.

Perhaps here it is more than just the scenery that changes the mood on a crisp fall day. When a whirling gust collects a cluster of sparkling golden leaves and tosses them like celebratory confetti up against a bright blue sky, we too congratulate ourselves on another cycle and prepare for a short and quiet shift in the rhythm of our lives.

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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