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Aspen Princess: Wildfires have a way of reminding us how small we are

"Tell me you're not heading toward Sacramento," my mom said, her voice tight with concern.

"More like crawling toward Sacramento," I lamented. "We left San Francisco over two hours ago and have been in stop-and-go traffic the whole time. Who leaves for a 17-hour drive during rush hour?"

She told me there was a massive wildfire burning near Sacramento and insisted I call highway patrol to make sure the highway was open all the way through. I have to admit I did panic a little, knowing what can happen on major California Interstates when something goes wrong.

I was once stuck on this very road, Interstate 80, for two hours outside of Truckee when there was a major multi-vehicle accident, which is how accidents on these major highways go. It makes you think hard about things like mortality, luck and timing. You think, "What if I hadn't lost my keys and spent a half hour looking for them this morning?" You wonder if the time and place of your death really is somehow preordained. How else can you explain chance incidents like this one that randomly extinguish so many innocent lives, just like that?

I remember being struck by the way Californians take crises in stride, with most people out of their cars, sharing magazines, food and drinks. There were people reclining on the hoods of their cars as if it were a day at the beach and not a matter of being totally trapped and totally helpless for a very long period of time.

I would see this same nonchalance in the face of earthquakes, mudslides and yes, wildfires. In the years I spent living in San Diego, wildfires would happen every year during the Santa Ana winds, and no one really seemed to flinch.

"The 5 is a firewall, bro," they'd say, referring to Interstate 5, the major 12-lane freeway that is essentially the only way into or out of the area where I lived. They refer to all the highways that way, "the 405" and "the 101" as if they are living things, which they kind of are. Not only did I worry that these fires that would indeed jump right over the freeway, but that if anything catastrophic ever happened, that there would be no way out, which is what happened in Palisade.

The fire in Palisade makes the Lake Christine Fire look like a little, itty, bitty, teeny-tiny fire by comparison, and yet for us, it was huge and all-consuming. We were faced with what to pack in one bag (though truth be told our house looked like it had been robbed when I crammed all of our artwork, valuables and other mementos in the back of Ryan's truck in a total panic on the Fourth of July before we fled town, not even having been formally evacuated).

Still, it was enough to stick with me for weeks afterward. I would see the orange haze of a sunset and squint to make sure it wasn't a fire. Or morning fog would, to my mind, look like smoke. I had nightmares about fires and big airplanes flying too low and helicopters crashing into roads for a while, too. Though my husband will tell you I have a very intense dream life that tends to irrationally infect my psyche for days afterward. I think it has something to do with being creative and having open channels in the mind or some such thing. When I ask him what he dreamed about, he'll usually say, "Black." Apparently, his conscience is quite clear.

Once the temperatures dropped and news that the Lake Christine Fire was finally, totally out, I think we all began to move on with our lives, as people do. I remember when someone created the "Lake Christine Fire Forever Grateful" page on Facebook, I wondered, honestly, what they would post once the fire was out.

Sure enough, the last post (at least before the California fires broke out), was Oct. 8, with the announcement that the Lake Christine Fire was, at last, 100 percent contained.

But in the past couple of weeks, people have been posting there about the California fires with photos and stories and ways to help. "Memories of July all come flooding back when you hear of another community battling fire," wrote one page member. Another posted a link to a fundraising effort for a Roaring Fork Valley local living in Paradise who lost his home — so there's that.

The Camp Fire in Paradise burned 135,000 acres as of Wednesday morning, destroying 7,600 single-family homes and killing at least 48. The Lake Christine Fire burned 12,588 acres and no one was killed. Three homes were destroyed.

I remember having a conversation with a friend of mine who lives in Northern California during our fire and she had said as much, that our fire was relatively small. I was deeply offended. Our fire may not have been on the same scale as California wildfires, but it certainly was bigger than any wildfire I'd ever experienced. It was a mile from our home and for many of my friends, visible from their living room windows. And besides, who wants to have a "my fire is bigger than your fire" argument, anyway?

I think the conversations most of us are having around these fires has to do with the undeniable damage to our planet that we're witnessing in our lifetimes. Or that our exponentially growing population officially feels out of control and unmanageable, especially in a place like California where rush-hour traffic between San Francisco and Sacramento goes on for 200 miles.

It brings to the forefront our humanness, and the oh-so-painful reminder of how small we are in our existence, but also how much impact our actions have on a larger scale. It is a paradox that deserves more careful consideration. Maybe at the very least, these fires will unite us in that.

The Princess is feeling wistful today. Email your love to alisonmargo@gmail.com.

Remove political signage along highway

A consideration for future elections: that Pitkin County enforce and remove political signage, of all party affiliations, placed along Highway 82. In memory of Bugsy Barnard, famous for cutting down billboards in the

Valley, and Dwight Shellman, who along with Joe Edwards and Michael Kinsley, as Pitkin County commissioners, made billboards illegal in Pitkin County, I would hope that we could stand up for their legacy and remove all

political signage placed along Highway 82. These are essentially billboards and most prevalent near Twining Flats and the dump turnoff. Perhaps Pitkin County staff can coordinate with CDOT on a plan in advance of another

contentious election in 2020.

In a recent letter to the editor, Ann Mullins praised local firefighters and advocated for the property tax question. I would remind Ann that while local firefighters made a valiant stand at the El Jebel Mobile Home Park and in Missouri Heights to save homes, it was the federal fire management teams (particularly those under the leadership of Shane Greer and Team Black), hot shot and hand crews, slurry and helicopter pilots who saved Basalt,

El Jebel and the Frying Pan's collective bacon. As someone who has had a brother in the fire service and fire management for almost 25 years, I hope that we can always remember to thank these brave men and women who put their lives on the line in our service. We should thank and acknowledge them and pray for the men and women now on the fire lines on the horrific and deadly wildfires in California. We should also lobby our elected leaders, most especially the president and Congress, to acknowledge the impacts and severity of climate change on our planet and our country and to take meaningful steps to combat it or we should elect those who will.

Lisa Markalunas


Lift 1A plan brings corridor into 21st century

I would like to show my support for the Lift 1A ski corridor. I think between Gorsuch House and the Browns, they have done everything that was asked of them to come up with a complete and thoughtful plan for 1A.

As a local that was born and raised here, I recall riding the original Lift 1 single chair and wishing there would someday be a new chair there. Then came the double. Now I am looking forward to a chair that would bring 1A into the 21st century.

I love skiing the 1A side of the mountain; for me it has the best terrain. Aspen is a ski town, and when mining died there was nothing here. Thanks to some people who had a vision, Aspen was put on the map — one of the premier ski resorts in the world, and I have skied most all of them. Now we have people who have a vision for 1A and I look forward to seeing their vision come true. I would also love to see World Cup skiing return to Aspen

on a regular yearly stop, as I would hope City Council does. Let's not forget Aspen is a ski town.

David Stapleton


“Big River” a worthwhile performance

The Aspen Community Theatre did it again! Marisa Post, Rita Hunter, et al, rose to the challenge and presented "Big River" in all its glory. What a gift to see Broadway in Aspen.

The show continues Thursday and Friday nights with a matinee on Sunday. Go and enjoy.

Ruth Harrison


Get a bingo and win

Turkey bingo roll is back!

Aspen Elks Lodge #224, open to the public.

Saturday, Nov. 17, starting at 6 p.m.

Come play bingo and win a ham, turkey or steak.

Kitchen will be open, serving burgers, chicken sandwiches, etc.

Kelly Beal


Capitalism never sleeps

I noticed U.S. mail trucks out delivering on Veterans Day even though the Post Office was closed, and so I asked a postal employee why they were working on Veterans Day, a national holiday. Apparently, capitalist titan Amazon never sleeps and thus U.S. postal employees were tasked with delivering the many Amazon packages that now flood the world market.

Jeff Bezos' parents, members of the Aspen elite, should be proud of raising such a well-functioning (and well-clad) capitalist that knows that the lights are always on in the factories, shipping yards, purchasing sites and working-class kitchens.

Sean Elias

Glenwood Springs

Sean Beckwith: An illustrated debate

One of the best aspects of being a real comic book fan is the arguments they create. Who's the better detective: Batman or Dare Devil? (Batman.) Who's the better underwater hero: Namor the Sub-Mariner or Aquaman? (Trick question, they both suck.) If you had to pick one power, what would it be? (Spidey abilities or Wolverine's regeneration.) Marvel versus DC, who wins? (Marvel, unequivocally.)

You can be a fan of superheroes without having flipped through amazingly illustrated pages, but it certainly helps to have Comic Book Guy-level knowledge to back up your positions.

Some people have superhero fatigue due to the endless stream and popularity of the Marvel universe movies — and some DC flicks, most notably Batman. However, for those of us who grew up drawing Spider-Man and Wolverine in the margins of school notebooks, the theater takeover is worth reveling in.

It's a credit to the hard work of many in the field of comic books, but none more than the godfather, Stan Lee. While his legacy for Marvel Comics — and who created what — is complicated, the outpouring of love for Lee, who died Monday, is remarkable.

Instead of an ode to the man, like so many popping up on the internet, here's a hypothetical list of which Marvel heroes would ski or snowboard. In the spirit of an early opening to ski season and the culture of comic books created by Lee, it seems appropriate.


We'll start off easy because nothing says entitled skier better than entitled leader of the X-Men. Allegedly orphaned at an early age while living in Alaska, Scott Summers spent some time at an orphanage in Omaha, Nebraska, before being taken in by Professor X as a teenager and moving to upstate New York. Ski weekends in Vermont were definitely on the agenda.

Captain America

The WWII vet theoretically could've spent time with the 10th Mountain Division, and for the sake of this debate, I'm going to say he did. That and the fact that snowboards weren't invented yet means he's absolutely a skier.

Jean Grey

Skier. See: Summers, Scott, her longtime boyfriend and eventual husband.


Snowboarder. When people picture Peter Parker, they think nerdy outcast, which is accurate, but he skateboarded in "The Amazing Spider-Man" movies. Because he's my favorite superhero and I also snowboard, I'm just going to assume he's a snowboarder (and ignore how bad those movies were).


My affinity for Logan wants me to give him the same Spider-Man treatment, but he's incredibly old. Also, he doesn't get tired. That skillset, coupled with a short fuse, makes for a perfect backcountry skier, outscaling and skiing peaks in very remote areas.


Being from the South, some part of me thinks she's skied in jeans before.

Human Torch

Even though the Fantastic Four were left out of the MCU because Fox attained their rights and ran the quartet's spaceship into the ground, we do have a clip of Chris "Johnny Storm" Evans — before he was Captain America — snowboarding. It may be the only redeemable part of those movies solely because I can use it to make my point.

Black Widow

One can only assume the Russians included the biathlon as part of her training. I've made this point before, but the only logical reason to know how to cross-county ski and shoot targets is because you're an assassin, which she is.

Iron Man

Upper class and rich but with a rebellious streak? I can't separate Tony Stark from Robert Downey Jr. enough to picture him on a snowboard. Plus, a young RDJ definitely looks like the kind of guy who'd challenge Stan Darsh to a ski race.

Rapid fire to end it: Jubilee, talented Asian American gymnast from Cali, definitely snowboards; Storm too classy not to ski; Silver Surfer is already on a board; Gambit snowboards but not very well; Bruce Banner definitely skis, but "Hulk snowboards"; the acrobatic Beast snowboards; Mr. Fantastic and Invisible Woman ski; Elektra skis, preferably on her home continent of Europe; Venom — specifically Tom Hardy's iteration — snowboards; and Professor X probably skied before his accident but absolutely crushes adaptive skiing.

Enjoy the slopes and … EXCELSIOR!

The Lit Life is going biweekly after this week because Sean Beckwith will be writing another biweekly column with the esteemed Ben Welch for The Aspen Times Weekly. Reach Sean at sbeckwith@aspentimes.com.

Guest commentary: Colorado Mountain College gives gratitude, promise for future

In the recent midterm election, history was made. Aside from all the attention on national and statewide matters, Colorado Mountain College became the largest special district in the history of the state to successfully "de-Gallagherize" its revenue. By a margin of more than 2-to-1 (71 percent to 29 percent), every single community in CMC's six-county taxing district voted to support measure 7D. In a noteworthy parallel to CMC's founding, 53 years ago the citizens of our mountain communities voted to create Colorado Mountain College, also by a margin of 2-to-1.

To all of our residents and loyal supporters of Colorado Mountain College: Thank you. Thank you for taking the time to understand the very serious but unintended impacts of the Gallagher Amendment on rural Colorado. Thank you for supporting the financial health and viability of a college that, for more than 50 years, has been the only provider of first responders, firefighters, teachers, nurses and other professionals in our mountain communities. Most important, thank you for your confidence and faith in the college's board of trustees, leadership team, employees, faculty and students. Together, we are truly humbled and honored by your overwhelming support of initiative 7D.

To all of the fire districts and other special districts that successfully passed similar measures: Congratulations. Regardless of 7D and other locally driven initiatives, the Gallagher Amendment continues to threaten rural Colorado. By constantly and arbitrarily lowering revenue levels to local services, the Gallagher Amendment is weakening the very services that enable rural residents to enjoy a high quality of life no different than any other Coloradan.

If left unchecked, the Gallagher Amendment will continue to disproportionately tax commercial properties while diluting revenue from residential properties. Small and locally owned businesses are the lifeblood of mountain communities, and yet the Gallagher Amendment saddles them with a tax burden four times the level assessed for residential properties. This increases costs for our businesses while threatening essential services like fire, health care, infrastructure and education.

Our local legislators are aware of these issues and are prepared to address them. In 2018, Representatives Bob Rankin (R-Carbondale) and Dylan Roberts (D-Eagle) advanced several ideas to the Legislature. None got traction, but a legislative interim committee was formed — Rep. Rankin served on it — that studied the issues related to Gallagher and proposed a number of solutions. The future success of the ideas that came from that study committee is unknown, but one thing is certain: Until the Legislature acts on meaningful and comprehensive solutions to the Gallagher Amendment, our communities should expect to see more and more "de-Gallagherizing" initiatives like 7D, resulting in wide disparities in services throughout rural Colorado.

And, remember, de-Gallagherizing is a local fix; it is not a long-term or equitable solution for our state. Unless the new administration and general assembly get serious about the effects of Gallagher and work on a permanent fix, residential assessment rates will continue to slide toward zero. With all that is at stake in rural communities, inaction would be irresponsible, not to mention ignorant of voter intent where special districts were created with local support to fund essential services. We are one Colorado, not one where historic population and housing growth in one region of the state should bring harm to another.

Along with CMC's elected trustees, the hundreds of residents employed by CMC and the nearly 20,000 students who enroll in one of the college's 11 campuses every year, we cannot begin to express our gratitude to the cities and towns we all call home. 7D is not a blank check or an invitation to spend. It's the opposite, in fact, as it simply ensures that the college's future revenues will not be cut. 7D allows the college to fulfill the education and training needs of dozens of mountain resort communities and to meaningfully plan for the future without constantly worrying that the financial floor will fall out from under us.

Your overwhelming support of 7D made charting the college's next 50 years much more promising and purposeful. Thank you again. We will not let you down.

Carrie Besnette Hauser is president and CEO of Colorado Mountain College. She can be reached at cbhauser@coloradomtn.edu or @CMCPresident.

Aspen Thrift Shop announces grant recipients

Every month volunteers of the Aspen Thrift Shop meet to continue to accomplish our mission: to make grants to non-profit organizations in the Roaring Fork Valley. We are grateful to community members who continue to support our efforts by donating and purchasing gently used clothing and household items. For the month of November, we are pleased to announce the following recipients:

Alpine Legal Services

Aspen Institute: Bauhaus 100

Aspen Valley Ski & Snowboard Club (AVSC)


Growing Years Preschool

Marshall Direct Fund

Roaring Fork School Health Centers

Seniors Independent

Shining Stars Foundation

The Buddy Program

The Hope Center

Thunder River Theater Company

Valley Settlement

Respectfully submitted,

The Ladies of the Aspen Thrift Shop


Bears Ears monument deserves protection

I am adamant that the Bears Ears National Monument be restored, to the full breadth and width, given in 2016 by President Obama's Proclamation 9558 on Dec. 28, 2016.

Trumps proclamation 9681 on Dec. 4, 2017, has not been empowered by the Antiquities Act of 1906 or by section 320301 of Title 54, United States Code cited on page 58085, 4th paragraph, neither law gives the president the power to dissolve National Monuments.

The lawsuits, when fully heard, brought forward by the Sovereign Nations of the Ute Mountain Tribe, Navajo Nation, Uintah Ouray Tribes, Hopi Nation and Zuni tribes should put that point to rest.

These are also the tribes that put together the management plan for the Bears Ears Monument that is meant to protect their antiquities.

Five tribes, local citizens, state agencies and four federal agencies participated in a 6-year-long public process to discuss how to best manage this huge area that is full of fragile indigenous antiquities.

Then, in less than a year, with no more than a sophomoric rewrite of Obama's 9558 proclamation, Trump dissolved it. No discussions with the five tribes, local citizens, state agencies and four federal agencies that participated in the 6-years-long public process were held. Trump just cut the heart out of the local economy, ancient history and proper protections for our national treasure in the Bears Ears area with only four, weak WHEREAS's.

The premise put forward on page 85082 paragraph 3, that the area was not plotted as the smallest area that needed protecting, can only be said by someone who is unfamiliar with the richness of antiquities and vastness of the area.

Though it may be true that, according to the 1st WHEREAS on page 58085, the OBJECTS are protected, the sacred areas are not protected, unless under monument protection.

The 2nd WHEREAS postulates, with no proof, that this deletion is in the public interest. I would hypothesis the opposite, that the monument would preserve the antiquities treasure, improve the local economy, grant a more cohesive protection to the Bears Ears antiquities and preserve the trust of the tens of thousands of people that worked to make it a monument.

In summary:

The president does not have the authority to dissolve a monument.

The original monument is an appropriate size due to the richness it protects.

Even though the objects are protected in a mish mash-way, the areas are not protected, unless as a monument.

There was no public process with the 5 tribes or other agencies and stakeholders prior to the dissolution.

The trust with the people has been broken.

John Hoffman