Social distancing. That’s a weird conglomeration of words, almost an oxymoron, but not quite. Self-isolation could be construed as redundant, but I’m gonna let that one slide. Truthfully, I’m thankful someone finally put a description on how I’ve spent significant periods of my life. We didn’t use fancy terms like that, but we practiced the behavior, not because we were trying to avoid anything — it’s just the way it is if you’re a rancher.
No doubt I’ve mentioned this before, but starting at 12-years-old, my dad would haul me, a couple of horses, a tent, a week’s worth of food and various tools up to the high country. My tasks were either fixing fence, to keep cattle out of the dastardly and deadly larkspur plants, or packing salt to high ridges in an effort to keep cattle out of riparian areas. I loved it. Maybe a week in early June on the fence fixing, and then a week or two here and there, spaced out during the summer, packing salt.
Second homeowners have nothing on me. From that early age onward, my tent was my summer second home. If it wasn’t being used for work, then it was set up in the house yard, which became my room for the summer. Then, as I got older, that same tent would be set up high on Gobbler’s Knob in preparation for the hunters we took out in the fall. It took a day or two to get the camp set up and was usually a one-man job — mine. (One time, a bear came to call on Roy Holloway and me at that camp as we hunkered down for the night, but we heard him checking us out and sent him on his way.)
Back then, the mountains were relatively peaceful and weren’t disrupted by ATVs, dirt and mountain bikes, threatening all manner of species, not to mention the peace and quiet. As an adult I’d sometimes spend two or three weeks at a time, alone at our cow camp, moving cattle up to the high country along with the seasons. This was in the ’80s and ’90s. Hardly ever saw another person, and when I did, it was usually someone I knew.
That is what you might call self-isolation, or maybe self-imposed isolation would be a better term. The upshot is that I learned from an early age to spend time alone, and not only to be self-sufficient, but to enjoy it.
In town, as the winter storms approached through the 1950s and early ’60s, and cold and flu seasons arrived, my maternal grandmother and her sister’s antennae would be up, worrying over my siblings and me, quietly recounting the deadly Aspen flu epidemic of 1918. They lived through it. All those years later, it was still fresh in their minds, just like you know this virus pandemic will be for today’s younger folks years down the road.
You remember that Skico advertising slogan, “Uncrowded by Design”? People like to make fun of it, people who didn’t get it, but it always made sense to me. I mean, if you have four world-class ski areas within a few miles of each other, that pretty much allows for spreading the crowd out. Maybe not so much by design as happenstance, but it’s a little late to get technical.
Now we’re uncrowded by virus, by no one’s design, and it’s put a different aspect on how we view things. However, it could be a lot worse; this pandemic could have hit earlier in the winter, say around Christmas and maybe we’d still be closed. Remember Jim Blanning and the New Year’s Eve lockdown from a few years ago? That was brutal for a lot of businesses. We’re fortunate, we’re good, and we’re reasonably smart, but we’re not invulnerable.
One of my life-long friends, Albert Loushin (1951-2018), Deacon of the Catholic Church and a lift supervisor on Aspen Mountain for 45 years, had a different take on “Aspen: The Quiet Years”. He thought how fortunate it was that many of us grew up and lived here during what he referred to as the “Golden Years” of Aspen. Aspen was healing from the abundant mining scars left previous to the big “Silver Crash” of 1893. There was peace and tranquility in a town surrounded by a wilderness itself recovering from the rape of the land. Most memorable to him was the concept of neighbor helping neighbor.
Maybe we should take this time, this forced period of reflection, to reassess our priorities and goals. Perhaps more is not always better; maybe we need to measure success in ways other than the fatness of one’s wallet, which might mean fewer special events, tougher zoning change requirements and the list goes on.
Stay well, be safe and give your friends and neighbors a break.
Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at email@example.com.