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Tony Vagneur: Self-isolated by design

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 ajv@sopris.net.

The odyssey of skinning

There it was, the “You are 3/4 of the way down” sign, which meant I was only 1/4 of the way up. The body charts the shortest distance between two points and the mind wanders. I was skinning up Snowmass to chase off a low-grade case of coronavirus blues. The sun was working. I was energized to go somewhere during this time when there is nowhere to go.

Recreational uphill skiing shouldn’t be competitive, but no sooner had I parked than did I start sizing up the guy a few spaces away clipping his skins onto his skis. I didn’t want to start at the same time, but if it was to be I would have nodded my head, smiled, and put the hammer down. I moved with haste as he putzed around his tailgate, my head up, looking for another skier ahead that I might chase down.

The distance sign marked a good place for a swig of water. The strategic plan came a split second before realizing I forgot my backpack in the car with water, snacks, and a warm fleece to slip on at the top.

My absentmindedness must have been a case of nerves. It’s not the nerves of a game. It’s the kind you get when you are about to challenge your body and mind. It’s the battle of will to overcome thoughts of quitting when fatigue becomes pain. It’s why I used to get nervous at the start of mountain bike races I had zero chance of winning. It’s the anticipation of suffering.

I recalled a 10K run that some college friends provoked me into by insisting ballplayers are fat and out of shape. The morning of the race I missed my ride to the start. They thought I had chickened out. I didn’t have a car so I ran the 5 miles to the venue. I got there as the pistol fired and chased down my buddies. Afterwards, I sensed their humiliation. To add salt to the wound, I took off jogging back to campus. As soon as their car was around the corner the adrenaline ebbed, I threw up and walked.

Then there was the run I went to watch and got talked into doing. Something got screwed up in my last-second registration and I ended up getting 2nd place in the women’s over-50 category. The problem was that I was only 45.

The clink-tisch, clink-tisch steps of skinning are mesmerizing. I was back in a 1970s springtime when my dad liked to lead us up Aspen Mountain. We threw our skis over our shoulders and walked up in ski boots. We had the place to ourselves. Nobody had skins. There were no mountaineering stores in Aspen, or anywhere else. Softball was the rage. The owner of Aspen Sports said he sold more baseball gloves than ski boots. In Aspen!

Hot spots started erupting on my heels. It was during the Power of Four ski mountaineering race my teammate and I came up with the term “mole-skinning” to get us through the slog up Midnight Mine Road. Laughing didn’t help us go faster, but it bolstered our endurance.

I got to the halfway sign. Like halftime in a football game, it was time to re-evaluate. I hadn’t skinned up anything since last spring, but felt better than expected. No reason to change the game plan. I could have used some water, but since it was in the car, I reverted back to the advice our football coach gave us — “It gives you cramps,” I could almost hear. “Now, get out there and finish strong!”

I realized you can race somebody who skinned up the route the day before. My pole plants were landing in the marks somebody made yesterday. I sped up and saw that the distance between mine grew and I wasn’t in sync with that unknown skinner anymore. I slowed down and my plants fell behind. It makes perfect simple sense. That’s why I’m convinced it’s a great discovery.

I saw large tracks on the side of the trail. They looked like a big cat’s. I thought about surfing and how sharks see us at the surface splashing and moving slowly and think we are distressed fish. It makes them hungry. I tried not to let fatigue make me appear clumsy as I glanced sideways into Burnt Mountain’s dark woods within a paw’s reach to my left.

I made it to the 4th quarter. Clouds covered the sun. The wind picked up. It’s creepy when you are alone and tired out there, makes you feel the stern lessons wind and cold teach in the mountains that they practice on the seas. It became all about gutting it out, keeping a level head. It is a habit to think I can see the end and go too hard. It’s a mirage in spindrift. The false summit looms. I want to keep my head down and not look, but my weight shifts forward and the skins protest by slipping backwards. I’d quit if I had no pride. Then it’s over. Time to ski back down. Unfortunately, this takes little thought and no time at all.

Roger Marolt will never love skinning, but he certainly appreciates it. Email at roger@maroltllp.com.

Keeping distance without being distant

A few months ago, I wrote a column about an incident when a lion killed a deer in my neighbor’s backyard.

It was a gruesome scene, especially for those who witnessed it. There was a big bomb hole in the snow where the kill occurred and an eerie blood-stained path that demarcated where the lion dragged the deer carcass down into the gully next to our driveway.

It was disturbing to be sure, but what was even more frightening was the way it divided our neighborhood: those who wanted the lion dead or at least relocated, and those who felt that if you aren’t comfortable coexisting with wild, predatory animals, then you should move somewhere else. In fact, one neighbor used those words verbatim. Let’s just say it got a little nasty; it did not bring out the best in people.

I bet no one is worried about that damn lion now. If anything, we are grateful to have trails right above our neighborhood where we can get out and walk without seeing anyone, whether we are being stalked by a lion or not.

I also am reminded of how we felt during the Lake Christine Fire last summer. The danger felt imminent and never-ending. I remember thinking I could not live in a state of fight-flight for days on end, my body coursing with adrenaline. Levi was only 2 years old then. I was terrified we’d be evacuated in the middle of the night, the flames biting at our heels like a pit of alligators. But I did not have to go any farther than Aspen to escape it. We also had two people we could blame it on and direct our anger toward.

With every passing day in this current crisis, the belt gets tightened another notch, limiting the reach and scope of our daily lives. Just when you think it can’t get any worse, it does. It is by far the most terrifying event I’ve witnessed in my lifetime. But what freaks me out more than anything is the rampant fear and the bizarre and frightening ways it makes people behave, especially toward each other.

The most important thing we can do, I think, other than taking this thing seriously and following all the protocol that has come down the pipe, is to maintain some perspective and try to be kind and compassionate.

I’m afraid that’s easier said than done.

The other day I was out for a walk with my family on a quiet trail near the Roaring Fork River at Crown Mountain Park. We were making our way across a network of little foot bridges in the marsh when an older couple approached.

“Please grab your dogs,” the woman yelled, her voice so shrill with fear it was verging on panic. She held her own dog close. “We are practicing social distancing.”

“Um, OK,” I said, doing my best to wrangle my fat little dogs who were prancing around the brush and snorting loudly, more like pigs with wings, the kind of creatures you’d find in a fairy tale.

“Sure, not a problem,” I said, doing my best to maintain an even tone. My mind was spinning. Our dogs can’t spread the virus. Running around after them was only making the situation more chaotic and closing the distance between us. Had she just walked by briskly, we would have been well out of each other’s way. I managed to grab one pug and then searched for a place to stand aside, at a distance, so they could pass by. I awkwardly pushed through the thick brush with this fat dog in my arms, stumbling a little bit.

“We have a very high-risk situation here,” she said, gesturing to the man I presumed to be her husband, her voice tight.

The man gave me a friendly smile as he passed. “So sorry about that,” he said, his tone congenial. He looked a little embarrassed.

I felt my throat get tight and almost lost it. I was this-close to bursting into tears right then, for all of it. Instead, I took a deep breath and pushed on. If there’s one thing we can do for our kids, especially our young children, it’s to maintain some degree of normalcy and positivity. Falling apart is not really an option. My 4-year-old understands “the sickness” is the reason his school and many of his favorite places are closed and he can’t see any of his friends, but he has no idea what’s going on. His ignorance is my bliss at this point.

I don’t know why this particular incident triggered me, but I think it has to do with that baseline fear that has ripped through our world like the rumblings of an earthquake. It’s somewhere deep, thundering through the core of our beings like a runaway train, vibrating and shaking and rattling our bones, threatening to shake loose everything around us. Sometimes it feels like the sky is falling, though I’m not quite sure why you need toilet paper for that.

The worst part is the suspicion I can feel brewing between us, creating an unfamiliar tension in my otherwise friendly, caring community where I have only known openness and warmth.

Don’t misunderstand me: precautions like social distancing and staying home should be taken seriously. Without testing, adequate medical supplies, or leadership from an infuriatingly incompetent, (borderline criminal) federal government, this is a terrifying time. But I wonder if the damage fear is wreaking on our psyches is far worse than any sickness this virus can cause.

Keep the prescribed distance of 6 feet but you can still smile and say hello. We are all in this together. The Lake Christine Fire eventually burned out. The lion moved on to other territory, at least in our minds.

This too shall pass. Hang in there and be kind.

The Princess is working out more at home than she ever did before. Email your favorite stay home activity to alisonmargo@gmail.com.

Trump, not coronavirus, is our worst enemy

I had another column entirely in mind when I sat down to write this week.

But our country’s pathetic, disorganized and deadly reaction to the ongoing global pandemic changed my mind, and here’s why.

This horrible lack of adequate response was predictable and, in fact, inevitable, mostly because President Donald Trump has done everything he could to destroy our government in general and our pandemic-response capabilities specifically.

As of Monday morning, according to various sources, the number of confirmed infection cases in the U.S. was in the mid-30,000s, and the number of deaths in this country from the virus was heading toward 500. And we still are horrendously short in coronavirus testing compared with other countries around the world, so we really have no idea how many people have been exposed.

A few weeks ago, our president was telling us that the novel coronavirus was “not a big deal” and falling back on his longtime position that everything is the media’s fault, and that the media was overemphasizing the pandemic.

Now, he’s claiming he’s a “wartime president” and that “no president has ever done better” in helping the nation make it through the coming weeks or months of a virtual lockdown of people, businesses and governmental agencies.

At the same time, state governors have concluded that, with Trump in charge, our federal government is all but useless in actually dealing with the pandemic, at least for now, and have taken over the helm of the virus-response effort.

Of course, anyone who had been paying attention to Trump’s dismantling of huge parts of the federal government in his three-and-a-half years in office was well aware that the country was disastrously unprepared to deal with any kind of global health crisis.

This preparedness deficit exists partly because Trump has massively defunded the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and has completely wiped out the federal pandemic response team that had been carefully put together by the administration of President Barack Obama — an action Trump took primarily because, well, because Obama did it, and he can’t stand to have anything going on that can be attributed to Obama, regardless of how shortsighted or idiotic that attitude might be.

Which made it even more ludicrous for him to declare, at a recent news briefing on all the “wonderful” and “beautiful” things his administration has done to safeguard the U.S. population, that “no one had any idea this would happen.”

In fact, although it got scant mention in the news stories about last week’s press briefing, the Obama administration specifically arranged, while Trump was still president-elect and had not taken office, to provide Trump with a briefing about the need for a standing pandemic response team.

The briefing, according to several reports, included specific cautionary discussions about a viral pandemic that eerily presaged exactly what the world is going through right now.

The worst part of this tale, unfortunately, is the reaction by the Trumpsters. According to the news stories, when Obama staffers went in to clear up the clutter after the briefing, they found the material they had prepared for the Trump transition team, neatly gathered in binder folders, dumped into trash cans around the room.

As pointed out in an article on the Vox news site, our nation’s response to pandemic outbreaks had been handled pretty well in the past (pre-Trump), most recently with H1N1 and Zika, leading to a high level of surprise and disgust among experts watching the Trump administration completely fumble the U.S. response to the coronavirus.

But under Trump and his one-time national security adviser, John Bolton, in 2018, the administration began firing key leaders of Obama’s National Security Council’s Directorate for Global Health Security and Biodefense, set up by Obama following the 2014-16 Ebola outbreak. The directorate, itself, was dismantled and never replaced.

And the likelihood of global pandemics undermining the nation’s and the world’s economy was known, and publicized, long before that. The Atlantic online magazine (theatlantic.com) reminded us last week that in 2012, the Rand Corporation surveyed the array of international threats that could affect the U.S., and concluded that pandemics were the chief danger “capable of destroying America’s way of life.”

In 2018, the 100th anniversary of the flu pandemic of 1918 that killed more than 50 million worldwide, we were warned again when health experts here and abroad served notice that we should expect pandemics to increase in severity and frequency in the coming years.

So for Trump to say no one knew this was coming is a complete lie, a fabrication intended to salve his insecurities and blind the public to the fact that his incompetence, and that of those around him, are directly resulting in the deaths of U.S. citizens.

Some might say I’m unfairly badgering our president, who is just trying to do the best he can in a difficult world.

But I say that incompetence, in the form of presidential misconduct and mismanagement, is something that matter deeply to all of us.

And as much as Trump, his supporters, his administration and his “base” would like us to forget his duplicity and lies, well, that is just the point.

We must not forget. We must remember and we must vote him out of office in November, if only to get this country back on its feet and moving toward recovery from what I am now calling “the novel Trumpism virus.”

Email at jbcolson51@gmail.com.

Andersen: ‘May you live in interesting times …’

This expression stems from a Chinese curse implying that life is better in “uninteresting times,” those all-too-rare intervals of peace and tranquility thinly sandwiched between the norms of violence and social upheavals.

Today’s “interesting times” are unprecedented as old ways fail to meet new challenges. As monolithic, centralized markets collapse, it is time to reconsider localized, divergent economies based on local productivity and resources. As social distancing warrants, it is time to reconsider enriching our lives right here at home.

Fear and dread are stalking our communities, and unless you’re immune to both public sentiment and COVID-19, the mood of foreboding is palpable. So we dutifully self-quarantine, we social distance at 6 feet apart, we avoid public gatherings of 10 or more, we wash our hands.

Washing one’s hands has never been more preoccupying than it is today. The flow of warm water, the smell of soap and sanitizers, the act of cleansing — these will be among the things we carry from this pandemic.

Some argue that coronavirus is fake news … or media hype … or a plot by evil liberals to undermine Donald Trump’s presidency. Some pass it off as a mere annoyance.

“Truth is what becomes undeniable,” writes Robert Crichton in his novel, “The Secret of Santa Vittoria.” The emergent truths we are facing every day are undeniable as we restructure social relationships and rethink cultural mores.

I’m reading Crichton’s novel as a diversion from a lack of videos because the library is closed. That’s a necessary blessing because his book is far more gratifying than many of the videos we have watched in the passive stupor called entertainment.

I’m revisiting Goethe’s autobiography for an insight into the life of an amazing man. To test my mental acuity, I’m reading Bertrand Russell’s “Problems With Philosophy,” where abstractions are equally comforting and perplexing.

I think about these perplexions (a word I just coined) while swinging the double-sided ax to split the last of my firewood for the season, or pitchforking my recently thawed garden beds and mixing in the mulch left by the voles that undermined our lawns under the winter snowpack. (I grudgingly respect those diligent, burrowing critters.)

I chew on the raw material of concepts and ideas and then rebound to the present by gazing out across the quiet valley with the river murmuring below and the mountain ridges sweeping the sky.

I’ve been working for years in the easy comfort of my home office up the Fryingpan Valley. Even after the virus abates, which it will, so many are now working from home that the working world is becoming comfortably adjusted to the pleasantness and convenience of short commutes in PJs and bedroom slippers.

From my office window, I watch the limbs of a pinon pine waver in the breeze, the grasses sway, birds flit and bunnies hop and play. I watch the deer pass by, perhaps a fox, a mating pair of ravens frolicking in midday acrobatics. As I write this, I’m watching a thick and growing blanket of snow soften everything.

The visible natural world is unchanged, but the human world is forever changed. How humbling is this global crisis which fixes our minds on the most elemental needs as listed by Maslow: food, clothing, air, shelter, safety, love/belonging, self-esteem and self-actualization.

I’m keeping track of these “interesting times” through the virtual window of my computer — if I decide to spectate at all. Sometimes, I’m eager to know because of a prodding and occasional morbid curiosity. Other times, I want distance and detachment because my mood is delicate and requires respite from the chaos that is boiling up everywhere.

I’m self-isolated, self-quarantined and self-sufficient, for as long as the larder is full. And I’m gnawingly self-focused on the slightest tickle in my throat, the faintest feeling of a fever. Is it me, or is this room hot? We’re all hypersensitive to “symptoms” under the dread fear of becoming ill. Not me.

I tell myself, I’m fine. Just stay put. Conserve. Simplify. Monitor the world. Keep a distance. Live through these interesting times and reflect on them later — long after they are listed as bullet points in some future, retrospective newspaper column.

Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays. He may be reached at andersen@rof.net.

Scott Bayens: We have no choice but to persevere

In late February, as reports from China regarding the spread of COVID-19 were being widely reported but largely ignored (including by me), my wife got a call she had been dreading but wasn’t a surprise. Her father had died after a long illness. We headed back to Tennessee, participated in the memorial and provided support to my mother and sister-in-law and our niece. We did some crying of our own too.

When we finally came home, the real impact of the coronavirus was beginning to rear its ugly head, both in terms of new cases in the U.S. as well as in the financial markets. From my wife’s perspective, the timing could not be worse. She had not been focused on the emerging crisis and although I was following the news, I didn’t share my concerns knowing it would be too much for her to process.

When it all did come to light for her, she lamented over the distraction it would cause. After all, it was stressful enough, a lot to process, and, I would guess, she was worried she might lose sight of the memory of her recently departed dad, her ability to honor him and heal herself.

Ironically, as we all scrambled for the last roll of toilet paper, we continued to head to school, work and the slopes. Talk was it could miss us here in the mountains, and by sheer will, like waking up from a bad dream, it would all go away. What a difference a couple of weeks make, and slowly (perhaps too slowly), the scope and seriousness of the disease took hold.

Now — even as schools, bars, restaurants and even campgrounds are closing — we all see the storm on the horizon but honestly don’t know how much damage this approaching “hurricane” will cause and what might be left in its wake. Mother nature (some might say God) is in charge now; not us. Even before “landfall,” we can already see the devastating effects to our local businesses, our workforce, our health and way of life.

The question is how do we process it all? For some, it’s denial. For others, it’s pure panic. And for the self-enlightened, it’s a time of quiet contemplation and opportunity to see something greater; to open our eyes to what’s really important. But there’s no denying the reality of it all has come into focus for most of us. Yet others seem to be coping by attempting the approach of business as usual.

After seeing advertisements and social media posts this week touting low interest rates and opportunities for buyers, I would suggest this is not the time for self-promotion. Forgive me for perhaps misinterpreting a “damn the torpedoes; full speed ahead” approach, but I do think we all need to pull back a bit, be respectful and practice some sensitivity now.

And as this is a real estate column, I will say speculation about the local and national markets run rampant, similar to every other business and sector. I’ve read articles that indicate everything from doom and gloom to one that suggested the housing market might just help us dodge the coming recession. Regardless, it’s going to take a big hit. Even so, buying and selling will go on; relocation, birth, death and divorce all require a change of abode, but specific to luxury markets, no one ever needs to buy a second home. The real outcome all remains to be seen.

Meantime, might I suggest this is a time to embrace each other (virtually of course), tap into our community, support local businesses and be mindful of those in need. We’re all going to have to rely on each other to get through these uncertain times. As people in my life have recently reminded me, we might not have control of this situation, but we do have control of ourselves, how we react and what we ultimately do.

My dear friend and founder of Aspen Success Coaching, Jeff Patterson, puts it this way, “There’s fear, there’s chaos but you still get to decide who you want to be in this moment. How do I want to show up for my family, who do I want to be at work? You can shift your focus and intention on a dime; you are in control of that.” For some that might be spiritual mumbo jumbo, and it’s hard to implement, but powerful if you can get your mind around it and put it into practice.

Thinking of my wife again and the process of mourning her dad, she told me last week, “there’s something missing”; gone now the simple comfort of knowing he was just a phone call away, there if she needed him. I think it’s safe to say there’s something missing for all of us now — certainly, control, prosperity, peace and safety, to name a few.

After a recent outing with the dogs, McLean found some relief and commented she’s seeing things more clearly, paying more attention to what’s important and transformed by loss. I’m proud of her and, like her, we all need to work our way through, adjust our thinking, realize what we have to be thankful for and, yes, persevere.

Scott Bayens (GRI, ABR, CNE) is a Realtor with Aspen Snowmass Sotheby’s International Realty. Learn more by visiting his website at www.aspendreamhome.com.

Tony Vagneur: When animal eyes don’t blink

The pup is at it again tonight. Growling, barking and snarling under his breath, inside the house. There’s something out there, something he doesn’t like. Last night he was outside on the deck and his warning was heard loud and clear by my partner, Margaret, on the other end of the phone.

He’s a new pup, border collie, about 3 months old, and I’ve been walking him several miles a day, trying to keep the edge off. He’s too young to go much farther and playing with his friend, Dot, an energized female border collie, is much better exercise when we can swing it.

We take a long morning walk after breakfast and another late afternoon, after we feed the horses. Around 9 p.m. we take a final spin up the long driveway, to settle him down a bit before he kennels up for the night. It was last night after dark when things got strange.

Barking dogs don’t usually alert my adrenaline system, so we took off around 9:30, pitch black out, and I had my trusty headlamp on. Weak batteries, but giving off enough light to see the reflection of the horse’s eyes in the corral as we passed by, and to keep us from wandering off the road the rest of the way.

As we neared the top of the drive, there was the clear sound of animal movement, followed by the reflection of its eyes across the road, as it maneuvered and hunkered down behind some tall sagebrush. Must be a deer, I thought, and we continued up the lane, expecting it to take off as we got closer. Nope, it didn’t take off.

Instead, as we got closer, whatever it was took a couple of steps toward us. It was deep in the sage, and all I could see, given the weak headlamp, was the unwavering reflection of the eyes. Those big, greenish-yellow eyes were fixed on us; unmoving, unblinking and, at some point, it seemed best to stop.

You hear it all around ­­— the bears aren’t out, it’s too early, bears don’t come out of hibernation this time of year. Until someone’s trash gets scattered or one walks in front of you. Then, it’s like, “Oh yeah, maybe they’re out.”

It wasn’t a bear though, I’m fairly sure. Bears don’t come out this early. Besides, my dog and me, sporting a glowing headlamp, would have scared a bear away a long time prior. Plus, the width of the eyes didn’t seem right for that. Maybe it was Ol’ Grizz, coming down from Wyoming.

Occasionally, we do see mountain lion tracks around here and the rumor from Colorado Parks and Wildlife is that the puma population is on the increase, posing a potential problem for people and their pets.

Where do you draw the line? How far did I want to go in the direction of the seemingly unmoving eyes? For me, it wasn’t really a question; I was ready to challenge the beast, but the pup, 3 months old, wouldn’t stand much of a chance and I was worried for his safety.

“Come on, Tux, let’s turn it around here.” He hadn’t figured out yet that there was something hiding in the bush. And whatever was hiding in there didn’t know that we could see the reflection of its eyes.

Walking away from something like that can be a little unnerving. Turning your back on what might be a dangerous predator may not be smart, but I sure as hell wasn’t going to walk backward down a steep driveway in the dark, trying to keep from tripping over my dog at the same time.

Turning one’s back might be just enough arrogance to protect yourself — I see horses and cows (and coyotes and foxes) do it sometimes, like them saying, “Screw you, we ain’t playing by your rules today.” Besides, I figured I’d hear a last-minute scurf of paw against gravel as the attack sprang to fruition, maybe giving me time to respond. How quick would I be after that last sound, who knows? If a cougar gets hold of your neck on its first pounce, there’s probably not going to be a chance for you to talk about it later.

You could do a lot of things the next day, like look for tracks, scat or for hair scraped off on the sagebrush. You could, but I didn’t. It well might have been anything spying on us, and maybe it’s better to keep the mystery. We still take our walks on those dark nights, waiting for the full moon to reappear.

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at ajv@sopris.net.

Roger Marolt: The only thing worth this tremendous cost is life

If I survive this coronavirus, I understand that I will have an incredible debt to pay back to society. It is already evident. There will be innumerable people to thank; everyone, really. Immense sacrifices will have been made. Of course, there is no way I will ever be able to pay back everyone who has played a part in keeping me breathing, but I swear to you that I will spend the rest of my life trying. This will make me a better person. I’ll see to that.

But, let me start with this presumption: I don’t think this thing is going to kill me. Hopefully I won’t even get it. I am practicing social distancing. I am healthy. I eat well. I don’t drink too much. I get plenty of rest. I exercise regularly and finally, after five decades of experimenting with things like power lifting, ultra-endurance events, and youthful years literally jumping off cliffs with skis on my feet, I think I have finally figured out what is truly good for my body. Yes, it includes yoga. Better late than never. I will even go so far as to say that, even though I am in one of the higher risk groups for contracting a lethal case of COVID-19 according to my chronological age, mentally I’m still 30 so, like an ostrich believing he is flying backward through time, the days on the calendar are the grains of sand I bury my head under.

I also understand clearly that all this feel-good self-evaluation of my current state of being is no vaccine. Something is going to kill me and in the dawn of each of the 21,176 days I have lived, the odds steadily increase of me bumping into that cause around the next corner. I am not worried about this fact, but I am aware. It keeps me honest, at least more and more frequently. I never imagined the scope of this pandemic. I will likely be equally surprised when my personal mortality presents itself indisputably.

Some have asked if creating panic, serious inconvenience, and a global economic recession resulting in hundreds of millions of people being unemployed and trillions of dollars in savings and retirement accounts being wiped out in the tumbling stock markets is worth the price of standing in the way of this virus running its natural course. We can actuarily assign a price to every life, right? It’s as simple as putting pencil to paper. Is the sum of those lives we might be able to save worth this tremendous cost? We’re all going to die someday anyway, right? Is all the suffering and hardship that comes with social isolation worth what we are enduring now?

This equation is simpler to solve than it may initially appear. I think few would argue that the personal portion of this great burden that we individually must bear is not worth the possibility of preserving of our own lives or those of others we love. If that is true for every individual then it is certainly true for the whole of humanity. If we can afford ourselves the affirmative evaluation of this personal trade-off, we must allow it for all others, too. In the end, if we are so lucky to be alive and nobody close to us dies, then we can say unequivocally that whatever cost it was to us was worth it. Only those who unfortunately do lose a dear friend or relative in this battle will have a claim that the effort was a waste. They are the ones who will wish we would have done more. Even still, in their mournful regret, they will at least be able to say they tried.

It’s not all bad, either. We are finding out that there are lots of things and distractions in our regular lives that we don’t need. We are forced to move now and are cleaning out the closets with conviction. There is junk in there that is completely useless but that has been laying around so long in the corners that we stopped seeing it and accepted tripping over it every day was just the way things are. We dig it out, lift it up, and heave it into the dumpster and suddenly see how much room has been freed up. We also rediscover treasures that we knew were there but had long been neglected. Family, friends; it’s easy to forget how valuable these are. They shine more brightly than ever.

So, once we get to the other side of this, I promise that I will be a changed person. I will be a better person, more appreciative, less harsh. I will recognize that a natural force with the potential to destroy can, with us properly addressing it and treating it with respect, have the power to transform civilization for the better. After things have settled down, how will I ever be able to look at this world and the game of life as an us versus them proposition, experiencing that it is actually the ultimate team sport, that it takes all of us to win.

Roger Marolt is hunkered down in the darkness and looking up at the bright spots that prove the sky is not falling. Email at roger@maroltllp.com.

Turning quarantine into quality time

This morning as we were laying around in bed, Levi pulled the covers over our heads to make a tent. He wanted to tell stories. The premise was, “What did you dream about last night?”

We were both making stuff up, but I didn’t really care. I loved just being able to stare at his face up close, to take in those big blue eyes, so round and wide set they’re almost cartoonish, his mouth full of those funny looking baby teeth with spaces between them, all jagged and pointy. I love the way he scrunches up his nose when he laughs. I didn’t even bother to try to stop him from saying “poop” because he thinks it’s the funniest thing in the world and hearing him laugh is all I need right now.

When it hit me that I was staring down the barrel of weeks on end without child care, I thought I should organize some kind of schedule for us both. I reached out to his preschool to ask about educational play. I perused Pintrest for arts and crafts projects and talked to friends for suggestions.

“There’s a bad sickness going around, so your school is closed for a little while,” I told him. “Instead, we’re going to have Mommy and Levi school at home.”

“I don’t want school at home,” he said, without skipping a beat.

“Why not?” I asked, trying to suppress a reaction.

“Because there are no other kids.”

It never ceases to amaze me; the honest lens through which kids see the world. Their reality is so much simpler than ours. That was when I realized I’d be learning a lot from him over these next few weeks, too.

If you are anything like me, you’ve been paranoid for days. Your throat feels raw. Your chest feels tight. You feel your forehead to see if it’s hot, then remember you’re not supposed to touch your face. So then you have to take your temperature again, just to be sure. You ingest 50 times the recommended dosage of vitamin C and zinc. You go back to the supermarket 10 times to buy things you probably won’t need, even though you’re pissed off at people who are hoarding and the supermarket is probably the worst place to be right now. Instead of buying your normal grocery list of fresh produce and organic meat, you scrounge for the last scraps of dry goods and fill your cupboards with precisely those things you normally try to eliminate from your diet.

Fear makes people do crazy things (don’t get me started on the whole toilet paper thing). But before I go too deep back into Negativity Land, let’s talk about ways we can put a positive spin on this, especially since it’s our new reality and it’s not going to change anytime soon.

After two days of Levi and Mommy Adventure School, it became quickly apparent that a schedule wouldn’t do us much good. This time is about freedom, not structure. That’s a good thing. That’s a great thing. It might be a once-in-a-lifetime thing.

There are other positives to this otherwise scary time in our lives.

A friend of my once said, “What’s good for your dog is good for you.” I’ll tell you this: your dogs are loving this program. They get to be with you all day! They get to go on long walks every day, sometimes twice a day! They get to be with their people, and that’s all that matters to them.

I know the prospect of not having child care is tough. But how many times have I heard someone say, “It goes by so fast; before you know it, they’re all grown up”? This time together is a rare opportunity, even a gift. We get to spend this time with our kids, our families, our loved ones, our closest friends and neighbors (I’m not encouraging social gatherings, just thinking about single kids in Aspen who are here to party and ski). This is uninterrupted time. This is quality time. Time for long walks outside, for lazy mornings in bed hiding under the covers, and talking about your dreams. Time to really study the face of your child, to notice a new freckle or a scratch. Time to prepare meals, to sit together at the table and to do projects.

I hear people say it’s hard to manage unstructured time with kids. How about this instead: Embrace it. What other time in your life can you wake up when you want, without having to rush off to school, work, activities, or to run errands? Our lives are so busy, we hardly have time to really talk to each other. Why send a text when a phone call could kill so much more time! See what I mean?

I realize these are trying times for people who are out of work but on the flip side, think of how much money you’re not spending by not going out, boozing, shopping or spending obscene chunks of change on your own self-care? I’m saving a lot more than I’m not earning. Plus, that’s what credit cards are for.

This is a time for the things that matter most. I know it’s uncomfortable, but try to relish it any way you can. Go outside at least once a day; fresh air and vitamin D are the best medicine you can get, empty shelves be damned. Lay in bed as long as you want. Cuddle your kids and pets. Tackle some of those long-neglected projects. Read. Meditate. Roll out your yoga mat.

Don’t worry about what to wear. Don’t worry about shaving or plucking or doing your hair. Leave your makeup in the drawer. Let your hair go wild. Sleep in. Bake bread. Do your taxes. Finish one thing you’ve been putting off.

The best news? You don’t need toilet paper for any of that.

The Princess has probably overdosed on vitamin C. Email your love to alisonmargo@gmail.com.

Meredith C. Carroll: The day(s) the music died

My dad revealed his prostate cancer diagnosis to my sister and me when he drove in from the suburbs to fetch us at our New York City apartments on Mother’s Day 1999. Cancer was something that only ever happened to other people, and just like that — poof! — we were other people. Sitting in the backseat looking out the window, I watched as the sky changed color.

On Sept. 11, 2001, I went running in Central Park and then to vote before work when I heard a few whispers that a plane had just flown into the Twin Towers. As I crossed the street to the polling center, I looked up and imagined a single-engine Cessna clipping a rooftop antenna. By the time I emerged again a few minutes later and started walking crosstown to the subway, an entirely novel stain blanketed the sky.

I woke up in a pitch-dark Las Vegas hotel room on Jan. 18, 2013, to a phone call that the 17-month-old son of one of my best friends had been found dead in his crib. Three-hundred and fifty-four days later, I fumbled with the straps on my 2-year-old’s car seat when a radiology nurse from Denver called my cellphone to confirm the biopsied cells from my right breast were, in fact, malignant. I don’t remember the sky on either of those days, although I suppose it was still up there anyway.

Each occasion shared a distinctive before and after: Before bearing the anguish of an actual nightmare coming to life, and then trying to move on after, even while knowing better, and bitterly, what is possible.

What may make the COVID-19 pandemic more sinister than alarming is how the before and after has been unraveling in slow-motion, and while we have control over ourselves, what we can’t control is one another. A clear path has been drawn that exactly illustrates best healthy practices. Unfortunately, though, it’s a narrow road with room for little else: If you choose to stay alive and also not infect others, your route may necessarily include going hungry, broke, bored, blue or bonkers (or all of the above).

Instead of the here and now being mercifully stolen from us without warning, we’re watching it disintegrate, even being forced to hand it off or flush it down ourselves. The hemorrhaging of happiness is palpable as the hours tick by and the cancellations keep pouring in. Paychecks, travel plans, ceremonies, reunions, appointments, errands, meetings, surgeries, milestones, celebrations, camps, school plays, dream vacations, memorials, gatherings, recitals, performances, graduations, conferences and life are all coming to a screeching halt in slow motion. And like staring at fresh, unopened food laying in a trash can, it all feels like a perfectly good waste.

It has become easy enough to feel hardened or involuntarily indifferent to the terror of drunk drivers, terminal illnesses, mass shootings, suicide bombers and even romaine lettuce poisonings. They’re so frequent, so far out of our control and often so random that when you’ve lived through enough of them, the news is less a surprise and more an inevitability.

This, on the other hand, feels like fighting against quicksand all while watching the surrounding solid ground get doused with poison. We are living and breathing the before as the after unfolds mysteriously and malevolently in front of our own eyes. Just like that — poof! — normal is gone, again.

We can spend sleepless nights sounding the alarms and shedding tears of worry about the falling skies. Or we can see that the sky is still intact; it just doesn’t look the same way as before. It never does.

More at MeredithCarroll.com and on Twitter @MCCarroll.