For Aspen, somber day, a somber mood | AspenTimes.com

For Aspen, somber day, a somber mood

Chad Abraham
Aspen Times Staff Writer

A cloudy, cheerless atmosphere permeated Aspen yesterday as the town joined the nation in grieving the dead and remembering the heroes from a year ago.

Like the weather that included rain and sun, Aspenites looked back on September 11 with a mixture of sadness and smiles.

In many ways, it was simply another day in Aspen. The beep-beep-beep of delivery trucks was heard on the malls; a handful of people in the Red Onion were keeping an eye on the Dodgers game; late-season tourists focused cameras on Aspen Mountain.

“Just another day,” said RFTA driver Hans Holzer, picking up a few newspapers from the back of a bus at Rubey Park.

Passengers on his route up and down the valley didn’t seem much different, he said. As for himself, Holzer said he quickly tired of the media coverage.

“How often do you want to see those towers coming down?” he asked.

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Wednesday’s observances began with a solemn ceremony at the Aspen fire station. The service included the ringing of the volunteer department’s bell at 8:05 and 8:28, when the World Trade Center towers fell ? each time, the bell was rung five times, the signal that there has been a death in the service.

Aspen Fire Chief Darryl Grob and Pitkin County Sheriff Bob Braudis gave short speeches and were followed by the Rev. Gregg Anderson of the Aspen Chapel and Joe Fredericks, the fire department’s chaplain.

Anderson and Fredericks both spoke of the sanctity of life. Fredericks recited the firefighter’s prayer and invited attendees to reflect on all of the lives lost on September 11. The ceremony ended with the raising of the flag.

Around noon, sunlight broke through, making the clouds over Aspen Mountain seem even darker. For some, the grief and sorrow ran deep. A man wearing a USA ballcap sat quietly smoking a pipe near a memorial bell at the fire station.

“It’s almost too horrible to describe,” he said of his thoughts. A Vietnam veteran who didn’t give his name, he said he couldn’t really talk about his feelings.

Activities in the Aspen schools ranged from moments of silence to assemblies with songs and the Gettysburg Address. Teachers set aside time to allow students to “get their feelings out,” said Mariah Rayburn, a fifth-grader at Aspen Elementary.

“It makes me pretty sad to think that somebody would actually do that,” she said. “It also kind of makes me happy because it brought a lot of people together.”

The rains picked up midafternoon, just in time to possibly thwart a community picnic hosted by the fire department. Firefighters brought out their trucks around 4 p.m. and drove around town announcing the free event over loudspeakers.

A tent and chairs were set up near the bust of Albert Schweitzer in Paepcke Park. Grills, food and drinks were set up on the park’s opposite end to the tunes of radio station KSNO, including “When the walls come tumblin’ down” by John Mellencamp.

Spirits seemed high at the park as children and dogs frolicked, strangers introduced themselves to one another over burgers and hot dogs, and the rain lessened.

The picnic was organized as a way to demonstrate “family, American spirit and community,” Grob said.

“Considering the magnitude of why we’re here, we’re trying to bring something positive, something good, something to rebuild out of it,” he said.

Enjoying the food and cool weather was Joy Stryker of Aspen, who brought along her family.

“It’s a community event. We just thought what a great opportunity to show where we live,” she said.

Stryker started her day with the remembrance ceremony at the fire station and then went to her church.

Then “the kids went to school, my husband went to work, and I went for a hike to be outside and just feel good about where we are and what we have going.”

The mood was more somber at the Aspen Community Church, the site of an evening “concert for peace.”

Those attending trickled in quietly as the performers on stage fine-tuned their instruments and voices. Many in the audience were praying and meditating. The lights were lowered, and boxes of Kleenex were placed among the pews in anticipation of an emotional concert.

Michael Gurule played a harp in the church’s atrium. The Carbondale resident said he has always turned to music in times of crisis.

He said he was still feeling “a lot of shock and denial [and] acceptance at the same time.”

Asked why he thought people might be attending last night’s concert, Gurule said music can help heal even the most devastating wounds.

“Music’s the universal language, and it’s one thing that can bring everyone together,” he said.

Outside, the rain had picked up again as Aspen’s day of remembrance faded into night.

[Chad Abraham’s e-mail address is chad@aspentimes.com]