Seniors escape the media and head to the wilderness on 9-11
September 12, 2002
A handful of local seniors spent the last two days in the wilderness, choosing a hut trip over the media blitz that marked the first anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center.
Ten seniors, some with long local history, some more recent in their connection to Aspen, left the Pitkin County Senior Center at 8:30 Tuesday morning for Uncle Bud’s Cabin, a backcountry hut that is part of the 10th Mountain Division hut system.
They spent Tuesday and Wednesday in the mountains overlooking Leadville, hiking, cooking and living with each other (and this reporter, who came along for the ride). Inevitably, their conversation floated in and out of the topic that’s been on the nation’s collective mind for several weeks now.
Some members of the group freely shared their feelings and memories from the last year; others were more reserved, even on Wednesday morning, when they joined in a circle outside in the fog for a minute of silence to honor the victims.
“It looked familiar,” said Julie Heyman, who fled Europe during World War II. The attack on the World Trade Center, said Heyman, reminded her of attacks in the 1940s by the Luftwaffe, the German air force, on cities in Central Europe.
“I was obviously shocked, like everyone else,” she said.
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Heyman has been visiting Aspen since the 1950s and living here, on and off, since the 1970s.
She said she thought the wilderness was a good place to be on Sept. 11. “I think it’s a good idea to be here, with all the television and everything,” she said.
That was a sentiment echoed by many of the hut-trippers.
“It’s important to remember ? but I think it’s getting morbid,” said Joann Johnson, a local massage therapist who was on the trip to see if she wanted to be a hut-trip host for future senior center outings. “We need to learn a lesson from what happened, but I don’t think we have,” she said.
Valerie Richter, who has lived in Phoenix with her husband, Dr. Herschel Richter, for 40 years and has been visiting Aspen for about 30 years, recalled a friend of the family who had grown up in sight of the World Trade Center. “Suddenly, a symbol of his childhood was gone.”
She also recalled picking up three hikers on Maroon Creek Road a few days after the attack, realizing that they had not heard the news, and breaking it to them. “They were stunned.”
Herschel said the trip was not planned specifically to escape the 9-11 hype.
Bonnie and Jack Wilke, who like the Richters, have been condo owners in Aspen for many years, didn’t say much on the subject.
However, in a particularly frank moment, Bonnie, who has spent her entire adult life living with Jack in the fashionable Hancock Park neighborhood of Los Angeles, admitted that it can be hard to feel connected to an incident that happened a year and a continent away.
Gloria Wellen, a Florida resident who spends summers here, said she lost a distant relative who worked at the World Trade Center, but did not feel directly affected.
Scott Messina, a local guide and employee of the 10th Mountain Division Hut Association, was helping lead the trip. He said he began to feel the weight of the anniversary at about 6:45 a.m. Wednesday, when he tuned a small transistor radio to National Public Radio and heard the names of victims on board the hijacked airliners.
Terry End, a resident of nearly 50 years, revealed more about her feelings and connections to 9-11 than any of the others on the trip. After dinner she recounted her experiences at Ground Zero and her work as a volunteer helping feed firefighters and other people working on the site.
“You never mentioned the hole when you were serving them food or talking to them, even though they were covered in all the dust and everything else,” she said.
“I wouldn’t have signed up for this trip if I had realized it was going to be on September 11,” End said.
Asked what she would have done instead, she replied, “I would have stayed at home, looked out at the landscape, gone for a hike. Maybe I would have called my good friend Bruce Berger and gone hiking with him.”
On the drive back to Aspen on Wednesday, Mo Hawkes, who recently returned to Aspen after two decades in Arizona, observed simply: “The flags are half-mast. It’s 9-11.”
[Allyn Harvey’s e-mail address is email@example.com]