Gustafson: A shady perspective | AspenTimes.com

Gustafson: A shady perspective

Of course it's sheer coincidence, but it just seems so appropriate that a total solar eclipse crossed the U.S., conjuring up themes of darkness and light, yin and yang, shadows and rays of hope and other obvious metaphors; and I'm certainly not the only one drawing cosmic connections this week.

And yes, shadows seem to have a bad reputation, with many ominous phrases connected through the ages associating the obstruction of light with dark, shadowy evil forces lurking around us, difficult to thwart and impossible to catch. But still, it's a matter of perspective.

Shade, for example, brings to mind images of tranquility and safety, comfort and security. We often seek it out. Sitting in the shade of a tree or in a peaceful valley cast into the shade of a nearby mountain offers us respite; though it is probably rare that the shade of a multistory building has the same effect. Perhaps that is because of the unnatural geometric blockage that buildings create and the artificial angulations that make sitting in the shade of human construction less appealing. Or perhaps it goes deeper, back to the shadows: maybe we fear ourselves more than the trees and mountains that seem to surround and even protect us.

When we create the shadows in which some find themselves, those shadows of our own making seem to be cast differently. It's less appealing to have a shadow thrown upon us by others who block out our light.

Watching the solar eclipse was a slow-motion experience. The subtle sensations we experienced here on Monday, at the edge of the path of totality, where 8 percent of the sun stayed visible and the eclipse only faintly darkened the sky with a slight drop in temperature, felt almost eerie but no less than that of a cloud-covered day.

As I watched, I couldn't help making a comparison between the brightness of the sun being slowly blocked by the moon with that of our beautiful mountain vistas being occluded by the slowly progressing construction of the large buildings in Snowmass. We may find that, structure by structure, we slowly feel slightly less and less connected to the land. It feels more paved, manicured and generally more "man-made" as each year goes by, while our coveted connections to wild wilderness become harder to reach and farther away. And each generation becomes more accustomed to that disconnect.

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The artificial method of landscaping through contrived techniques such as planting-islands seems to be trending, even in my own neighborhood where the once natural forest environment is receding bush by bush, lawn by lawn and flower bed by … you get the point (I hope).

Though it is not well remembered today, the original requirements of the Snowmass Homeowner's Covenants once required individual lot owners to remove only the minimum amount of trees and turf necessary for the construction of a home. Then along came the Melton Ranch side developments, where wild forestlands were not an issue and homeowner landscaping may have been perceived to enhance the bare hillsides. Therein began the era of landscaping in Snowmass, where now it seems that all bets are off and that collectively the forest is fading. I see neighbors clearing out the chokecherry and serviceberry bushes only to replace them with uniform rows of non-native trees and hedges. And sometimes I wonder what the actual appeal is for moving to Snowmass in the first place if it is more desirable to have manicured lawns and landscaping. Is it simply in our human nature to love something so much that we feel the need to own and control it, fortuitously stifling its natural beauty the way the pleasure of watching a bird is diminished by caging it and keeping it as a pet?

I would like to passionately rave about the exciting plans for the community living room that will extend from the entrance to the new Limelight building out onto the adjacent plaza. Few would argue that it will be far better than the unfinished pit of construction that has now occupied the space for almost a decade. But it is with a hint of emotion that I realize how manicured and controlled the pathways and water features will feel in the shadows of the towering structures that will surround it.

Once our construction is complete here — if that time should ever come — when we stand on our new main street, will the hotels eclipse the mountains? Will we only find shade under tidy little logo-embellished umbrellas next to pleasant little fenced-in flowerbeds or under abstract artworks donning "Do not touch me" signs? Will the kids only play in dancing fountains and never have mud between their toes or under their fingernails?

It is hard to imagine a time here when we might not venture out into uncontrolled wilderness, but "you don't know what you got till its gone." Small things can cast big shadows, as we were all reminded by this week's solar event. As a member of a community living in the shadow of a resort, and one that must evolve to exist, my only hope is that we will continue to value the shade that has always been here as we construct our environment.

And — on a national level — because no column about an eclipse could leave out such apparent parallels, maybe we should all spend a little more time in our own shadows, acknowledging the darker side of things. Perhaps then we could clear up some of the misunderstandings that make simple challenges or differences unnecessarily complex or allow small-minded fears to fester. After all, light feels stronger when contrasted with shadows. And maybe if we could accept what we fear and the things that have caused us to suffer, then our shadows could become shade. What if we accepted our own shadows as a place in which to offer shade for others — a cathartic embodiment of empathy?

Let's exchange a piece of my mind for a little peace of mind, after all, if we always agree, what will we talk about? Britta Gustafson appreciates an open mind; share yours and email her at brittag@ymail.com.

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