A case of an isolated local identity crisis
February 15, 2018
I'm Aspen's b—-. This town freakin' owns me. You know what a rancher's brand on a steer signifies? That's what Aspen's mark on me is like.
A steer might think it has a pretty good life in the pasture. It's owner is not going to let it starve. It gets water. The rancher protects it from predators and dangerous weather. Then one day it finds itself in a feedlot – more food than ever and it doesn't even have to walk or expend any energy whatsoever to get it. It lines up with all the other cattle thinking some great thing that it has been waiting for, maybe even promised all its life is about to come true and, WHAM!, a hammer blow to the head and it's over. The one saving grace is that it never had the chance to realize how much it had missed to live like that.
The crazy thing is that, when I was about eighteen, I pretty much believed that I owned this town. My friends all thought the same thing, so there was no arrogance or envy about it. If we had been from out of town and acted the way we did, they would have thrown us in jail, but, since we were the local group of high school punks, the town seemed to take some sort of Aspen-kids-will-be-Aspen-kids sort of pride in our antics.
It wasn't like we caused any harm, or at least any lasting harm to anything or anyone. It was more that we were just pretty much cocky little s—s, if the truth be known. I think we were emboldened by the idea that we were natives to this place. That was about the time that moniker was starting to take on some value around here. We didn't start it, believe me. If it hadn't been for the people moving here and clamoring amongst each other to gain traction in claiming "local" status, the value of being born here would have been lost on us. It would not have occurred to us that being born here meant any more than being born in Rifle or Silt. We weren't wrong, by the way.
This was a neat place to grow up; don't get me wrong. But, we took it for granted, like kids do their hometowns everywhere. It was special only in that way any place is special when your family and friends are there. We knew our way around. We were comfortable. What more could a kid ask? None of us really knew anyone from anywhere else, so there was no one far away that we could brag to or compare notes with to establish the unique privilege it was to live here. Was it awesome? No. It was home, which, when you think about it, is even better.
Things were going along so good back then that it was bound to change. I think it all turned around when we went away to college. It was there, in those far away places, that people always seemed to make a big fuss when they found out where we were from. It is poison when people fill your head with a notion like that; that your town is some exalted place, as it turns out mostly because there are famous people there and, of course, a lot of money. John Denver was the big attraction to the outsiders. Who knew he was such a big deal? The skiing was pretty much secondary on most people's list of things to be impressed about behind him.
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You tell me how a kid can avoid over-identifying with a place that has such a wonderful reputation, even if it is a good dose of romantic Madison Avenue fantastical nonsense. More people on the outside cared a heck of a lot more about where I came from than about me, I can tell you that, but no teenager is going to give up that misdirected attention.
I wonder if I would rather have the letters "PhD" after my name of the title "Aspenite". That is not even me being honest. For sure I would chose "Aspenite". In warped local logic it means more. There certainly are fewer Aspenites than PhD's in the world. I'm rare.
People who have lived here a long time may tell you something to the effect that Aspen has cast a spell on them, and that is why they stay. I think that may just be a gentle way to avoid admitting that they are under complete control of a strange master. Like me.
Roger Marolt is proud to be an Aspenite, right or wrong. Email at email@example.com.