A Left Turn makes all the difference
The road less traveled — oh, how it calls! Robert Frost was right; it makes all the difference.
My road less traveled means a left turn at the bottom of Knight Road onto Frying Pan Road. It means turning away from Highway 82, away from that bedeviled ribbon of asphalt and all that it engenders in traffic, noise, pollution and stress.
A few weeks ago, I witnessed afternoon gridlock, not on Aspen’s S-curves, where it happens daily, but at the roundabout in El Jebel between City Market and Willits. Cars were jammed like plaque in a clogged artery.
I fear that one day the entire Roaring Fork will gridlock into a valleywide coronary and everything will screech to a stop. For preventive care, this valley needs either a systemic angioplasty or a strict diet away from fatty growth and corpulent development.
For me, the left turn offers an easier flow. There I find escape from overindulgence, overcrowding and overstimulation. The left turn is not for everyone, because only the few seem to understand its value.
Living up the Pan, my family and I already appreciate a beautiful, quiet enclave. But the left turn takes us a step beyond into a world that few people know still exists: an authentic vestige of rural Colorado. It is so close within the sphere of the urbanizing Roaring Fork Valley that the contrast is astounding.
Our left turn takes us to where eagles study the river for trout from tall cottonwoods along quiet ripples, where fly-fishermen wade in looking for the same trout. It takes us to remote trailheads and outback communities populated with outliers, both figurative and literal, sometimes with rugged, individualistic, outlaw ideologies.
Preserving rural backwaters for people who are not in step with contemporary culture, who do things their way, is one of the great cultural blessings of rural living. These outliers may not always be models of community coexistence, but our vanishing rural areas are necessary escape valves for folks who need them.
Societal norms have given people expectations of cradle-to-grave assurances. But a geographical sense of insecurity in the rural backwaters instead heightens the life force with vitalizing challenges.
In the winter, the left turn is particularly meaningful because the Pan is hushed under a mantle of snow, the river covered in ice. We breathe a contented sigh and drive under the speed limit. There is no hurry, no need to speed through a journey back in time and space, a journey back to simplicity, to quiet.
Fortunately, Frying Pan Road is a growth inhibitor, a bottleneck of narrow, serpentine meanders between river and cliffs where Pitkin and Eagle counties maintain appropriate growth limits.
The left turn takes us where roads are empty and inviting and reminiscent of something the main stem of the valley has long taken for granted and has noticeably squandered. It serves as a control, reminding us of what we’re compromising at every opportunity by crowding in more development, more people, and channeling more and more cars into the 82 corridor.
It’s amazing how attached we are to our 1-ton appendages, our capsules of glass, steel and plastic. The individual is amplified by magnitudes in the enormous machines that carry us about like gods. We have become a nation of fossil fools who clutter everything with our machines.
On the 82 corridor, development polyps proliferate along the valley’s congested GI tract. A colonoscopy of the Roaring Fork Valley would reveal impacted intestines in need of a purge. The patient would be warned to cut back on sweets and fats and sign up for a diet heavy in roughage.
You can’t always make the metaphorical left turn, but it’s good to think with a left-turn attitude. Like Frost, the road less traveled is where we can recognize our individuality in unpaved choices ignored by the multitude.
The alternative is being jammed together, nose-to-tail, wondering what happened to our equilibrium, our vision of a peaceful life, our ability to plan our communities intelligently. We wonder whatever happened to ourselves.
Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays when he’s not holed up at a favorite hermitage somewhere up the Pan. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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