Andersen: Claiming sacred place
A longtime local accosted me at the Basalt post office last week to deliver the breaking news that the Roaring Fork Valley — especially Aspen — is ruined.
He singled out my columns as a sympathetic lament for the incremental loss he mourns as development and population have edged him out of his once-sacred places.
“I used to hike Buckskin on my birthday, and I did it every summer,” he said wistfully. “Now, I don’t even go near Maroon Lake because there are just too many people and just too much traffic. What’s happened here?”
I nodded in commiseration and mentioned the crowds on West Maroon Pass during the seasonal migration to Crested Butte. He shook his head in perturbation, a glint of tears in his crinkled eyes. “The Conundrum Creek Trail is like a conga line,” I added, heaping onto his misery and eliciting a pitiful whimper.
“I don’t know whether to end it all or pack up and move to Thomasville,” he moaned. “Either way, this place is done.”
I offered the despairing bro a man-hug, feeling a twinge of guilt for contributing to this poor soul’s sorrow by writing weekly dirges to the paving of paradise. Then I reminded him that the Elysian Fields of Thomasville are in the crosshairs for a logging operation.
This really sent him over the brink, and he reeled off toward Two Rivers bar where they’re serving a cocktail called the “Bourbon Renewal.” Drink two of them and the whole neighborhood looks different.
An old friend who lived here in the ’60s likes to quote: “Aspen is gut-shot, and it ain’t comin’ back.” He bussed tables in a restaurant called the Focs’l, where he once gave a four-way tab of acid to Hunter S. Thompson, who ingested it on the spot, as if taking a sacramental wafer with his wine.
This friend knew John Denver before Aspen’s troubadour ascended to fame and fortune. He saw the valley as iconic western Colorado, and now he despises the Aspen of fur coats and starter castles. Seeking greener pastures, he’s been living in rural Oregon for 30 years, compromising that place with his presence.
I sometimes wonder why I am still in Aspen and why I moved here from Crested Butte three decades ago. The answer is plain and simple: Because my life is beautiful here and I’m not about to jump in front of a RFTA express in despair over inexorable change.
Instead, I claim my sacred places, my routes off the beaten path, where the madding crowds don’t go. I gravitate to places where I can feel the older rhythms of time and events and the people I used to know, places that have not yet been compromised.
So here is a list of my favorite secret places. NOT! How I cringe when Outside Magazine or a local glossy, real estate-shopper publishes a list of “secret” places. There’s no better way to ruin them.
Finding and claiming sacred places is a lifelong challenge, but it’s not a burden, it’s an adventure. The requirements are creativity, exploration and an edge of fitness, stamina and occasional suffering to push beyond the boundaries of the tourist brochures.
A sacred place requires careful timing — knowing when to go — like during spectacles such as the Stupor Bowl or the World Series or a big celebrity concert in Aspen/Snowmass that gathers crowds like moths to a Coleman lantern.
Getting out and active when others are languishing in passive entertainments is a good rule of thumb. While they’re gaping at DJ Marshmello or flipping channels through advertisements, you’re watching a rushing stream, perched on a rock ledge catching raven aerobatics, or enjoying tranquility on a quiet trail.
It’s all about choosing places that touch you with subtle attractions instead of selfie ops, where there is time and space for contemplation. A sacred place is a necessary elitist quest that requires you to cover your tracks and guard against the masses.
The proper approach to a sacred place is the same as it was for prospectors who worked their unpatented glory holes in the 1800s — with discretion and in secret. Protect your claims and they will bear incalculable riches.
Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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