Aspen Princess: Saturday in the park |

Aspen Princess: Saturday in the park

Alison Berkley Margo
The Aspen Princess

I ran into my friends Chris and Heather at Whole Foods last Sunday, which seems to be the only place I run into friends from Aspen these days, when they make their monthly sojourn downvalley to buy olives and fancy cheese and good bread.

They had their 7-year-old daughter in tow and were heading to the park. “It’s the new one at Willits,” Heather said. “They just had this big ribbon-cutting ceremony. It’s supposed to be awesome.”

Naturally, I knew nothing about it since I spend more time watching Sesame Street than following local news these days.

It’s true the park takes on significance when you have a small child who is still going to be somewhat limited in activity choices. He’s too small to say, go shred the single track at Sky Mountain Park, but too big to be strapped to your chest so you can still go mountain biking and just bring him with you.

The park is a fun place to go with a toddler, so long as you have razor-sharp reflexes and a superhuman attention span. Maybe I’m a little bit neurotic, but sometimes I wonder who designs these things. Why do they have to be so damn high? Do they think those wood-chip things are like water?

The new park is packed with kids of all ages and parents lingering about, drinking their lattes and dressed in almost the exact same clothes as their kids. Everyone is blonde and light-eyed and fit, dressed in puffy coats and leggings. All the littles, every single one of them, is wearing something by Patagonia.

Since I’ve lived in Basalt, I’ve found it to be a pleasant, quiet place, but there are times when it feels kind of lonely. I have often wondered where all the people are. Like in the grand expanses of Crown Mountain Park, when the wind howls across the flats, screaming, “You’re the only one stupid enough to be here in the wind!”

In the suburban expanse of the midvalley we’re relegated to our cars, getting our double tall soy lattes at the Starbucks drive-thru and texting while we’re waiting in line at the car wash and buying most everything we need on Amazon.

This new park, on the other hand, is hopping. There are a bunch of kids and they’re playing together! People are standing around and talking to each other, like in real life! This is amazing!

There’s something about the playground vibe that’s reminiscent of, well, the schoolyard. I find myself scanning the vicinity to determine where the cool people are. I spot a tall skinny blonde with legs for days in black skinny jeans with high top-sneakers and what I assume is a very expensive down coat with a fur collar. I am loving her luxe street vibe and she looks effortlessly cool, like someone I would want to hang out with.

“I love your jacket!” I squeal, practically chasing after her as she follows her kid up this log step ladder thing that your kid can climb to dizzying heights before you can say “broken collar bone.”

“Oh, it’s from The Gap,” she says breezily, literally looking like she just jumped out of a Crest toothpaste commercial because her teeth are so white.

“No way! It looks so expensive,” I say, but as soon as the words come out, I realize I’ve been watching way too much Project Runway. “I thought it was like, Authier or Moncler.”

I use the proper French pronunciation, saying it like “au-tee-ay,” which makes me sound like a pretentious idiot. Let’s face it: Basalt is more Prana than Prada. It’s not like Aspen, where spending over a thousand bucks on a puffy coat and wearing it to the playground is de riguer. (Jesus Christ, there I go again. Shut up already!)

Just as I’m about to swallow my platform-sneaker-clad foot, a dad chimes in.

“The Gap has 50 percent off sales online, like, every night,” he says. The three of us continue talking about The Gap, a store I don’t really care for unless I need a pair of socks, and it hits me that my life has officially changed.

I chat up this guy who, it turns out, is a doctor who works in emergency care. He starts analyzing the potential dangers of this new play gym thing, and they seem to be excessive, with precipitous heights with metal poles and bars beneath them, just begging to crack heads like walnuts.

“Why does it have to be so high?” I ask him. “That’s what I want to know.”

“It’s actually good to have this bar here because it will break their fall,” he says. “Especially if they hit their forehead. That’s the hardest part of the skull and it can take the most impact.”

He throws in a bunch of medical jargon I don’t quite understand, but I get the point: You can’t blink, not even when you sneeze.

As if on cue, another mom walks up and goes, “Were you at the clinic the other night when little Jack came in?”

He nods. “Yup. Broken arm. I could tell as soon as they walked in the door.”

Like most things with parenting, I had no idea you need superhero x-ray vision to be able to see dangers in places that appear totally benign and ESP to anticipate your child’s every move. As someone who has bumbled through life unaware, for whom ignorance has always been bliss, this does not come naturally to me. At all.

Emergency room nightmares aside, I also never realized that a playground could bring me such simple joy, that watching my kid play could be as fun as well, having fun myself. And now I finally have something in common with Basalt peeps. It turns out Saturday in the park is a happy place to be.

The Princess is eating a lot of nuts and seeds. Email your love to