Aspen Princess: Weather is nice, but think back to last year’s Lake Christine Fire
The Aspen Princess
The other day as Levi napped in the back seat, Ryan and I decided to take a drive up to Basalt Mountain to see the burn scar.
It was just about a year ago that the Lake Christine Fire ravaged our landscape, threatened to destroy our homes, and left us all with a touch of post-traumatic stress. I’ll still do a double take at a funky cloud formation, thinking it’s a plume of smoke, though these feelings have certainly subsided. The abundance of precipitation this winter and spring has made me giddy with relief and the cooler temperatures leave me feeling energized. I love the briskness of the cold mornings, love keeping all my favorite hoodies in rotation. I don’t mind snow in June or when the river runs high, especially when I can hear it as I lay in bed at night, the stars so bright against the clear, cold sky that it casts a dream-like glow into my room.
Everything is so green, in fact, that it has transformed our landscape, especially those red dirt hillsides that have all but disappeared beneath a blanket of ground cover so bright and thick it looks almost like carpeting. The snow-capped peaks provide a startling contrast that’s more reminiscent of the Swiss Alps than the typically arid Rockies. No matter how many times I come down Frying Pan Road toward Basalt, my breath hitches at that first view of Mount Sopris in all her glory. I think of all those VIPs at the Aspen Ideas Festival gallivanting around the Aspen Meadows campus, lanyards draped around their necks like some kind of medal and wonder how they can possibly ponder the world’s problems in such a pristine setting. It doesn’t get much better than this.
Last summer I worried wildfires would become a regular thing, as much a part of our seasonal cycle as the monsoons that we desperately hoped would follow. It seemed like every year, our summers got hotter and drier. I remember thinking Basalt was simply at too low an elevation for me. I craved a higher, cooler place, like Silverton or Alma, where between the altitude and the wind it was physically impossible to break a sweat. It would just evaporate from your skin before you could feel it. I always felt in my element up high, as if I were meant to be there on an animal level.
I don’t do well in the heat. I get swollen and splotchy and tend to get weird skin allergies at least once every summer that result in angry, red bumps. Add a wildfire to the picture and it’s not just my version of hell. This time last year, with the smoke-choked skies and the echo of helicopter propellers thumping through the valley, it felt like Armageddon, as if the world might very well come to an end, maybe even in our lifetime. What kind of world would be left for my son? Forget about becoming a Winter X Games gold medalist on home turf — would there even be winter for him to enjoy a powder day?
When we drove up past Missouri Heights toward the base of Basalt Mountain, the burn scar was barely visible beneath the swath of green undergrowth that covered the hillside as vibrant and conspicuous as a golf course in the middle of the desert. I had to scan the horizon for evidence, the gnarled remains of charred trees that tangled against the denim blue sky. It was there, but barely. Someone who was not aware of the fire would see nothing but the photogenic scenery, dominated by Miss Mount Sopris dominating the skyline like a movie star on the red carpet.
On my side of Basalt Mountain, it’s the same picture. The large burn scars that remained as a constant reminder all winter have all but disappeared, camouflaged by new growth. It’s been too cold, not too hot. Too cold to camp, too cold for the pool, even too cold for my new white platform Birkenstock style sandals from J Slides. Every time someone complains about it, I’m quick to remind them, “I’d take this over fire any day.”
The experts remind us that despite what the guy who is still somehow president thinks, climate is not to be confused with weather — what’s happening over the long term is what we need to worry about, not the fact that we’re still skiing on Aspen Mountain in mid-June. We are also told that flooding as the result of the damaged soil and its inability to absorb moisture from rainfall will continue to be a threat for many years to come. This is a concern for us because one of the major flood paths is at the bottom of Frying Pan Road. Considering there is only one way in and out of the Fryingpan Valley (unless you want to navigate a four-wheel-drive route over to Eagle via Thomasville-Eagle Road or over Hagerman’s Pass to Leadville), we have reason to be concerned. To make matters worse, there is no way to predict when this will happen — it could be years.
Still, I can’t help but feel reassured by nature’s ability to heal, at least on the surface. To see so much growth, to be surrounded by hills of green and wildflowers and a robust river flow leads me to believe maybe my son will enjoy the same idyllic setting that I fell in love with myself all those years ago. Last summer, my vision of his future looked more like something out of”Star Wars,” a place that had been ravaged by the human inclination toward destruction.
Climate change is scary and what’s even more frightening is the lack of regard for the immediacy, the urgency of it, or our ability to do anything about it before its too late. At least for today, the hills are alive.
The Princess is sore from a two-hour advanced hot yoga class last night. Email your love to email@example.com.
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