Alison Berkley Margo: The Princess’s Palate |

Alison Berkley Margo: The Princess’s Palate

I’m finally starting to understand what this whole living-downvalley thing is about.

It’s warmer, the seasons are longer, and I can afford to go out to eat.

I was driving down the Fryingpan the other day when I saw this massive cottonwood on the river’s edge, its golden leaves illuminated by the angle of the sun against the shadow of the mountain behind it. It was as if this tree had turned its lights on just for me, jumped into my line of vision and started banging its trunk with its branches like a giant gorilla in all its glory, going, “Look at me! Look at how big and unmistakably beautiful I am!”

Upvalley, the leaves have long since fallen to the ground, leaving behind the gray of winter waiting to happen and temps that are too low for this but not low enough for that. Here, it’s still in the 70s, and fall continues to go off, with every color of the rainbow on fire in my little red valley.

Every day, when I pull out of our driveway to go somewhere, I stop the car and take a photo of my own house. I want to capture the way the foliage along the river is still burning yellow, red and orange, like an intricately woven blanket in the bed of the valley. I try to get the river in the frame to show the way the low angle of the autumn sun makes the water sparkle all day long like liquid sequins. But the photos never look like what I see.

Last weekend, our buddy Ben came to visit from Minneapolis. He was on a boys fishing trip with his friend Collin. There’s nothing like having guests from out of town to remind you not to take the beauty that surround us for granted.

“Dude, this place is sick! I can’t believe how sick this place is. It’s amazing,” Ben would say day after day. “Driving up here from breakfast, I couldn’t keep my boner down!”

Seeing as it was a fishing weekend, and a boys fishing weekend at that, it got a little frat-house. We’re talking shots of whiskey with breakfast, beers all day and some smack mouth, but it was nothing I couldn’t handle. Plus, the boys were very gracious and grateful and, for the most part, polite. But their minds were totally blown.

“I’ve gone on lots of fishing trips, but I’ve never seen any place like this,” they said.

So on Saturday, after fishing, the boys went down to the Riverside Grill for an early dinner because they’d had nothing but bread soda all day. I’d been up at the Aspen Saturday Market because I hadn’t been once all summer. (After I blew 60 bucks on a bunch of organic veggies, some roasted peppers and an 8-ounce chunk of handcrafted cheese, I sort of remembered why.) With my designer veggies wilting in a plastic bag in the front seat of my car, I went straight to the bar. I found them bellied up alongside a dozen other guys – not one single girl.

This is the kind of mountain town I’m talking about.

So these guys at the end of the bar are all fired up and buying us rounds of drinks.

“Dude, that spot we hit today was so sick! Hands-down insane!” the one in the low-slung baseball hat is saying.

“Yeah, that was the primo secret spot! We were pulling hogs all day long!”

If you didn’t know they were fishermen, you might think they were talking about surfing. It’s not a likely comparison beyond seeing cars parked on the side of the road and men walking around in neoprene (albeit much baggier than our brothers of the ocean variety). These guys weren’t like the kind of fishermen you imagine from a Robert Redford movie, all old and quiet and wise. They were total punks.

It didn’t stop there. After they bought us a few rounds of beers, it went to shots. As if we were back in college (or, hell, Aspen), we felt obligated. Who turns down a free shot?

When we got home, Ryan had to lie on his back on the couch, trying not to throw up. I’ve only heard him get sick once in three years, but the whole house shook. I really hope I never have to hear that ever again. I could see it in his eyes that he was concentrating hard.

And then he passed out. Cold.

“Why did I think it was a good idea to do that many shots of whiskey?” he asked me the next morning.

“It was that guy at the end of the bar. He was a little instigator,” I said.

My friend Marguerite has lived in Basalt for 40 years, and she told me that when she first came to town, it was a totally rough-and-tumble scene like something out of an old Western.

“I’d be walking down the street and see some guy get thrown out of a bar – like literally, through the air,” she said. That was back when they had hitching posts for the horses that people would park out front.

You can still sort of feel that vibe lingering, even if the Range Rover-driving soccer moms and Roaring Fork Club members have probably toned things down a bit. I do love that grittiness. I love how it fits somewhere in the middle between the happy-hippie Carbondale scene and the Aspen glitz. You don’t have to adapt some kind of identity to live in Basalt, but the landscape has already made its mark on my psyche and instilled in me a sense of place I’ve only begun to know. Maybe that’s because no one is telling me what I’m supposed to think about it.

Now I just have to learn how to fish (for something besides compliments).

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