Bringing it back home
December 5, 2006
“The world changes at 10,000 feet. Duty, conflict and distraction lie below the timberline. Above it, higher purpose and unbounded aspiration.”- Willi Unsoeld, the first person to summit Everest’s west faceDorothy’s line in “The Wizard of Oz” that there’s no place like home is more than just an overused quote. I figured that out minutes after I drove out of town with tears streaming down my face as DJ Steve Skinner played me a farewell song on KSPN. I knew that I had to try California – it was a career opportunity that I couldn’t pass up – no matter the sacrifice. Aspen has been pulling me back ever since I left. That’s why after five years I joined the ranks of hundreds of other “yo-yos” who have returned home.There are countless people living here who thought the grass was greener on the other side of the mountain. They sought better jobs, more opportunities, a lower cost of living and home ownership. But after a few years away, they couldn’t ignore their inner voices, and they made the bold move to return. For me, Santa Monica certainly was greener, thanks in part to the Colorado River supplying L.A. with plenty of water to keep its millions of residents in denial that they live in the desert.And while I enjoyed green grass, palm trees and blooming flowers in the winter, there was always something missing. With each day away, I became acutely aware that there is more to life than just your geographical location. Luckily for us, the Roaring Fork Valley happens to be a pretty damn good place on the map. Beyond the physical beauty, the people here are genuine, and the sense of community is the strongest I’ve ever experienced.And I’m not alone in thinking that way. Through several conversations with those who have left and come back, there is one theme I heard over and over – they were drawn to the community, the lifestyle and the mountains. We are willing to overlook the high rents, the limited number of career opportunities and the confinement of a small town. With all of its perceived problems, Aspen is paradise when compared to the real world. As fellow “yo-yo” Mark Thomas said, the limitations of the Roaring Fork Valley often compel us to leave – but once we’ve left, we realize they’re not bad enough to keep us away. Thomas, a former Channel 16 host, moved back in June after living in San Diego for five years. He had lived here for 14 years prior to acting on his cabin fever. He said he wanted to try the real world for a while. But after playing office politics, sitting in a cubicle and in traffic, Thomas longed for his home. “It’s where your heart is,” he said. “People resonate with a place and this place, these people, the intellect, I resonate with. I’m really happy I’m back.”So are Ann Wilkinson, Arthur Piubeni, Don Chaney and dozens of other people I know who have experienced the boomerang effect. Wilkinson moved to Scottsdale, Ariz., in 2004 after living here for six years and thinking she had topped out her career. But after a year and a half, the desert heat got to her and she had grown tired of seeing a commercial shopping center on every corner. “I just became mainstream and I hated that,” she reflected. “I had community here … I picked quality of over quantity.”Before I left, I often wondered whether climbing the career ladder was more important than my lifestyle. After living in the second largest city in America, I would answer emphatically that it is the latter – the quality of life simply can’t be beat.It took Chaney, KSNO station manager and morning host, three times to figure that out. He tried other resorts, as well as Bend, Ore., and Denver before he settled back into the valley in 2001. “Everywhere we went we missed the attitude and the lifestyle,” Chaney said. “No matter what is happening in the world, it doesn’t consume us here like it does everywhere else.”Piubeni moved to Aspen in 1996 and two years later moved to my home state of Minnesota, where he, his wife and kids lived for three years before moving back. Piubeni wanted his kids growing up outside, skiing, fishing and hunting like he did – not going to the mall. And as adults, he and his wife needed culture, which is why they picked this place to call home again.”It’s a sophisticated fishbowl,” Piubeni said, adding that the local school systems are the best in the state and running into friends on the mountain are bonuses.”Those who are on their way out are bitter and resentful, they complain about the second homes, the rent is too high … but we live here by choice even though there are huge sacrifices.”I agree. But the bigger sacrifice is staying away. The next time you think traffic is out of hand, the middle class are being pushed out and the rich are ruining the place – or any other challenge Aspen faces, remember all of the reasons we do live here and why some of us came running home. During the six years that I lived here, I never once took for granted what’s so special about this place. That’s why it pained me so when I made the decision to move and was the source of my personal void for so long.Sunday, I sat on the observation deck atop Smuggler and looked down on my town. The sun was dropping behind Ajax, lighting up the rest of the valley with a glistening Sopris as the anchor. Below me were so many special places: the music tent, the Aspen Institute, Rio Grande Park, the Wheeler Opera House, Hunter Creek Valley, the golf course, Independence Pass … the list goes on.Many of my yo-yo counterparts have said that when they see people after their move back, their response is “welcome home.” I have had similar responses. It’s heartwarming to know that they mean it. There is something about coming home that makes you complete. Who needs the real world? The land of Oz works for me just fine.Home for the holidays has a whole new meaning this year. E-mail Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.orgThe Aspen Times, Aspen, Colo.
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