Paul Andersen: Fair Game
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO, Colorado
The piney scent of wood smoke greets us as we ski through the pinon pines and junipers, their branches laden with downy pillows. Through a filter of falling snow we ski up to the log cabin at the edge of the woods, where a tendril of smoke rises from the stovepipe.
My 15-year-old son, Tait, is breaking trail. I once carried this strapping boy easily in a backpack. Now he’s 2 inches taller than me and breaking trail through 2 feet of powder. There’s nothing like the growth and development of a child to give personal meaning to the passing of time.
Following Tait through the woods I’m hit with a pang of melancholy for the passing of years that, in the soft lens of retrospect, seem sweet and innocent. As we approach the log cabin I feel all the familiarity of home. This isn’t a Tenth Mountain hut we’re skiing up to; it’s our house at Seven Castles in the Fryingpan Valley.
We live nestled at the edge of a forest on the sunny side of the Fryingpan where 2 feet of cold, fresh powder is unusual in this normally basking aspect. Rarely has there been enough snowfall for skiing in this arid micro-climate that we call home.
Last year, during the same snowy conditions, Tait announced that he would make a “first solo descent” of the Seventh Castle, the red rock outcrop jutting from the mountainside in our backyard. He returned an hour later effusive with tales of deep powder turns through the dwarf forest that defines our desert ecosystem.
This year, on Christmas Day, Tait and I made a couple of challenging runs through tight trees in places where I usually hike through bunch grass and cactus. “This feels just like a hut trip,” remarked Tait as we kicked off our skis at the porch. “That’s been the idea all along,” I affirmed.
In our cabin I stoked the fire in the wood-burning stove where a caldron of soup scented the air. My wife, Lu, was upstairs sewing handmade Christmas gifts. I realized that our life design is not so different from the way people lived here a hundred years ago.
We are fortunate to have our home in a place where nature is predominant, where the night sky is milky with stars, where the only sounds in the darkness are the murmur of the Fryingpan River and wild serenades by owls and coyotes.
We’re lucky to be here, but a lot of the elements that define our home life are not due to luck; they’re the result of conscious living. We built a modest home that’s easy and affordable to heat. Our furnishings and appliances are utilitarian. The firewood we gather in our valley is mostly sawed by hand and split with an axe. We are warmed by passive solar when the sun streams through our windows. We heat our hot water with solar panels on our roof. We keep our carbon footprint as small as possible.
Conscious living gives us a sense of purpose because we focus every day on conserving natural resources. It’s not a hardship; just the opposite. We pledge ourselves to use less and to use what we do frugally. We find pleasure in that achievement because we feel like we’re part of the solution to an otherwise daunting global challenge.
We have long been celebrants of wild nature. When the deer bed down in our yard and nibble winter fruit from our trees and shrubs, we watch them from our windows with appreciation for their beauty and grace. Eagles soar over our home, and bighorn sheep climb the nearby crags. We cherish what nature provides, whether it’s a rainbow spanning the valley or a blizzard battering our windows. There is no network or cable or satellite TV that could improve on the views we have from our windows.
We don’t claim exclusive ownership of the beauty that surrounds us, but are only temporary proprietors of all we enjoy. Our property is on loan to us for as long as we can nurture our lives here and respect the land and the animals.
On Christmas night, we sat down to a quiet dinner. We said an ecumenical blessing for the soup steaming in our bowls, for the bread cut on our plates, for the wine in our glasses. We said thanks especially for the peace and serenity that give us our deepest sustenance. We wish the same for all people.
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