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Su Lum: The magic place

My friends Nancy and Roger came by after the Sunday concert to show me a magical place where they love to walk with their dachshund Sam in all seasons, but which right now is especially beautiful, a sea of high grasses, sagebrush, wild asparagus and flowers.

I had no idea where they were taking me, but filled my oxygen tank and water bottle, ready for any adventure. We parked in the Paepcke Auditorium lot, and set off on the macadam path to the Aspen Meadows past the stream where my dachshund Trudy used to bob for crabapples and past the big mounds, reminding me of the days long ago when Nancy’s kids and mine would roll screaming down the mounds, which in turn reminded me of myself rolling down hills as a kid, screaming out of exhilaration and the sheer momentum of it: you get going and you CAN’T STOP until you get to the bottom.

Past the ponds, where I remembered my young dachshund Rufus suddenly leaping into the water in pursuit of a duck, who tantalized him by swimming placidly 6 inches from his snout, hoping he would exhaust himself and drown, while I danced on the bank, sure that I would have to leap into the murk, snagging him at last and fishing him out by his collar, he considerably subdued (temporarily) by his close call, the duck quacking in triumph.

We took an undistinguished, narrow path to the left, down into a gully, up a short hill and there we were at the Magic Place, their magic place now and what had been my magic place over 30 years ago: the Aspen Meadows race track.

What a gasp to see it again. I had assumed it had been long bulldozed, but instead it was merely overgrown, beautifully overgrown. They held horse races there before I came to Aspen, and the track was already going to seed when I used to take my horse Rusty out there in the late ’60s.

Then, the split-rail fence still encircled it, and the track was weedy but still clearly a track. Rusty was a barrel racer, a speed demon who loved to run to the far end of that oval track and then WHIP at the curve and gallop like mad all the way around. I probably couldn’t have stopped him if I tried, but I never tried. We’d get to that spot and I’d give him his head and shout, “GO!” and he would FLY, taking the air out of me. I’ll never forget that.

Sometimes my friend Terry and I would go out to the track and set up jumps, which Terry’s horse Pye would sail over while Rusty would thunder up to them, stop short, then heave himself over as I grabbed the saddle horn and my feet leapt out of the stirrups, one of his many games. Somewhere I have a home movie of Terry jumping, which I should dig up, just to see the track again as it was then.

I spent a lot of time there with Rusty. When we were both worn out, he would munch on the grasses and I’d lean back in the saddle and bask in the music wafting across the fields from the music tent.

Now there are only bits and pieces of the fence around the track, and the track is only a footpath, barely the width of one horse. It was maybe four horses wide when I knew it, and probably several more horses wide in its day, but I was so happy to find that it was still there, overrun with wildflowers and sage rather than condos or trophy homes, still a truly magical place.

[Su Lum is a longtime local who was transported. Her column appears every Wednesday in The Aspen Times.]


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