Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore |

Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore

The other day, a couple of young ladies from San Francisco, brimming with the unbridled enthusiasm of 12-year-olds, inquired if I could show them an Aspen Mountain shrine. Not knowing how well they skied, I asked if they’d like to visit the John Denver shrine, an easy one to negotiate. “Who?” They hadn’t heard of the man whose lyrical “Rocky Mountain High” still brings tears of nostalgia to older generations of romantics.

Having grown up here, I’ve always had a sneaking suspicion that I would wake up one day and discover that this isn’t “my” town anymore. Rich people and celebrities come, and some stay, houses get bigger and more opulent, locals become more and more indistinguishable from tourists, and the behavior police are thicker than gnats on a water buffalo’s butt, but none of that has provided a clear sign that Aspen has evaded me, not yet.

To many, the ’70s (which actually started in the late ’60s) was an era of unparalleled adventure, a period of self-discovery and empowerment enabled by the lubricity of chemical and alcohol concoctions, a stretch fondly talked about on the pages of that popular time pit, Facebook. The fact that those of us already here heralded the “New Age” arrival by our participation in many of the wild and crazy shenanigans doesn’t mean that we fully embraced it, either. On some level there was a sense that the only town we’d ever known was being pirated away, her innocence (if you can use that word) violated by those who hadn’t done their homework or paid their dues.

For changes, I’m still getting used to the idea that there is a gazebo in Paepcke Park. When we were kids, that “gazebo” was a fire tower located where the downtown fire station is. Its bell, now stanchioned near the front of the Thrift Shop, proudly occupied the tower, ready for ringing. Paepcke Park was officially referred to as City Park, and in the absence of all those many trees, we had impromptu baseball games there.

For a community so transient, take it back to my paternal grandfather, who lived his entire life in the Woody Creek house into which he was born. Including his father, four generations of my family have lived there, and today, the three-story house is a testament to the ingenuity of man, using entirely local materials for a house that, more than 125 years later, is still a desirable place to live. (In all fairness, we tore the large barn down 55 years ago, beating gravity to the punch, and the long, dry logs, cut into biscuits and split, kept much of Aspen warm that winter.)

Aspen is a fluid town, built on many levels, just like the silver mines that put us on the map to begin with. We’re continually trying to bail the unwanted water, the oxygen-robbing paraphernalia we no longer like, such as accusing the rich or berating those who don’t fit in. Many of us think “our level” to have the most pertinent cachet while giving scant recognition to the others. We continue to tout the questionable belief that we’re on the “cutting edge” of new ideas while failing to acknowledge that many of those ideas have relegated Aspen’s vigorous persona to a status of almost opaque translucency.

If nothing else, icons like John Denver, however amorphous over time, help keep us focused, but no more so than the Aspen Music Festival and School or Aspen Skiing Co. It’s just that people die more quickly than corporations.

If you think Aspen has changed too fast or too much, think about this: With two skiing fools, 12-year-old girls in tow, we blasted down the Ridge of Bell right into the Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe shrines. With squeals of delight, the young ladies each found a favorite idol they could cherish.

And the thought occurred to me that what happens today might not be as lasting as that which has happened before. In a town full of intellectuals and amateur philosophers, even young girls know that.

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at

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