Meredith C. Carroll: When Aspen is its own guiltiest pleasure
I imagined myself in a scene from a movie when I drove my tightly packed car west over the George Washington Bridge 17 years ago this month. Most films about New York take place in it, not fleeing from it (with a notable exception found in 1981’s “Escape from New York”). However, less than a month after sitting alone in my dark, stiflingly hot Upper West Side apartment on an evening that felt unsettingly like the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, all over again (at least until it emerged that the citywide blackout was not terrorism related), any abiding affection I had for the Big Apple had already moved past the rotting stage and was onto being digested and expelled by maggots and flies.
The August 2003 blackout in the Northeast came to mind Saturday as my husband, daughters and I drove to Target in Glenwood Springs. I suppose it should have annoyed or exasperated me that our day was largely defined by a 90-mile round trip for what amounted to little more than a case of sparkling water, a pack of football cards and a new lunchbox. Except the excursion was my idea, and we all kind of loved it.
On the drive down we mused about a life in closer proximity to big-box stores and fast-food restaurants and then quickly agreed that we’d rather have dollar-aisle shopping and Dairy Queen dinners as an occasional guilty pleasure than on the everyday menu of possible things to do. Eschewing convenience isn’t a reason to leave the city or suburbs, but quitting the associated annoyances, frenetic spirit, ridiculous expectations, headaches, lines, crowds, traffic jams, pollution and not-infrequent-enough massive power outages and natural and human-made disasters certainly are.
Never has rural life been more appealing than during this pandemic (and hurricane season). The past several months weren’t the ones my family hoped or planned for, except like the trip downvalley, they still ended up being secretly delightful — with the secret part coming from us feeling as if it’s not appropriate or right to say out loud how much we enjoy being in the middle of nowhere when we know others are stuck in places that are distinctly somewhere else.
To be sure, there are things I miss about New York, even if they’re mostly people who are related to me (by blood or a shared history). (I also really miss being able to get a variety of food, delivered, for less than the cost of, say, a domestic airplane ticket.) But more than that, I’ve been cherishing (and yes, sometimes also cursing) the intentional silence and inconvenience of high-altitude living.
On too many days to count this summer I’ve gotten falling-down drunk on the view from inside an aspen grove, dizzy from the sight of a velvety bed of black-eyed susans or gone gaga over a lingering, rainbow sherbet-colored sunset. Even the smoke from the Grizzly Creek and Pine Gulch fires changed the local color palette, adding a filter that rendered each twilight a new occasion for optical discovery and enchantment. Apparently during a pandemic it’s still possible to pass an entire day doing nothing other than going outside and letting a Colorado blue sky hypnotize you into thinking maybe everything will be OK.
My empathy for those sitting in the dark — whether due to power outages from recent storms, wildfires, or a COVID-19-related diagnosis, isolation or depression — runs deep. At times it has felt unfair or even wrong passing these long days and weeks in an alpine paradise. But rather than feel shame at relishing what’s already here, I’m trying to eat it up with greater purpose, thinking more than ever about how grateful I am not to be cramped in high rise that’s surrounded by a mess instead of the mountains.
With each day of 2020 proving to be not much different from one to the next, the change of weather seems like an afterthought as summer in the West starts its long march toward autumn followed by a quick hop into winter. At a time when pretty much everything is wrong, it only seems right and responsible to be even more conscious and appreciative of what isn’t.
More at MeredithCarroll.com and on Twitter @MCCarroll.
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