Stone: Even for a cranky old guy, Aspen’s a great place |

Stone: Even for a cranky old guy, Aspen’s a great place

Andy Stone
A Stone’s Throw

Sometimes I do get a little tired of constantly harping on the latest terrible development in Aspen.

I look in the mirror and see a cranky old man — except instead of shouting, “Hey, you kids! Get off my lawn!” I’m shouting, “Hey! Get your bulldozer off my lawn!”

The only place I look young and cheerful anymore is in the embarrassingly old photo that runs with this column. (Time for an updated replacement. Wrinkles and all. Hmmm. When was the last time anyone in Aspen actually added wrinkles?)

But last weekend, I did have a moment when I stopped to think and appreciate a few wonderful — and wonderfully diverse — things about Aspen.

First, Aspen Valley Hospital.

Sure, I know. It’s fashionable in some circles to hate the hospital for being too big and still getting bigger. And I admit, it is pretty damn big. Some people I know and respect spend a lot of time and energy hating the hospital, and I understand their motivation.

But, sorry guys, I can’t join you in that one.

I had an Aspen Valley Hospital emergency room experience a week or so ago (one of many such encounters over the past four decades) when — moving too fast and thinking too slow — I ran into a sharp-edged door frame and gouged a nasty gash in my forehead.

The gushing blood was astonishing. Scalp wounds bleed like crazy — and my forehead has expanded over the years to include a lot of territory that was once considered scalp.

Once my wife and I ruined a double handful of washcloths getting the bleeding under control, we raced upvalley to the hospital.

The attention I received was fast and efficient, friendly, warm and professional.

I was led into the ER by a guy I used to work with at the newspaper, and my scalp was put back together by a beautiful Aspen native, a former ballet dancer who has transitioned into a medical professional with no loss of grace or beauty.

It was the best experience any congenitally clumsy clown like I am could hope for.

And that reminds me of my continuing experiences with the infusion department at the hospital, another group of impressive, deeply caring professionals.

I think the infusion department has one of the most wrenching jobs at the hospital. They get to know most of their patients over long periods of time — the treatments there can stretch for months, or even years, in processes that are all too often terminal. They know their patients, and then they lose them. (No, just for the record, not me. I’m doing fine, thank you.)

So, I consider Aspen Valley Hospital a great thing about this town.

And then, with my head wound still healing, I had another great Aspen encounter: Tony Vagneur reading from his book, “Aspen: Then and Now,” at the Aspen Historical Society.

Tony’s book is a collection of columns he has written for the Times over the years. I think his columns are generally great, and when he reads them, his delivery makes them even better.

But what made that experience really stand out was the way Tony evokes an Aspen that once was and never will be again.

If you ask Tony the standard Aspen question — “How long have you lived here?” — his answer would properly be in generations, not years. His ancestors on both sides of his family moved here in the late 1800s, back when Aspen really was a mining camp.

But it’s not the longevity that carries the day when Tony reads; it’s the spirit.

Tony’s a cowboy who, cheerfully and properly, also calls himself a ski bum. He’s spent countless hours riding his family’s ranchland, chasing down errant cattle — and he spent years on the Aspen Mountain ski patrol, chasing down errant skiers.

He can write with equal eloquence about long, hard hours on horseback and finding lost glades deep in the mountains or the challenges and delights of blasting down Summit, a fiendishly difficult (even for Tony) run on Aspen Mountain. And, for a change of pace, he can play piano in a Ouray bar for tips and (he thought) free beer.

With a wink and a smile and just the right touch of cynicism, he’s ready and able to laugh at himself as well as the rest of us.

Tony Vagneur is uniquely and perfectly Aspen, the breath of fresh air that blows a lot of stale odors away.

My last perfect Aspen experience came when my wife and I went out in search of wildflowers.

We were not, I have to admit, wildly adventurous. We were feeling pleasantly lazy on a Saturday morning, and instead of planning some serious (or even semiserious) trek into the mountains, we settled for a drive up Castle Creek to a meadow a friend had told us was a riot of color.

And she was right.

People have been saying that this is a particularly glorious year for the wildflowers, and the fact that lazy roadside wanderers like we are were able to find the staggering profusion of color that we did was testimony to that fact.

And, perhaps because the spot we chose was so decidedly not “special” — nothing secret about it; it’s a nameless spot right by the side of the road — there was no one else there. We wandered all by ourselves for an hour, immersed in beauty: flowers and sky and mountains.

And then, brave adventurers that we are, we made our way up to the Pine Creek Cookhouse for a really wonderful lunch: great food, a cheerful waiter, a spectacular view. It’s everything that Aspen ought to be: beautiful, tasteful, tasty (of course) and uniquely Aspen.

I’m taking a deep breath here, because I can feel a rant coming on, about how so many of those perfect, beautiful, uniquely Aspen places have been destroyed over the years — but I’m not going to indulge right now.

When you’re lying in the sun in a meadow of wildflowers, why would you think about anything else?

Even for a cranky old man, this is a great place.

Andy Stone is former editor of The Aspen Times. His email address is