Stone: For a brief moment, it’s just us. Enjoy it while you can.
Whew! They’re gone. It’s just us now.
No, I’m not talking about those house guests — well, maybe I am, a little. You know how it is, even with people we love, people we love having visit us, it’s still a bit of a relief when they go. Even if we sincerely meant it when we said we wished they’d stay a little longer. It’s just a kind of a relief to have your house to yourself again.
And that goes for our valley, too.
I know. We count on those visitors to keep us in business, to keep us alive. If they stopped coming, a lot of us would have to move on, too.
But still, it’s a relief.
They’re gone — and we’re heading into what just might be the best part of the year.
We all talk about the glorious beauty of summer in Aspen. No matter how much we might love winter and skiing, we talk about how summer is a precious tiny gem, a very few too-brief months to interrupt what sometimes seems like endless winter.
But for all the perfection of summer, this little slice of autumn coming up right now is the real gem.
The air is crisp. The sky is a perfect blue. Even now the leaves are beginning to change and soon enough they will paint the mountains with that foolish impossible beauty. It’s so ridiculous. As if nature has no sense of taste, no self-control. The mountains look like a circus clown or maybe a 5-year-old who digs into her mother’s make-up kit.
Foolish, gaudy, tasteless — and magnificent.
And with that, we get the unsettling excitement that comes with the change of seasons. Our minds know it. Our bodies sense it. Something’s up. The world is spinning. And we’re here to enjoy the ride.
Just as the possibility of disaster adds to the exhilaration of a fast ski run down a steep slope, so the looming chill of winter adds to the thrill of glorious autumn.
And, yes, now it’s just us. Sort of.
Of course, there are still a few — or maybe more than a few — visitors, those who understand that these next few weeks are the best of the year.
But the real crush of summer is over. The crowds are gone.
And, just like those truly beloved relatives we hate to see go … we’re glad they’re gone.
For right now, we can breath a little easier.
Those of us who live “west of the roundabout” — as one Aspen-dwelling friend characterized most of the valley, when he was explaining that he really didn’t care all that much what happened in Basalt — can now consider driving up to Aspen without dreading the Darkness at the Edge of Town (aka: the Traffic Jam at the Wormhole.)
And if you want to hike the Four Pass Loop, you’re probably not going to find yourself stuck in a traffic jam there either.
Cruise the malls and you’ll suddenly see familiar faces who will smile upon recognition.
They say that when the leaves turn color in the fall, what’s actually happening is that they’re showing their real colors. The gold of the aspen leaves is there all along, it’s just hidden by the bright green of the chlorophyll that flourishes in the summer. And, yes, the chlorophyll is part of the vast and miraculous process that keeps us all alive — but it does cover up the colors that the shorter days and chilly nights of autumn will reveal.
And Aspen is like that. The “real” town is concealed beneath the life-giving green (for Aspen, of course, that’s cash, not chlorophyll) that flourishes in the summer. And now the green is ebbing and our true colors are revealed in the smiling faces of small-town friends.
So let’s all enjoy it.
But let’s be conscious as we enjoy it.
Let’s not be like the kids who blow off their summer reading list and get blind-sided by a quiz the first week of school.
Let’s take advantage of our breathing space to realize how wonderful it is to have that breathing space.
Let’s consider who really benefits when we build a few new hotels rooms — or, more to the point, who benefits when we build a lot more than just “a few” new hotel rooms.
And let’s look at the flip side of that coin and consider who benefits if we do not build any new hotel rooms, if we do not bring a few (or a lot) more people into this valley.
Let’s consider whether “more asphalt” is the answer or the problem. And if it is the answer, exactly what question is it answering.
Let’s consider where we’re going and whether that’s where we really want to go. As someone once said, if we keep going the way we’re going, we’re certain to wind up where we’re heading.
Is that where we want to be?
William Wordsworth once wrote that his poetry was born “from emotion recollected in tranquility.” But I’m afraid that the emotion we need to recollect in our current tranquility is whatever emotion we feel when we are stuck in that traffic jam, when we are elbowed out of the way on the sidewalks or in the malls.
And I suspect that the emotion we recollect will not amount to anything very poetic.
But, just like the summer reading list, it’s something we need to do.
And yet — get ready for a snap turn, beware whiplash, sorry — we need to treasure that tranquility.
Do not ponder the traffic jam while you’re hiking the Four Pass Loop. Or wandering through a grove of golden aspen trees. Or sitting alone (or with a few close friends) enjoying the warm sun, the crisp air and the perfect bluebird sky.
Enjoy the blessed moment, this brief spasm of perfection.
This is the best part of the year.
And it’s just us.
Andy Stone is former editor of The Aspen Times. His email address is email@example.com.
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