Tony Vagneur: Where is the ‘understanding’ in Aspen’s land run?
For some now-forgotten reason, I was waiting around the construction site of a very large home up Castle Creek. Leaning against a rock in the driveway, I was witness to the arrival of the owner, who had just flown in, on an inspection tour. Almost immediately, he found fault with the large logs outlining a very wide and long, substantially beautiful, covered entrance to his sprawling house. He was loudly berating the workmen and the job boss on the spot — it just didn’t fit his vision.
Being somewhat averse to such nonsense, I walked over and interjected myself into the conversation by saying something to the effect that maybe if he, the owner, would come to the job site and participate with the workmen in the peeling of the timbers, by feeling the pride of accomplishment and workmanship through his own hands, he may enjoy his house and the construction of it in a more positive light. After finding out he couldn’t fire me on the spot, he demanded I leave the job immediately.
The last couple of years have seen sales of some of the remaining large tracts of land holdings around Aspen and people wonder, “What’s going to happen on that land?” “What’s the new owner going to do?” For the most part, in our modern, technological world, the new owners haven’t the experience of irrigating the land, haven’t dug a posthole, don’t know one kind of grass from another, and for sure don’t know the history of what they’ve bought. The new owners don’t have the one thing they can’t buy — they don’t have the stories, and even more basically, they don’t have the memories. Ah, the smell of freshly turned earth behind a plow or newly mown hay.
As my friend Mark Hesselschwerdt says, in relation to the history of Aspen Mountain, skiing and memories of important days past, “There aren’t many alumni left.” Sadly, the same can be said of ranchers, farmers and even the once-plentiful backyard gardeners who have nurtured their land for a very long time, generational to a fault in some cases.
We have a few entrepreneurial truck farmers in the valley, mostly situated on Open Space and Trails land, which is to say not all of the open land is being developed or targeted for development. It’s a lot of hard work for not much financial return, but illustrates the point that farming and ranching should be about being in tune with the land, striving to improve it rather than extract from it. To some, dirt under the fingernails is more satisfying than green in the bank.
Somewhere our connection with the land has been lost, replaced with an attitude that land is to be settled, sold, developed, bulldozed, fenced and/or fertilized to fulfill its best uses. We are destroying it, acre by acre, have been for years, and by extension, destroying our environment.
Several weeks ago, accompanying a story about the Phillips Trailer Park, there was a photo of an adjacent hayfield, part of the Phillips property. The tagline under the picture described the empty hayfield as “unused land.” Laugh or cry, but if you laugh, you might not get it.
People move here, buy up property with visions of whatever in their heads, and for the most part don’t take the time to learn the history, to hear the stories. Maybe by spending 15 million or 20 million or more for a chunk of property, they think they have bought the right to simply move forward with it, sans a responsibility to the past which guaranteed delivery to them.
Although I’m talking about the fringes, the open land, as Roger Marolt pointed out last week, is not only about land, but about the general attitude toward our town that is being so destructive. Bill Kane, mayor of Basalt, gave a great Wednesday interview on it in The Aspen Times.
My good friend and dentist, Dr. William Wesson (RIP), said many times over the years, “We need to have the understanding before we can have the getting.”
Our environment is at stake, as is our future. The Aspen Historical Society can tell a great deal of the story for those who don’t know it. Go for a visit, peruse the archives, call ‘em up and ask for help. You’ll get an excellent response. It’s the most important organization in Aspen.
Kudos to those who have contacted me regarding the history of some of the land in the surrounding area. You know who you are. For that, the valley is eternally grateful.
Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at email@example.com.