Vagneur: The mountains always win
While riding the gondola last week, I shared a cabin with an interesting habitue of Aspen Mountain, a man who also skis most every day. We talked of the importance of skiing in our lives, of favorite runs, and eventually wondered when it was that old bastards such as we are might start to slow down. I ventured that, like old war horses, we’ll probably just go down in battle on Bell Mountain or Corkscrew Gully and become part of the landscape.
And then he said something that pulled me out of my comfort zone: “I have difficulty reconciling the fact that others will be skiing this mountain after I’m gone.”
I’d never thought in those terms before, and I fought back against the notion his remark exemplified. To me, my daughter and grandson will be knocking the tops off moguls long after I’ve ceased my earthly existence, and I cherish that thought. In my mind, much of the magic is in the history, and I seldom can make a run without acknowledging the importance of men and women, now departed, who gave me the privilege of skiing with them over the years. And I can only hope that someday, someone will remember me in that same favorable light.
But others may feel differently.
And then I came upon a striking photograph in a magazine somewhere, an image of a stand of purple, snow-covered cliffs in the half-light of approaching darkness, underscored by a strange quote: “For several minutes, I just watched the mountains, in awe that they had been there all this time — my entire lifetime — without me ever having witnessed them.” In other words, at least in my sage interpretation, the person was saying, “How could something that beautiful exist without my knowledge or consent?”
Ego speaks, in the form of egocentrism, a psycho-babble term that we won’t spend much time on, for at the basest level, it simply reflects an inability to see things from another’s perspective, as I’ve tried to describe in the two examples above. Ego in the wilderness seems to be our state of affairs and our master. We all think we get it, but do we?
How often do we hear around town the voicing that we live a “unique mountain lifestyle”? I have no idea what that means. I guess if we live in the mountains, we live that way, although I’m fairly certain there are more than a few who don’t make the connection. I love it when some altitude-sotted person says they did “two or three outdoor activities today.” That’s tough to compete with, especially when I’m tasked with carrying 80-pound hay bales out to the corral to feed the horses and walking my dog two or three miles every morning, and then, before you know it, it’s time to go skiing.
And then I reverse the order in the afternoon after I get off the mountain, finishing about dark. Oh yeah, two days a week I throw in a brutal uphill hike with my friend Margaret in addition to the usual daily routine. Hell, I don’t have time to participate in a “mountain lifestyle” that allows me “two or three outside activities” a day — I’m too busy taking care of business. Apparently, my outdoor life (or lack of) didn’t exist until “outsiders” got here to define it.
Maybe we feel like one of many in the Nietzschean theory that every “human being strives instinctively for a citadel and a secrecy where he is saved from the crowd, the many, the great majority.” Maybe that’s the essence of mountain living — getting away from the masses. Or do we not see our visceral desperation?
It comes in the form of people who say that living in Aspen isn’t living in the “real world,” that by residing here we are somehow cheating, that we are shirking our responsibility to a more serious-minded world with loftier goals. If the real world consists of smogged-up big cities, cloistered work cubicles in crowded buildings, a million unidentifiable smells, frustration, traffic jams or long train rides to work, then I guess, yeah, thank God this isn’t the real world. In such matters, I welcome haughty verbal abuse.
The mountains surround me — they were here before me, and they will survive me — and they don’t much care what I think. I understand that, and I’m OK with it. You?
Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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