Eventually, I’ll get to the moose sighting
Growing up in Aspen, I remember a lot of bearskin rugs, but not many bears. Likewise, lots of people had antlers mounted above their mantels, yet living elk seemed mythical. When people wanted to see wildlife in those days, the best way was by pulling your car to the side of the street near The Red Onion rather than the edge of Owl Creek Road.
My great-uncle owned a bunch of land south of Owl Creek that we humbly called “The Pasture.” Who knows why they eventually named it “Mandalay”? We’d sit out on the front porch of his cabin up there, which was really no more than a well-maintained and tidy shack and blow on a hollowed-out tip of a horn that produced a wretched screech that hunters supposedly believed was music to elk ears. Who could argue? They were the only ones I knew who ever saw elk, and even among them it was a rare and celebrated occurrence. Nonetheless, we blew on that horn long and hard and never attracted anything by it. The best we did was get lightheaded and saw a few bright specks circling the sphere of semiconsciousness. It was nothing a cool dip in the reservoir couldn’t cure.
It’s hard to follow the logic because, as I’ve pointed out, elk sightings were nonexistent, but seeing a bear was even rarer than that. My great-uncle Steve was the king of storytelling on the porch at the shack. There was no way to top his tales, but I think if he could hear the story of my wife and me being startled by a big black bear 10 feet from our meat behind Carl’s Pharmacy this year as the Fourth of July parade was winding down, it would have left him wondering how my parents could have raised such a liar.
I have poked and prodded a theory from my brain of why there was such a lack of wildlife when I was young, when Aspen was supposedly an undiscovered backwater town preparing for a career in tourism. After all, it was a small town at the end of a two-lane country road with its population as condensed as possible around the church, post office and grocery store. Nobody was encroaching on the animals’ territory then. “Encroaching” hadn’t even been discovered as a surefire way to increase land values yet.
What I believe may have accounted for the lack of wild creatures to count back then are the miners — my great-uncle’s uncles, if you will. There were a lot of them, and by the time the trains hauled in food to feed them, it was more overripe and deformed than most of the produce section at Clark’s Market is now — probably just about as expensive, too!
At any rate, the state of store-bought food drove the miners into the forests and hills to put food on the tables. In the late 1800s, I think they shot or caught and ate every living thing on four legs, two talons and a few fins in the valley. Yes, besides scarring the land and unearthing toxic heavy metals from the bowels of the Earth to extract what would basically become worthless silver and stripping the landscape of every tree suitable for throwing up temporary miner housing and shoring up tunnels under the mountains, the miners petty much ate the valley’s entire inventory of wildlife.
I know it sounds crazy, but I think it has taken until now for the upper Roaring Fork Valley to recover from the reckless disregard for anything but money of our romantically revered founders (not counting the Utes, of course). Sure, they loved this place as much as we do — until the United States unhitched its currency from the silver anchor and the price of that precious metal wasn’t very precious anymore and they all scrammed.
That’s my theory. I’m sure the true historians and nature biologists have their own theories, which may or may not jibe with mine. It doesn’t really matter. We made mistakes in taking care of the land then as we are now and as we will continue to do in the future. Whatever — we have lots of wild animals around here now, and they’re even becoming a nuisance at times.
I don’t know how I got going here today. All I really wanted to say is that my friend, Leah, saw a young moose near the bus stop at The Crossings in Horse Ranch the other morning. I think that’s really cool! I’m pretty sure my great-uncle never saw one.
Roger Marolt wonders how long it will be until we will have to start shooing moose out of our gardens. Email roger@marolt llp.com.
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