Gustafson: Don’t it always seem to go |

Gustafson: Don’t it always seem to go

As I wandered through the woods last week, I felt numb, a little lost and empty as I pursued a sad mission searching, it seemed in vain, for any signs of our beloved little dog, who vanished from our yard while we were all playing and gardening on a beautiful Sunday afternoon.

As the days passed, hope died, and my tears were only comforted some as my aimless scouring helped me to acknowledge what a life she had enjoyed for over 10 years in these beautiful woods. Free and undomesticated like an animal should be, and yet well loved, fed and sheltered like a human, the best of all worlds here in this clean and still uncultivated pocket of the world. I guess I would prefer to live a short free life opposed to a long life on a tight leash, but that is the way I forgive myself for what may have happened to her, as well as every cat that I’ve ever had here since childhood.

Drifting in a teary daze through the trees, I began to think about all the years I have spent in these woods, how they have become the only place I know to go in search of solace.

And I was reminded of what we have here. As we look to the future of development in Snowmass, I’m struck by the images I’ve collected over the years, some in my mind’s eye. And also the historical photos I’ve had the honor of safekeeping as they all expose, like a timelapse video on high-speed, the vast and rapid scale of growth that has taken place as each decade has paved over it’s piece of paradise in this small valley.

Like a dirge, Joni Mitchell’s “Yellow Taxi’s” lyrics have been hanging in my heavy heart and haunting my quiet times this past week; after all, “don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.” We dearly loved our little dog and now she’s gone; but much of what we love about living in Snowmass is not gone, yet!

The words remind me of how we all struggle to avoid tangible regrets, yet this somehow only seems to come into play with a heavy dose of hindsight. The song first etched its way into my brain when the Counting Crows remixed it and a friend put it on a mix tape that came to define coming-of-age for me.

Over time, those particular lyrics seemed to creep up from my subconscious during my youthful transitions and later upon a prodigal return after the passing of college and traveling years. With a small dose of exposure to the harsh realities outside our small Snowmass Village bubble and with newly earned college degrees that inevitably ensured some cynical-skepticism, or at least a little less blissful-ignorance, I found myself lured back to Snowmass.

Along with returning home came the realization that I was not the only piece of my past that had changed. This landscape was undeniably different in shape and character. I felt a sense of grief at first, seeing the complete development of my beloved wild Burnt Mountain, the setting for countless childhood adventures and the enormous estates that now line the Owl Creek where I had once imagined fairies living in a magical realm with trolls and talking trees. In my absence, many new subdivisions had broken ground, including the entryway, and the prevalence of green that once was seemed just a little less vast here, there and everywhere.

And the character had shifted too, people seemed perhaps more., well, vacant, in both physical presence and emotional investment in their community. Many had begun to live their lives in Aspen. Marketing had taken over the small town gatherings and some of our icons like the Tower restaurant, the mall fire pit, our community pool and other character staples had been redeveloped with little protest. More temporary employee housing had started creating waves of transient villagers who seemed less invested in the longevity of their town. Snowmass was at a crossroads and many had thrown up their hands and decided we were, after all, just a resort and that was that. And as Dr. Seuss’s old Oncler said, “Business is business, and business must grow, no matter how bigger it all has to grow.”

Then the Base Village controversy began. Ironically, this massive over-development project turned out to become our lotus flower, renewing a sense of community, reborn out of the controversy over the muddy heap of unfinished construction. And many began to realize that much more diligence was necessary before this town would willingly march to the beat of another “music man” coming to town with symphonic proclamations.

So now when I look out of my kitchen window over the valley and into our future, I’m of the opinion that we, the stewards for tomorrow, should consider a thoughtful, steady and reserved approach, acknowledging the inevitable build-out that could take place, no matter how slowly it creeps in.

And, although I do not want to close the door behind us now, I only hope that my children will not feel a similar sense of loss someday, perhaps sooner than I, finding themselves returning to a few more subdivisions filled with even grander vacant spec mansions, acres of mountainside amusement thrills, city lights and miles of concrete sidewalks and parking lots leading the way to the slopes. As we play along with the developer’s game of king-of-the-mountain, ever attempting to pave the way to personal paradise, we are seemingly unable to take pause and see what we’ve got before it’s gone. Chipping away at it, one small piece at a time.

Aeschylus, the Greek tragedian put it best, “There is no pain so great as the memory of joy in present grief.” Fond memories attach themselves to places, trails and meadows, ponds and streams, a tree, a favorite slope, or on a larger scale, a recognizable mountain vista. A backdrop can be less pleasure invoking when it stands to remind us of times and places that had once been great but now are gone.

Perhaps I’m feeling extra sentimental at the moment, but it seems personal accountability for how we leave our environment also includes the pace with which we allow the inevitable to take place and it is best to recognize that haste is rarely a reliable ally.

Yes, our visitors pay a premium to come here, and it is to them — as it is to those of us who have given up much financial security and sacrificed a more material life to remain here — paradise.

Do we really need a “pink hotel and a swinging hot spot?” I’ll take rooted trees and yes, leave me the birds and bees, please!

This column is dedicated to my sweet, Jane, my daughter’s best friend, my son’s favorite companion and my confidant. When they were babies, she slept at the foot of their cradles, and as they grew she kept them warm. She would have given her life for any one of us without hesitation, proving her devotion on every walk. Jane, I still think I hear your collar running up the paths and I still look for you in the sun’s rays and I can feel you in my arms and sense you when I close my eyes. You will remain within us as we sleep knowing you now keep the vigil.

Editor’s note: Britta still hopes Jane is out there. Email Britta at

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