Gustafson: Gratefully finding balance |

Gustafson: Gratefully finding balance

Britta Gustafson
Then Again

With the ever-present, ominous haze still looming in the distance, and the scent of destruction still on the winds, it’s hard to feel settled knowing that the devastation taking place in our valley will have decades of lasting impact. Writing, even thinking deeply about anything else, feels in many ways almost self centered.

I’m an outsider watching from the fringe but there is no lack of empathy with this happening so close to home. The reality is rending more leaks into that bubble of safety which often seems to surround our entire valley, though as of late it has begun to feel as if this house of cards might be too faded to last.

When my sister, niece and nephews arrived at 1 a.m. July 5 to stay with us here in Snowmass for a few days after fleeing the fire, they were visibly shaken and it became much more than a distant news story.

By the next day the communal sense of loss growing up and down the valley became palpable. We wandered through many hours, shocked and uncertain, unable to do anything useful and feeling that nagging uselessness weighing us down.

As to be expected, there were moments of self-preservation that didn’t feel too neighborly. People hoarding the lion’s share of ice at the mere mention of a power outage didn’t seem to be particularly civic-minded.

Still, even as the flames raged, a deluge of stories of gratitude and heroism began pouring in and the valley seemed to come together. These are experiences we so desperately need in this era of divisiveness.

Opening our homes, sharing meals and caring for one another conjured a great om of thoughts and prayers and a rising din of compassion. We are reminded of what it means to not only be, but to actually feel connected to our neighbors. I was struck by just how widespread our community has become, how much we mean to one another, how deep and far our roots are growing and how unified we can feel in a time of need.

To lose even one tree has an air of perdition, so the thought of thousands of acres of scorched earth and those who have lost everything is overwhelming. It brings me to tears to think of those burned houses, altered lives and beautiful landscape charred.

But gratitude for the valley-wide preparedness that kept everyone safe was the emotion I’ve felt most flushed with over the past few weeks. I hope we are as prepared here in Snowmass Village for the unimaginable as we need to be. It often seems unnecessary — at times even ridiculous to over prepare — and the excessive “safety-first” initiatives often feel muddled in litigation prevention as opposed to serving as true safety measures. But as I haven’t been able to find any information easily accessible on the town of Snowmass Village website regarding our emergency safety procedures, though perhaps there are plans with the Snowmass-Wildcat Fire Protection District or others. I do hope we are as prepared as we need to be.

The idea of the Pitkin Alerts app seemed, in theory, ideal. Mine didn’t work for whatever reason and I only received one alert — but perhaps that was more human error than a system malfunction. However, I did hear a number of stories throughout this event regarding contradictory messages and some confusion surrounding the evacuation notifications. Texts, tweets, posts, broadcasts and so many ways to receive information make it more difficult to know where to turn or what to believe. It may be an endemic symptom of this new era of social media and connected disconnect.

Maybe it would be worth the extra effort to have a public system in place for our town, a one stop place for reliable information or even a link on the town website.

But as fear-inducing as this fire has been for our valley, however well the systems functioned, they worked, and I’m thankful for that.

Gratitude is one place within which this community seems to have found its balance again. And it has a powerful energy around it that seems stronger than ever. I thank those who gave it all they had and then some more, and thinking of those who lost so much but modeled grace. Thank you to those who shared their lives in anyway with a stranger and to those who reached out to their neighbors and friends with love and compassion. And to those who stayed strong and avoided the temptations to blame or grumble, panic or lose perspective, my humblest gratitude goes out to this valley for all of that support.

Let’s exchange a piece of my mind for a little peace of mind; after all, if we always agree what will we talk about? Britta Gustafson appreciates an open mind; share yours and email her at