Marolt: Finding old Aspen across the sea
It’s the mosquitos. They are tiny but persistent. They’re called “no-see-ums,” because you can’t. Extermination is not a major concern. The higher priorities: water, electricity. Sources of each are reliable, not perfect. But the place has miles of beaches and few people around, so the trade-off seems worthwhile to us, the mainlanders who tan with effort and suffer the heat as much as we say we enjoy it. I have been to the interior of Alaska and this is a lot like that, except not. It’s tropical.
I remember Aspen when you would get eaten alive in Wagner Park in the center of town any summer evening you ventured out without bug spray. Those are what we call the good old days, and they were. That’s not the same as claiming we liked the mosquitoes. They were awful. It’s just that, when we had them, we didn’t have other things, like traffic jams, roundabouts, boutiques, penthouses or a pervading air of superiority. I don’t know how they control the bugs now, but I bet it wasn’t an old-timer who thought of the way.
I hope nobody gets hurt. A doctor is not close. It’s not likely, but you never know. All we are going to do is lay on the beach, read and play in the water, taking breaks to kayak up the nearby river at high tide searching for the legendary, bottomless Blue Hole that allegedly exists a few miles up through the mangroves. It boils over when the tide comes in and swirls like a drain when it goes out. Legend says it has swallowed horses. Locals won’t go near it. We want to swim over it with masks and snorkels.
We are on Cat Island in the Bahamas. It’s about 45 minutes by air and an era or two away from the big hotels and casinos of Nassau. The island is about from here to Glenwood Springs long and about as wide as the Roaring Fork Valley, too.
The people at the tiny hotel of rock cabins told us to take their rusty bikes to the pink sand beach across the island. It’s 2 miles north and then a mile east on a dirt road that might give us some trouble, they said. Take everything you need, though; there’s nothing there.
We pedaled the dusty road and passed nothing but a couple of forestalled dreams; foundations and some walls going up with the jungle growing thick around them at the moment. They are not developments. They are savings accounts. Rather than put money into a bank account far away, the locals will add another wall and eventually a roof when they have a little extra money saved up.
At the eastern shore, the sand really is slightly pink. There is one tiny, non-luxurious resort and that constitutes the entire evidence of human life here, although we don’t actually see any humans. It’s shut up tight for hurricane season. Even when open, it doesn’t look like it could salve away the real world stresses of more than a handful of visitors.
The wind is blowing down the beach from thunderheads building over the land. It is surreal. We are the only ones here. There are no boats on the water. There are no contrails in the sky. Aside from the boarded-up resort disappearing over our shoulders, there are no structures anywhere in sight. It is as if we are survivors on this planet that is definitely not Earth.
Back in humble civilization, our host drives us to a hermitage on the high point of the island, 200 feet above the sea. It is a miniature, one-person stone cathedral and home for a priest who mimicked the life of St. Francis in the 19th century. The architecture and craftsmanship are remarkable. As I stare off wondering what drove this man, the paucity of light across the land is astonishing. Nobody is here!
Could I live in a place like this? Sure. It is beautiful. There’s no crime. It’s insulted from global politics and man-made fears. Life here is its own thing to do and enough to keep anyone occupied. Recreation is built into it, so making a point to do it probably feels superfluous and is why we feel conspicuous staging it on the beach each day.
Would I ever live in a place like this? No. While the idea of it calls a part of me, my identity has been forged in a different place. Watching the sunset west of nowhere, I know that I am a slave to what I believe I am. I have to go home now, as much as it saddens me at the moment.
Roger Marolt knows that Aspen’s past is not unique on this planet. Email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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