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Britta Gustafson: Informed by the current

As mountain-raised kids, we didn’t have the ocean in our backyards to teach us how to ride a wave; but we learned early, and mostly from cautionary tales, that nature can be as ruthless as it is majestic. All is fair in love, war and nature.

Survival, we were taught before field trips and outdoor education weeks, is all about respecting the power of nature and accepting it’s fickle state. Assume nothing, learn from mistakes and adapt quickly to an unforgiving climate when necessary. We were groomed to prepare for the worst and learned that the necessary abundance of caution applied to everyone from the most experienced on down.

But it was my introduction to the ocean that taught me about the true power of nature. I was 5, maybe 6 years old the first time I was allowed to run barefoot into an incoming wave. I had fantasies about spontaneously growing gills and a fin and joining Sebastian and Ariel in an underwater musical.

But the sand was hot and instantly thwarted my run. Two strides in my little feet sunk and then wham, I was facedown tasting sand way before the salty turquoise waters were even within reach. Rebounding with urgency off the heated surface, I continued my run, more out of burning necessity than enthusiasm. Reaching the ocean’s edge, the cooler sand was a great relief, and arms spread wide, ready to dive, I embraced the oncoming wave. All I can remember is a gulp of sea water, then seeing the sky followed by the frothy underwater, gagging and gasping for air as my small body was folded in two.

By the end of my first beach day I had learned once again that nature is a force. I had been pummeled by the very ocean I had been dreaming of, drawing and reading all about. It caught me off guard and each ensuing wave continued to smack me down until I learned to appreciate its force and to stop trying to stand right back up.

It seems we are dealing with a force of nature right now. And it is not detached, it’s not amusement; we are a part of it and we are responsible for its momentum. Perhaps before we can ever really regain our stance, we will need to learn what it’s trying to teach and find a way to adjust.

And while we can’t see it, and many of us have not actually felt it, we may still be stumbling and scrambling to get back to our feet too soon. As each new wave seems to be in our face, ready to hit with unpredictable force, we keep trying to ignore its power. Reopening, “back to normal,” is that adaptation? Look at the new wave in South Korea, and — my heart be still — as we learn that there is a new surge in hospitalizations of children coming as the current continues to pulse in New York.

Perhaps to ride these waves we need to crawl before we can stand, we need to appreciate this moment. Here in the mountains we may not know much about the ocean, but we are mountain people and we know how to appreciate a climate that can not be controlled. We have our peaks and valleys, our in-seasons and offseasons that have forced preparedness into our annual routines. If we are anything, we are resilient. But I fear we will only reach our true potential once we bow our heads to this awesome, terrifying power and stop trying to deny the force of this pandemic in favor of standing up and reopening too soon.

Those in the breaking waves got pummeled, and the rest of us — watching from the beach —have not yet felt the power of getting the oxygen knocked out of our lungs, the struggles to hang on in the presence of a force that could snuff us out. We watched, and perhaps from our nightly news or social media sites, it didn’t seem as bad as it was. Or perhaps we turned away and stopped watching, feeling safe up here until the tide comes in.

Perhaps we have had the privilege of petty concerns and forming our opinions from our beach towels, and if we are lucky, perhaps we will learn from the rest as we watch from a safe distance. But until we appreciate its power, we are all still as vulnerable as a child in the waves.

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 brittag@ymail.com.

Volunteers needed to help domestic, sexual abuse survivors

Editor’s Note: Sponsored content brought to you by Response

Response is looking for more local volunteers to be that listener and safety net for those in crisis.
24-hour hotline

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic or sexual abuse, Response has a 24-hour crisis helpline in the Roaring Fork Valley offering immediate response for victims any day of the week, any hour of the day.

To access this confidential crisis assistance, call 970-925-SAFE (7233).

The effects of domestic abuse or sexual assault can feel overwhelming for victims, especially when they feel trapped in an unsafe situation.

Response, a nonprofit that helps victims of domestic and sexual abuse in the upper Roaring Fork Valley, provides services that offer safety, comfort and relief for victims who need support.

In 2019, 181 clients  used the services provided by Response, and 250 people called their 24 hour crisis helpline.

Survivors of abuse who come to Response find a non-judgemental listener, referrals to other agencies, court and medical accompaniment and many other types of support. Many of these survivors were in the midst of a life-changing crisis and Response was their first stop on their journey of recovery.

Response is looking for more local volunteers to help those in crisis. An online training for volunteer advocates begins May 11 (see factbox).

Domestic and sexual abuse in the valley

One in three women, and one in four men, in the United States have experienced some form of physical violence by an intimate partner, according to The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Those statistics ring true locally, according to Response staff.

“There’s a common misperception that victims fit into some kind of mold,” said Response’s Executive Director Shannon Meyer. “Anyone could be experiencing abuse— your neighbor, colleague, family member — yet you may have no idea.”

Another misperception is that domestic abuse is always physical — it can also be psychological, emotional and financial. Domestic abuse impacts people from every education level, socioeconomic class, race, gender, sexual orientation, single or married.

“Abuse can touch anyone and victims don’t fit into any obvious stereotypes,” she said. “A lot of times, people are surprised by that.”

Rising need for more local volunteers

Response operates a 24/7 crisis help line staffed almost entirely by trained volunteers who work 12-hour on-call shifts on weeknights and weekends. 

There were 250 calls to the helpline in 2019 — however Response has been struggling to get enough volunteers to cover shifts.

“It’s really crucial that we have trained volunteers taking shifts on the crisis line. Volunteers give our full time staff a break and keeps them, our most important resource, from burning out.”

Volunteers must complete a 30-hour training program that teaches volunteers everything they need to know to respond to a victim’s immediate needs when they call in crisis. There is always a backup staff member on-call who can handle more complicated calls should a volunteer need assistance.

“The training provided to become an advocate prepares you to support and empower those in crisis, as well as expands a culture that provides safe harbor to survivors of violence and abuse,” said Greg Shaffran, a proud volunteer for Response since 2014.

Response asks its volunteers to take two on-call shifts per month, so the commitment is relatively minimal. The requirement for the on-call shift is pretty simple: volunteers must remain within cell range during their shifts to ensure they don’t miss a call. This means you might have to skip a backcountry skiing day or even areas of the ski resorts where cell phone coverage is unreliable. “Our volunteer advocates serve a very important role of stabilizing a caller until they can connect with one of our staff advocates during office hours triaging until the callers can connect with our staff advocates,” Meyer said. “Volunteers need to be able to listen, understand the dynamics of what’s happening, tell them what resources are available and help them into a safe position until they can talk to our staff.”

Response needs more volunteers

Are you interested in helping victims of domestic and sexual abuse in our valley? Response needs volunteers to be available ideally for two 12-hour on-call shifts per month. Crisis line calls are routed to volunteers’ cell phones, so all you have to do is remain within cell range during your shifts. A 30-hour training is required and during the current pandemic restrictions, the training will be offered entirely online for the first time. The next training begins May 11. Any interested volunteers should join an informational meeting via Zoom on May 4 at 3:30 p.m.

“I volunteer with Response because I believe in the transformative power of showing up for another person during times of deep sadness, confusion or fear,” said Response volunteer Shannon Birzon. “I feel eternally grateful for those who have done the same for me, and volunteering is a way for me to give back to my community.”

If you’re interested in volunteering, visit www.responsehelps.org/volunteer, call 970-920-5357, or email info@responsehelps.org.

Village Voices: Despite COVID-19, trivia in Snowmass Village lives on

Although the novel coronavirus pandemic has halted a lot of group activities in Snowmass Village over the past month, Tuesday night trivia is not one of them.

After the Snowmass ski season ended March 14 and the New Belgium Ranger Station temporarily closed its doors as a result of the pandemic, the weekly trivia competition found a new venue online.

And since this virtual debut, trivia host Elliott Audette said people from Snowmass Village and beyond have tuned in for the game night each week, still finding a way to connect and unwind despite the COVID-19 crisis.

“It seems a little silly at first but it has some of the same vibes and is super fun,” Audette said.

Although he said the online Tuesday trivia night is going well so far, he was reluctant to start it up at first.

Audette worried it would feel forced or obnoxious if he was just “screaming at a computer,” but with a little boost from his Snowmass friends and trivia followers he decided to give it a try, creating a teaser video and using the remaining trivia games he had prepared for in-person to start.

Through live streaming himself host the trivia night via YouTube, having participants submit their answers through an app on their phones and encouraging interaction with each other through Google Hangout, Zoom and YouTube live chat, Audette said so far he’s been able to keep part of the same lively Ranger Station trivia spirit alive virtually. About 30 to 50 people have joined in each Tuesday over the past four weeks, Audette said, and he is happy the virtual platform allows his East Coast and West Coast friends to all play together in one place.

“I was super hesitant to start it up at first because the whole fun is interacting with the audience and teams at the bar. I didn’t see how that could work online,” Audette said.

“It’s definitely very different than in-person but it fills the same void of getting the community together. … It’s turned out great.”

Once the Ranger Station and the rest of Snowmass Village businesses and restaurants can safely reopen and host larger group sizes, Audette said he’ll start up the in-person Tuesday trivia again.

However, given the success of the virtual game night and his desires to expand weekly trivia and opportunities to connect in the village, he also hopes to keep the online platform going. Audette plans to live stream his in-person games at the Ranger Station but also to potentially creating specific themed, online-only trivia.

Regardless of being able to host trivia in-person or online, Audette feels it remains a good way for friends and neighbors to interact with one another and offers a break from COVID-19 news.

“I think it’s definitely helping everyone stay more sane and feel a bit more normal through all of this,” Audette said. “There’s no politics, no deep discussions on all of the bad stuff, just a two hour escape. That’s the most important part.”

Tuesday’s online trivia night can be found at the Snowmass Village Trivia YouTube page.