Many years later as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. —Gabriel Garcia Marquez: One Hundred Years of Solitude
It is late summer 1977 in Aspen, Colorado. Pluto is still a planet. Nobody wears tattoos or pierced lips. Hair is long and bell-bottoms, wide. Jimmy Carter pardons all Vietnam draft evaders. “Tonight’s The Night” by Rod Stewart is the year’s number one song, but receives no Grammy. Star Wars plays in theaters. Rocky wins the Oscar for Best Picture. Apple begins selling its first laptops.
The first MRI image is produced. Pink Floyd performs the first quadrophonic concert in London. I am reading Bruce Chatwin’s In Patagonia. Patty Hearst is sentenced to five years. G. Gordon Liddy is released from prison. And Ted Bundy leaps from a window in the Aspen Courthouse and escapes into the Rocky Mountains.
Aspen nestles in the Roaring Fork Valley and sits in the shadow of surrounding mountains, 11 to 14-thousand feet high. The back side of the ski slopes of Aspen harbors a few atavistic log cabins, remnants from prospecting days during the 1800’s, which are now rented to semi-hard-core Thoreau impersonators who may want to live in a place like Aspen but want to escape a place like Aspen. I rent one of these log cabins and build a corral of lodgepole pines for my horses Kriya and Circe. There is no running water, no electricity, no roads, no neighbors in that neck of the woods—the allure, not hardship.
You take baths in a claw-foot, cast iron bathtub you fill with ice-cold water from the spring bubbling up next to the tub, under which you build a small fire to heat the water, as though a giant pot of soup. You place a 1X8 pine board between you and the floor of the tub because the cast iron gets so hot from the direct flames below, you could inadvertently sear your bottom. In winter when it snows on Aspen Mountain, it dumps feet at a time, every time, all winter. You might find yourself shoveling the tub out of snow to take a bath. And you might need to chop through thin ice to get to the water flowing from the spring. You will not see solid ground for months at a time. You’ll probably wear insulated hiking boots every day, even in summer.
Life was not easy on the backside of the mountain, especially in winter. But it was a good time to live in Aspen. John Denver had a home there and sometimes gave free concerts in the Wheeler Opera House, built in 1889 and whose acoustics were so exceptional, when Denver sang “The Eagle and the Hawk” chills ran down your spine. Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thomson partied in Woody Creek. Leon Uris lived on Red Mountain and sometimes rented a room at the Holiday Inn, so he could watch football on cable TV. The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band hung out in Aspen. And Don Henley. Glenn Fry lived next door to Jimmy Buffet. In 1977, Claudine Longet, perhaps Aspen’s most famous femme fatale, was spending her 30 days in jail on weekends for shooting her lover, Olympic ski racer Spider Sabich. Later, she married her lawyer.
For heat inside the relatively large cabin, the open fireplace in the center of its one room radiated warm air in four directions. For dinners, a fancy wood-burning cook stove with two compartments for baking, and a reservoir for heating water. Summers, you drove your 4X4 along a narrow dirt path leading up the mountain from the valley below, the high-mountain meadows full of Indian paintbrush, skunk cabbage, and elegant blue columbines. There was an unwritten rule for back-country driving when vehicles met in opposite directions: the guy driving “down” the mountain had to back up to find a place wide enough for both to pass on the single-lane paths (originally carved for horse-drawn wagons hauling silver) because his chances of going over the edge while going backward were slightly less.
You might also want to remember not to dump the ashes from your fire place and cook stove into the outhouse pit until the ashes are completely cold. That stuff in the pit does not need a match to start a fire: if it gets too hot, spontaneous combustion occurs. You might show up at your cabin one evening, the way we did, and discover that your outhouse had blown itself to smithereens—the roof over there; the door, way over there. Bits and splinters of the walls…everywhere. They don’t call it deep shit for nothing.
In winter, you cross-country skied up that same path. Or, you skied up the face of Ajax Mountain, Aspen’s main ski slope (which most people mistakenly—or endearingly—call Aspen Mountain), early in the morning before all the skiers began pummeling down on regular skis (snowboards were not yet popular), and then you telemarked your way down through deep powder on the back side of the mountain where the cabin sat.
In this photo, the season is late summer, the aspens have not turned yellow yet. When Ted Bundy escapes from the Pitkin County Courthouse at just about the time this photo is taken, he works his way through town, by-passes Tom’s Market, then climbs Aspen Mountain and hikes over to the back side. He runs across a cabin, breaks in, steals some food, clothes, a rifle.
I’ll stop there for today. This is getting longer than imagined. I’ll save Part II for next week.
Forgive the weirdness of the photo, it’s a very poor digital copy of a 35mm slide taken ages ago. The guy didn’t even clean the slide.
You can view more DP Photo Challenge images here: Seasons