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A seasonal love affair

Tamara Miller
Paul Conrad (Aspen Times)
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People often look at me like I’m insane when I tell them that my husband and I once lived in California and were pretty happy to leave.

Our complaints are vague and nit-picky in nature and, I would guess, pretty dubious to some listeners. We point out the traffic, the state’s overwhelming bureaucracy that makes simple things like getting a driver’s license a three-month ordeal and the fact that a good slice of pizza was simply hard to find.

But the truth is a bit more new-agey than that. The Central Coast of California, beautiful with it’s cool ocean breeze and temperate year-round climate, just didn’t fit with me. I’m a Midwestern girl. I’m used to summers that are hot and winters that are cold, and I revel in the in-between months where you can watch the landscape transition between the two.

That’s why the next several weeks represent my favorite time of year. While local residents are starting to yearn for the ski season, and most of our second-home owners and guests will book their trips out here for after Thanksgiving, I am looking forward to enjoying the Vail Valley’s often too-short autumn.

If springtime represents youth and wintertime death, then I guess autumn is the middle-age time of the year. Yes, the Aspen leaves turn gold on their way to falling off and dying, but I don’t think of fall as a sad transition to an inevitable demise. Rather, autumn is more like a finely aged wine. OK, that was really new-agey.

Put simply, fall is the best of every season. In the Vail Valley, fall is the best time to hike and bike ” cool enough to comfortably hike, but warm enough to do it with only a few layers of clothing. The Rocky Mountain landscape never looks more incredible, yet more accessible, than in the fall. The green of the pine trees on the mountain slopes are never as beautiful as they are when contrasted with the rivers of golden aspen trees that wind alongside them. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, take a ride up Brush Creek Road south of Eagle toward the end of next month, when the aspens that border the road form a golden canopy that escorts you on the way to Sylvan Lake State Park.

I blame the American school system, in part, for my love of the autumn months. It’s been nearly a decade since I attended school, but my body and mind still seem in tune to the rhythms of a high school calendar year. I always enter the month of September with an inexplicable anticipation and an eagerness to do something purposeful with my year. For me, the year still begins when school starts, and school starts in the fall.

The journalist in me always is gleeful for another Election Day.

The sentimentalist in me makes the connection between fall and my football-loving father, who passed away two years ago next month. Growing up, Sunday was always Game Day from the end of August to the Super Bowl.

But mainly, fall brings out the romantic in me. My relationships have always seemed to follow the school calendar as well.

Nine years ago September, I was a fresh college grad who had just landed her first “real job” in the most dubious of journalism towns ” Vail, Colorado. I hadn’t a clue about the hot issues of the Vail Valley, had no idea what open space was, why affordable housing was so important nor how important water was, and still is, to the Western part of the country. All I knew was I was going somewhere different, miles away from my hometown of Hutchinson, Kansas, a place where I could start my new journey into adulthood.

I wasn’t looking for a boyfriend, so of course I found one. It was early on in our relationship that he took me on my first Vail Valley hike up Booth Falls. It was early October, and I still hadn’t kicked the smoking habit I had picked up while in college. I gasped for air the entire way and couldn’t even finish the relatively short 3-mile hike. But the hike was beautiful, and the air had that crisp, woody scent. The view behind me, across the interstate of the south side of East Vail, was of deep green pine trees and aspen trees that were barely holding on to their golden leaves. For some reason seeing the white bark, slowly becoming exposed by the change in seasons, still makes me feel more in touch with the earth, more in tune with nature than I feel any other time of the year.

The valley looked lovely and vulnerable, and I fell in love.

I also fell in love with the guy, with whom I will celebrate five years of marriage this year. Our wedding was in October, back in my Kansas hometown, a time of the year when the trees are turning red, orange and gold. The cake was chocolate and decorated with the color of fall leaves, a tribute to autumn’s splendor.


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