Putting the ‘free’ in freedom
Tickets to the show, gas in the car, $9 burgers and a recession casting a shadow over every purchase. In these times of financial doubt, it’s nice to know that access to the great outdoors is still free.It’s a free freedom.Yup, public lands are still the best investment the good people of our republic have ever made. Sure, everybody’s tempted to take our hard-earned cash and put it into something promising (an INVESTMENT is what I hear they call it), but in times like these there’s not a body around who doesn’t feel their share of the financial heat. Even sugar is quite expensive, making the whole lemonade-out-of-lemons thing pretty difficult.But it costs nothing to find a trailhead, hike a bit, and get a view of our autumnal, arboreal fireworks. And while greed and fear drive other markets mad, the currency of fresh air and autumn leaves is always redeemable at the happiness bank.Here’s a news flash: life in the mountains is expensive (but don’t tell the ski industry people I said that). The fact is, higher cost of living doesn’t translate into higher standard of living, especially for the valley’s young people. Making rent, making friends and making car payments is more difficult under the bright-blue skies of a drought, when the ever-friendly tourist dollar stays quietly at home, behind drawn curtains, never enticed out to play (even by brilliant doctoring of spin).Fortunately, it seems like snow is on the way. Walking along a tree-lined trail the other day, kicking up wet puddles of leaf-strewn mud, I got the feeling that the back of our drought-beast is broken. I could feel it.Weathermen and Farmer’s Almanac aside, I’ll put my mattress money in the snow market. Don’t we all, anyhow?And in the meantime, we’ve got a bit to wait. Free markets and weather seem to follow similar patterns: both unpredictable and generally slow-moving. Both are in a drought, and it’ll take a minimum of a few months before we’re comfortably buried in feet of powder, sipping champagne and re-investing all our money in biotech dot-coms.In the meantime, we can count our richness in gold.Not the cold, metallic gold that sparkles under prospector’s lamps, or sits in orderly piles down at Fort Knox. I’m talking about the light, spade-shaped gold of the quaking aspen leaf, a utopian currency that gives every man a claim to richness. Lined with opaque veins and pock-marked with black freckles, the sweet decay of leaf gives fall its unique, short-lived perfume. And in the slowness of turning leaves we have, for a few weeks, a mellow measure of time that beats the clock with sheer beauty.As a bonus for those really on the mend, hunting season is well under way, providing gourmet meals for local sharpshooters, all for the price of a shell (and a bit of overhead for a gun, bow, slingshot, spear, muzzleloader, or whatever).And while we wait for champagne, how about sheer, clear spring water, still seeping from rocky hideaways, more cherished and refreshing than anything ever bottled, kegged, casked, trapped or corked.Drink it deeply.Feel broke now?I doubt it deeply.Tom Boyd is a lifelong Vail local and freelance writer. His work appears in the Rocky Mountain News and The Vail Trail, among other publications. He can be reached at (970) 390-1585, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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