Welcome to Aspen, Steve. It’s a real treat to have you and your guitars in town for a gig with your band, “Yes,” tonight. I will be there, bellied up to the stage.
You see, Mr. Howe, you and your music are partly responsible for molding my mind when it was in its formative stages. You did all this through melody, tone, attack, song writing, passion, showmanship, creativity, dexterity, sensitivity, variety, volume control and raw, uninhibited talent. I’m not one of those freaky, over-the-top fans but we’ve spent a lot of time together over the years (mostly in the form of me listening to records) and I’m thankful.
I’ve been here in the valley for more than 30 years now, Steve, and I don’t get out as much as I used to. In the early ’80s I didn’t think twice about going to Denver and back for a concert like a Yes show. Nowadays I am all about finding nature and solitude, birds and backwaters. I’ve retreated.
Last Sunday was one of those days. We had a decent snowstorm on Saturday and by Sunday the trees were laden with heavy snow. The day dawned bright and cobalt Colorado blue. It was one of those days where you take a look outside and know that you have to get out there and do something.
My wife Skye and I started the day with a brisk cross-country ski up at Spring Gulch. Spring Gulch is an old mining town, abandoned, turned to mountain grazing pasture and now converted to a wintertime wonderland of 19 kilometers of groomed trails, sage and scrub oak. I like Spring Gulch because it is not crowded and groomed to perfection.
The view of Mt. Sopris and the surrounding mountains from Spring Gulch rivals any alpine view out there. Mt. Sopris stands alone in the midvalley. It’s kind of like our Matterhorn or Mt. Fuji. “Mountains come out of the sky and they stand there”? That’s Mt. Sopris!
When we got back to the house after skiing, the weather was so nice and warm that I found myself pulling out my small, inflatable “Shredder” raft for a spin down the lower Roaring Fork River. I’ve become a river guy, spending as much time as possible in, on and around rivers as I can. I find it therapeutic to get out there with the birds, bugs, fish and beasts. I like to take extended trips when possible, staying out for weeks on end when I can.
So I pumped up the boat in the driveway, dug the frame out of the ice, mounted the thing onto the back of the truck, slipped it into the water and went for a solo float in the winter sunshine. The river is really bony right now. There’s barely enough water to float even the Shredder. I’m glad I wore the rubber boots because I had to step out a couple of times and push off the rocks.
A lot of people would say I’m crazy but it is really just a passion for nectar. With the exception of seeing a few silent fly fishermen and fly fisherwomen out there, there was no one to see … just the riffles and rapids and flat water and a whole bunch of wildlife. It was peaceful. You could spend a lot of time looking around the valley, Steve, but until you get close to the edge of the river you won’t see the real action.
The spring bird life is ebullient right now. There are ducks and geese in the water and bluebirds, dippers, herons, hawks, magpies, ravens, eagles and others working the banks, pools and trees along the riparian habitat. It’s awesome. There’s a cacophony of chirping and squawking in the melting, drippy sunshine along the banks. You might say that there’s a lot of action close to the edge, down by the river.
Right now the ducks and geese are skittish. They’ve been cloistered without humans most of the winter and they jump at the merest whiff of person. I tried hard to hold as still as possible so I could get close, my little black boat spinning lazily, the oars dripping almost silently. Nothing to see here folks … nothing to see. It’s spectacular to get up close and witness a couple dozen ducks bursting off the water and into the air at once, bee-lining past at low altitude, in a quick, instinctual formation.
Yes, this valley holds much magic and I’m glad you finally have a chance to visit. Even in the hustle-bustle of Aspen you are always within walking distance from the river’s edge where solitude, nature and wind and water take center stage to amuse and entertain you.
Be sure to split off from the entourage to find a nook along the Roaring Fork River which runs through town. And when the breeze blows snow crystals out of a tall pine into the air in a puff of translucent mist, and you find your eyes lost in the depths of a swirling eddy, you will be in tune with the river.
I once embarked on a 14-day river trip through the heart of the desert, through majestic remote canyons of Colorado and Utah. Just before we left I found a recycled book of charts for the music to the Yes album, “Relayer.”
Our group of intrepid campers, which included a hearing-impaired woman, all learned the words and music to “To Be Over,” a majestic Yes tune that feels right bouncing off the steep, warm, sandstone facades. Our merry band worked it over and over until, by the end of the trip, when the whitewater slackened and we hit Glen Canyon at Lake Powell, we had it down and sang it to the stars. I think you would have loved it!
Steve Skinner welcomes you to Aspen. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.