Hi. My name’s Lorenzo, and I’m a lawn guy. Every time I have an internalized emotional temper tantrum about mowing lawns for a living, I see someone who looks nearly twice my age doing what I do. Then the Stones announce another tour, and the realization hits that I’ll probably be a lawn guy for the rest of my life.
From high above, Aspen looks like a page out of a Richard Scarry kids book come to life, with all the different humanized animal characters hustling and bustling about down on the valley floor, some haggard old, some spritely new, but regardless, right on time. Every weekday morning, huge landscaping companies from all points east descend on Aspen like flies: trucks, trailers laden with mowers, blowers and tools, each worker a billable hour. The maintenance and gardening bills here are heavenly.
Whenever I hear someone say that there’s no work during off-season, I have to chuckle. For me, the two off-seasons are some of the busiest times of year. There’s lots that needs to be done now to get ready for the impending busy crush of summer. Whether it’s yard work, painting, deep cleaning, carpentry, or getting skin cancer burned off, there’s certainly no shortage of work here to be done.
It reminds me of a hilarious, pertinent local joke that legendary Carbondale rancher Mike Strang used to tell. People would often ask him, “How many people work up at that ranch of yours?” He’d pensively wait a beat as if counting in his 10-gallon hat-rack head and reply, “Oh, about half of ’em.” Then he’d drive off in his diesel four-door Mercedes with the personalized vanity plates that said “COWS.”
Now’s the time of year when the unmistakable drone of leaf blowers, mowers, weed eaters and street sweepers sound the true change of season. It’s enough to give you a nervous breakdown. The cacophonic symphony of manual labor begs for a pair of Bose noise-canceling headphones. Landscape maintenance must be a multimillion-dollar industry in Aspen. Gone are the days of me charging $6 an hour to mow the neighbor’s lawn.
The second the chairlifts close, a furious cleanup process starts. The annual surge starts on the Wild West End of town and slowly creeps its way east as the snow recedes like my hairline. The wave of cleanup crests sometime right about now, as the landscaping companies and their stalwart crews accomplish vast amounts of important work. All the leaves, all the gravel, all the broken branches and lingering dog treats from winter — they aren’t going to pick themselves up. Town looks better for it already.
There are still small pockets of land on the valley floor that remain untouched by the hands of the professional landscape maintenance scourge. Hard to find, but they nevertheless exist: swaths of high-desert sagebrush, serviceberry, oak brush, bluebells, Indian paintbrush (my favorite), and if you look closely, small cactus. Every day you see trucks rolling into town with new trees to be planted and rolls of water-thirsty sod, and trucks leaving with piles of indigenous brush that has been supplanted.
Want to see how much work is actually being performed right now in Aspen? Go up to the landfill and look at the long lines of landscape vehicles waiting to dump their loads and glimpse the giant yard waste and pile of brush nearly the size of the Hotel Jerome. It’s mind-blowing how much refuse Aspen produces, organic and otherwise. It’s almost better not to know.
What do you do when you find yourself a middle-aged white guy working in an industry that’s seemingly dominated by Latino laborers? You do better, that’s what. The long hours and hard work these guys do is inspirational — when they’re not making me look bad, that is.
Maybe someday when my ship comes in, I’ll be the one in the West End who has a landscaping crew do spring cleanup, fertilize, mow my lawn, prune my trees, plant my annuals, tend to my perennial beds, and rake leaves in the fall as I ride my bike up and down hills all day. Wait, there’s a ship? What ship? That’s right, a man’s gotta know his place, and unfortunately mine’s behind the handle of a rake, a trimmer, a leaf-blower and a lawn mower. It’s a small miracle I haven’t mowed my foot off yet, but then again it’s only May.