I played a gig in Vail last night. The gig itself was nothing out of the ordinary – background music for an awards dinner at an architectural convention. But the setting was pretty amazing. Vail is of course well-known as a ski resort town. While some ski towns are considered “charming”, Vail is really little more than a collection of expensive condos has a reputation for being too rich for its own good. But I had never been there during those magical weeks during the fall when the aspen trees turn gold. And whatever else one might say about Vail, it is spectacular around there right now.
Now, when I first moved to Colorado after having spent half my life up to that point in New England, my first reaction to the fall colors here was, “is that all?” Aside from some ornamental trees planted in towns, fall colors here really are just various shades of yellow. To a New Englander, that’s a major disappointment at first. But over time, the aspen trees have a way of casting a very special spell that ultimately captivates most of us.
For one thing, despite attempts to cultivate it in around Denver, the tree really is only happy growing in the mountains. So seeing an aspen in town immediately takes your spirit up yet another mile above sea level. But of course, in the mountains, you don’t normally see just one aspen tree. They grow in groves, all connected by a shared root system. When you stand next to an aspen tree, chances are you are surrounded by an entire football field full of them. An aspen grove amongst the pine trees that otherwise dominate the mountains is really almost literally like an oasis in the desert. There is nothing quite like the sensation of cross-country skiing through the shade of the pines trees and suddenly emerging into a sunny aspen grove. It is virtually impossible not to stop and be quiet for a while.
And the tree itself is quite fascinating to stand next to. The trunk is reminiscent of white birch. The leaves are mostly round, and while they are green on the front during the summmer, the back is decidedly silver. They are attached to their branches in such a way that the slightest breezes causes them to shimmer as they rustle. The color difference persists as they turn different shades of gold.
I hope to return to the mountains in the coming week to photograph the aspen more, to paint them, and to simply be in their midst. And when I do that, it will probably be on trails off the main roads. But there was also something quite striking about seeing the aspen in such full glory while right in town. So for that, I am glad I had the opportunity to play that gig in Vail.