Aspen


By: Brooks A. Mick

Aspen, Colorado, is a lovely little quaint town snuggled into the base of the north slope of Ajax, or Aspen Mountain as it is sometimes known. Though one might think a western town might be ruggedly conservative, full of independent cowboy wrangler types, Aspen is more a smug village of effete eco-snobs, sort of a Berkeley of the Rocky Mountains. Don’t get me wrong. Mostly they are nice folks, friendly, although an underlying snobbery is always there. Kevin Costner saunters into Kemo Sabe, a high-end western wear store, and demands that a saleswoman get him a beer from the refrigerator. The young woman is up to the demands of the moment, however, and tells him to get his own because she’s busy with a customer. Makes you proud of the average American working woman.

But what gets me most is the hypocrisy of the local Greenies. Aspen prides itself on being environmentally friendly. The new term, however, is not renewable resources but “sustainable.” Exactly what the difference is escaped me, though I admit I didn’t spend much time trying to make sense of it. One article in a local tourist-oriented magazine gave away the game to me.

The outskirts and environs of Aspen are dotted with huge mansions, many of them built to shelter one or two very wealthy people only. I’m not faulting these people for being wealthy or for building whatever giganto-sized digs they wish to build, but why pretend to be environmentally friendly while creating a huge maison for two people? Wouldn’t it produce a smaller carbon footprint if, instead of a 12,000 square foot home for one rich dude, he simply built an elegant little cottage? And why even make the pretense that this is ecologically sound? Does it impress the rest of the local snobs?

Quoting from one piece in Aspen Peak Magazine, “Though the four-level home is an expansive 12,000-square-foot structure, the well-conceived layout results in cozy, intimate living. (Couldn’t he be as cozy and intimate in 1,800 square feet?) Degraeve refers to its style as “modern organic,” (Isn’t that a cute phrase?) stemming from carefully selected materials in peaceful finishes and colors that are not modified from their original form. Sustainable (There’s that word I mentioned!) materials were primarily used, including such noble woods as wenge, zebra, teak, and anegre, which complement the natural stone, zinc, and slate…”

Ah, yes, I agree that calling these woods “noble” somehow justifies cutting down the ancient trees in the rainforest, don’t you? And calling them “noble woods” somehow magically makes them “sustainable.” Oh, wait, I thought the supply of teak and mahogany and other “noble” wood was becoming rather short in supply as the third-worlders, lured by high prices for these trees, short-sightedly chopped them down and sold them to the plundering capitalists who then turned them into houses in Aspen for other wealthy capitalists who had exploited the masses. I’m sure the 200-year-old teak tree that was ruthlessly hacked down and sawed into planks and hammered together to make a wall in Aspen feels better to hear itself called “noble.” That justifies the whole process, don’t you think?

Besides, we members of the Church of Reformed Druids don’t think that any wood is more noble than any other. God is more egalitarian and would as soon inhabit a pine tree out near Carbondale, a DVT, a “down-valley tree,” as opposed to some forest teak giant with delusions of grandeur. But I digress. Why bring religion into this?

Aspen holds annual “green building” conferences and gaggles of other green conferences and seminars. Just google “Aspen” and “green” and see what comes up. It seems that none of the green builders ever thought of just building a nice little small house to hold two people rather than huge four-level mansions. Isn’t “small is beautiful” a green idea?

Again, don’t get me wrong. I don’t begrudge anybody building any sort of mansion they wish with their own honestly-earned money. It just rankles me that they pretend to be ecologically superior as they suborn the chopping down of huge old trees in the rainforests of the world, the burning of thousands of gallons of petroleum to run the machines that dig their foundations, pound their footers, saw their lumber, hew the marble, and smelt the zinc used in the construction of their mansions, and the fuel burned in the ships and trucks and trains that haul it halfway around the world and up the highway into the Rockies and all the way to Aspen.

And then I see Mr. Degraeve’s 10,000 bottle wine collection and I realize that the mass murder of millions of grapes is all worth it. And then that formaldehyde-free plywood…ah! I’m sure Al Gore would approve. I’m beginning to see the light…

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