Dog Eared, Part III, Chapter 15

Hey, That’s My Shoe… To use a well-worn phrase, I’m on the road again. But I’m not traveling to promote a new book. No, this time I’m a tag-along husband, something I quite like to do. Although my wife is a studio artist, she often needs to get away for a while, really get away, like to some unexplored, out-of-the-way natural environment.

Please close your tray tables and bring your seat forward. We’ll be landing shortly.

And we do: in cool, but sunny, Aspen, Colorado.

Okay, I know what you’re thinking: Aspen, Colorado? That’s as far away from an “unexplored, out-of-the-way natural environment” as you can get.

Well, yes and no. Although Aspen is the playground of the wealthy (four downtown cashmere sweater stores in a row verify that), it is also a mecca for all sorts of outdoor sports enthusiasts (what we thought was a helicopter landing pad for the hospital turned out to be ground zero for the local parasail club). But we are here for none of it: no parasails, no cashmere sweaters, no skydiving, not even the latest Gucci bag.

We are here or, more properly, my wife is here to explore the surrounding wilderness area as this month’s featured Artist-in-the-Wilderness fellow. It’s not a bad gig: paid airfare, cabin in the woods, a rental car, and a personal hiking guide each day. No, not a bad gig at all. And that’s only what my wife gets. I get five days alone in downtown Aspen hopping from one coffeehouse to the next to work on my latest book, at least when I’m not shopping for a cashmere sweater.

After a smooth landing at the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport, we are picked up by our host, given the grand tour of downtown Aspen, and then whisked away to our cabin in the woods. The next day is more of the same, ending with a taste of the Aspen Music Festival, which is in its last weekend of the season. It’s a stirring performance of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana—and “stirring” hardly describes the performance; it’s absolutely electrifying, especially the performance of the lead soprano who’s in her eighth month of pregnancy. I don’t learn this until my wife tells me after the concert because I’m not lucky enough to get a ticket to actually be in the music tent where the orchestra and the almost 200 choral members are performing. Our host has only one extra ticket, which goes to my wife (why not; not only is she the featured artist this month, but also it’s her birthday). I remain outside, along with others who couldn’t finagle a ticket.

I survey the scene and pick a spot on the side of a grassy hill. It’s a little out of the way and it’s shaded (during the day the Aspen sun can be brutal). A couple and their two neatly coiffured French poodles stake out the top of the hill. I spread the blanket that our host has given me from the trunk of her car a few feet from the couple, leaving sufficient room so the poodles can move around without disturbing me. A few other people settle in close by: two men, one cradling a bottle of champagne; a single woman who instantly lies down in the grass and closes her eyes; and a pair of women, each with a large dog in tow.

While we wait for the music to start, I use the time to do a little people watching, and I notice a couple of things. First of all, there are the early birds: the rail-huggers, those who get to the music tent before anyone else so they can set up their chairs right in front of the railing that separates the in-the-tent listeners from the out-of-the-tent listeners. Then there are the hammock-slingers, who find two trees to suspend their hammock from so they can enjoy the concert while gently swaying back-and-forth in the late afternoon breeze while blocking everyone else’s view behind them. And then there are the umbrella-spreaders, who find a spot toward the back of the grassy area to erect their gigantic sun-blocking umbrellas.

And, of course, there are also the latecomers. These generally fall into three groups. Group #1 is comprised of the couple that arrives late to meet their friends. They enter the crowd timidly until they locate their party, at which time they make a beeline for it. Group #2 is comprised of those people who have no prearranged meeting plans. For one reason or another, they arrive late and try discreetly to find a place to sit without disturbing those around them. Group #3 is comprised of those couples—they’re always couples—that arrive late and could care less if they disturb anyone. They just plow though the group, plunk down their folding chairs (which can be anything from a small folding seat to an elaborately-engineered chaise lounge), pull out their chilled bottle of wine, and start talking or rustling about without any deference whatsoever to those around them.

And then there is everyone in between.

There are the partygoers, who range from a couple sharing a bottle of wine and a few hors d’oeuvres to a blanket full of friends indulging in all sorts of food and drink.

There are the newlyweds (wed or not, they are most definitely in a new relationship), who lie down and snuggle the entire time, hands occasionally disappearing beneath an article of clothing here and there.

There are the dog-coddlers, who settle down on a blanket, dog in lap, and stay put the entire time, only occasionally shifting their precious cargo from one side to another.

There are the dog-walkers, who can’t seem to settle down at all, who are up and down the entire concert, fulfilling some unknown mobility need (human or canine, I do not know).

And let us not forget the book-readers, the gum-chewers, the soda-can poppers, the bathroom-goers, the allergy-sneezers, and the insect-scratchers.

It’s an endless list, which I’d gladly add to but at the moment I’m a bit distracted because the French poodles behind me have been gnawing on rawhide sticks, making one God-awful racket, while the dogs in front of me have been trying to hump each other.

But I can’t think of this too much because I’m much more concerned about sliding down the grassy hill and ending up at the bottom in a lump. It turns out that my seating choice—the side of a grassy hill—is not that astute. The blanket that my host graciously gave me acts more like a sled than a cushion. It is all I can do to stop myself from sliding down the hill. I even tried to roll up my shoes at the bottom of the blanket to act as a kind of “stop” for my feet; that only slowed, but did not stop my descent to the bottom of the hill.

As I’m trying to process all of the above, my wife emerges from the music tent.

“Wasn’t that a wonderful concert?” she beams, as she approaches.

“Oh, splendid, delightful,” I squeak, trying to wrestle one of my shoes away from one of the poodles next to me.

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