THE BLOG

Aspen Chronicles: Rocky Mountain High

08/24/2007 03:16 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Usually my weekly blog consists of an interview with one of the fabulous women from "Balancing Your Life". But this week, as I finish up the summer in Aspen, Colorado, I have been reflecting on the past 24 years that I have lived here; 12 of those as a fulltime resident. Hiking up the Ute trail with my husband and 2 dogs in the early morning, listening to my tunes, I came upon a fox.

We both startled and froze, regarding each other for a full ten seconds. Then, he moved on, and slowly, I did too. I thought about the magic of encountering a wild thing, and as it happened, John Denver's old, wonderful tune, "Rocky Mountain High" echoed in my ear. John has been dead for almost ten years now; he died in a light plane crash Oct. 12, 1997, but I thought about his commitment to Aspen and to the earth; and the fact that John was so ahead of his time. And a look back at the past shows that the same issues that were with us then are with us today.

Let's start with the environment.

John was one of the first artists to share an environmental message through his music. In 1993 I interviewed him for an environmental show called Ecologic, that never got off the ground -- premature I guess -- and asked him how he wrote Calypso, which was one of my favorite songs. "Calypso," if you've never heard it, was an anthem to Jacques Cousteau and the work he and his crew did in and around the oceans. John said he'd been skiing at Snowmass, and all of a sudden, the words came into his head, and as he skied on that crystal clear day, the song just wrote itself. Even now, when I hear the words--I can also hear the whoosh of skis on powder, like the sound of a wave pounding the surf.

"Oh Calypso, the places you've been to,

The things that you've shown us,

The stories you tell,

Oh Calypso, I sing to your spirit,

The men who have served you so long and so well."

Sustainablity: John founded "The Windstar Foundation" to promote a holistic approach toward addressing global issues and to inspire individuals to work toward a sustainable future. For years his annual conference brought together people from all over the world. John's "Plant-It-2020" urged people all over the world to plant as many trees as possible to replenish what we had already destroyed. This weekend a Renewable Energy conference is being held in town. The paper reported that second homes, in use less than 2 months a year, use more energy than the homes of full time residents. Not so sustainable.

World hunger: Think Sudan, think Darfur, think Africa. John was one of the five founders of the Hunger Project, which was committed to the end of chronic hunger. He toured Africa as part of a fact-finding delegation, which toured countries devastated by drought and starvation. His song, "African Sunrise" spoke to his experience.

"It is not the sun that gives the seasons.

It is not the sun that brings the rain,

Our throats are choked with dust but we're still singing.

Our song will not be silenced by the pain."

John would have been among the first to stand up and protest this war in Iraq. He would have been horrified. He was a pacifist and against any form of violence. Just listen to "Sail Away Home," or "You Say the Battle is Over."

I was privileged to know John, and my fondest memory of him occurred one fine cold day in early December 1990. John Wilcox, who owned the place, had invited a few of us up to the Pine Creek Cookhouse with our children. Two horse drawn carriages were waiting for us, and we bundled the kids and ourselves up in the rugs and set off. The sky was blue, the snow sparkled, the horse's bells jingled, and John began singing.

The entire way to the cabin, he sang. No guitar, just his crystalline voice in the space. He sang "Annie's Song" and "Aspenglow" and of course, "Rocky Mountain High." All of us were rapt. The music and that moment in time are etched in my memory forever, epitomizing everything Aspen was and could be, a place where people cared about the land, and our children and our future.

The John Denver Sanctuary is nestled in a park in the center of town. A winding path leads to a Zen garden where big boulders are inscribed with words from John's songs, and rounded stones represent musical notes. I go there sometimes to pay homage to a man who truly was at heart, a country boy.