Friday, February 6, 2009

Fear and Loathing - and optimism - in Mountain Village

A friend of mine just spent a bargain weekend in Mountain Village. Not exactly wilderness, this multi-million-dollar trophy-home enclave set on the backside (appropriately enough, methinks) of Telluride Ski Area's Coonskin Mountain that looms over the more appealing and personable -- and relatively real -- town of Telluride.

Yet he came back with some crazy tales.

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The stories he told me, though, weren't about the skiing -- that was fair to midland, he reported. It was the house he stayed in at Mountain Village that left him dazzled and babbling.

The lodging was the gift of a friend, who has a friend on the East Coast who has a house in Moutain Village. The owner and his family only get to Mountain Village, you know, a couple of weekends a year -- the rest of time time it sits empty, but is kept ready, idling, waiting: heated, stocked, lit, and fully accoutremented.

The "house," as my friend described it, is a gargantuan wood and log structure with gaping glass windows, a multi-floor cathedral-style vaulted central living space, and seven or so bedrooms -- each with its own bathroom. And more. The place, too, he related with some audible awe, was fully outfitted with a Wii game console, super-sonic sound system, and drive-in-sized flat screen TV -- with the cable, of course, turned on year-round for those couple of weekend visits.

And although the owner was kind enough to let his local friend bring some buddies -- like that Buffett song "Gypsies in the Palace" -- to hunker down there with their cheap beer and T-Cards, it still left my friend with some vague, gnawing sense of ill ease, like, That's just not okay ...

I get it.

Living here in one of the most gorgeous spots on Earth, we, of course, are all too familiar with Mountain Village, or some jet-set enclave like it, that has been carved out like a fortified colonial outpost in some beautiful corner of the San Juans or Four Corners. And if you're like me, you can't help but look toward those often-empty but always-lit-and-heated and maintained mega-houses set upon the metaphoric hill above the commonfolk, and scratch out a mental note: Um, Mr. Obama, I have a great idea where the country can save energy and resources right away ...

And we're certainly not alone in our distaste for such waste. Mountain Village itself -- the crown jewel in Four Corner's set of gaudy second-home (and third, and fourth) monuments to ego -- has even been the subject of a funny and biting mockumentary, The Lost People of Mountain Village, by Telluriders Carol Black and Neal Marlens.

Still, I try to not let my cynicism and scorn obscure the big picture here: That those aren't just distasteful shrines to oppulence piled up in places like Mountain Village -- those are also resources held in reserve for a day not far away when we'll need all that stored wood, all those spare parts, all that housing space. Just think: that single-family tens-of-thousands-of-square-foot weekend getaway spot my friend squatted in could one day be ... a hostel for dozens of trekkers ... an indoor village for some future self-styled traveling-buddha-like career-bumming class of wayfarers ... or a series of studio apartments for the future dwellers in some Rewilded West.

For myself, that's a beautiful vision that takes away some of the sorrow I feel for the poor slobs so rich that they feel they need an outpost in some faraway place they wish they could afford to let go of their wealth enough to actually move to. I think now that maybe this is their way of giving back to the future generations of the places and cultures they plundered in their reckless and fruitless search for happiness in their sad, unrooted, tedious, wealthy worlds.

Again, though, I'm not alone in this optimistic vision.

This vision, too, or something like it is being explored elsewhere -- in bigger circles and by smarter people than just some middle-aged low-budget still-ski-bumming multi-jobbed curmudgeon like me. The New York Times recently ran a piece titled "What Will Save the Suburbs," which profiles progressive urban planners who are already looking at potential benefits and uses of abandoned suburban neighborhoods and their accompanying blight of strip malls and box stores.

And those skills we'll need to make use of those in those reclaimed landscapes that got hammered in the last of couple of decades or centuries of urban/suburban sprawl? There, too, there be those looking for a bright side. Check out these "urban foragers," stalking a still bountiful and resilient landscape, even in urban Chicago.

Sky Full of Bacon 07: Eat This City from Michael Gebert on Vimeo.

So next time you pass by some gated community or resort slum or McMansion hovel, swallow that bitterness, put away that molotov cocktail, and instead see instead the potential. What bounty is awaiting us in the disappearing and someday-to-be-reclaimed Mountain Villages around the West?

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Proceeds from sales of the Lost People of Mountain Village DVD support the Sheep Mountain Alliance. Buy the DVD here.

This post first appeared on The Monkey Wrench Dad Blog, on
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