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My Cultural Landscape

The place I live in is a place of recreation and consumption. My family contributed to that in terms of serving the people who come to consume. My cousin is a ski instructor and I’ve grown to love skiing but in a sense, developed a disassociated relationship to that land. As a child, that landscape inspired wonder within me. I played with the bugs and bees that pollinated wildflowers in the summer and studied snowflakes that landed on my mittens. As I got older, I saw the mountains as a place to move slower (and still experience wonder), but also as a place to seek adrenaline. Those two experiences I had were separated by heavily modified spaces set aside for recreation and the other for designated “wilderness.” The invisible line between those two spaces, although nonexistent, had been conditioned into me and informed the way I experience nature and wilderness for the majority of my life.

Going up the ski lift, there’ll typically be a sign saying, “entering White River National Forest.” Observing the landscape going up the lift, what I notice is a land stripped of forest to make way for skiers who funnel money into creating more barren “forest land” for the sake of recreation. Around 10 miles down the road, you’ll enter Maroon Bells/Snowmass Wilderness. After stepping off the paved road leading to the head of that “wilderness,” there are actual physical boundaries separating the observer of that “pristine land” to the land itself.

Many people who come to Aspen, come to “escape to the wilderness,” but they do that in a very polarized way. They come to conquer vast peaks, meander down a slope, or get drunk on the top of a mountain just because they can and nearly kill themselves or others skiing down. They also come to retreat, to leave something of themselves in the places they came from and look for something else in “wild places.” Most people who come to “escape to the wilderness” in Aspen usually exist on the side of indulging and living in excess within that mountainous space. However, the others coming to experience nature are doing so in no less of an oblivious way.

The line between civilization, recreation, and designated wild spaces is very prevalent in the minds of all who come to ski towns and wilderness areas. That way of thought is the result of a colonized mind, colonized by systems put in place to allow mass exploitation of what we know as wild land. This exploitation doesn’t necessarily look like stereotypical extractivism, but it is no less exploitative. I am only just starting to decolonize my mind and body in relation to the land I live on and relate to. It’s not too hard to start with recognizing that the dichotomy between civilized man and wilderness needs to be eradicated. There is nothing natural about the American construct of wilderness- it’s a cultural concept. What we have failed to realize is that all land is wild, we just need to rethink the way we see natural things and the land as a whole.