Take a Seat
By Tyler Hansen
At this point, penning a piece about our frantic pace of life isn’t exactly breaking new ground. It’s the literary equivalent of something men of a certain (older) age tend to do by pointing out the abundantly obvious. “Hey look, there’s a Wal-Mart,” they say, as though contributing something both worthwhile and easy to miss. Yes, thank you…although in my defense my powers of observation have not declined to such a degree that I can easily overlook a 180,000 square foot cinderblock monstrosity framed by a Cold Stone Creamery and Dillard’s.
No, “our lives are quite full” needs no further unpacking or convincing–least of all from me. But what does seem to require some pointing out is that we’re not particularly good at doing anything about our overstuffed existence. Sure, we talk about the need to slow down and simplify – to stop and smell the metaphorical roses. And then we agree to whip up a quick batch of paella for the pre-school’s twice monthly Tuesday night potluck.
Even here in idyllic Crested Butte life gets pretty hectic. Don’t believe me? Walk down Elk Avenue on a Saturday in July and you’ll be convinced. Make no mistake, we’ve been “discovered.” But there’s something you might overlook in the middle of all that busyness. If you look close enough there are these unanticipated pockets of tranquility like zen gardens in the middle of Grand Central Station. In these refuges of stillness, rather than kimonoed monks raking the rocks into a perfect pattern of parallel lines, you’ll find a local – quite possibly a dirty local – doing, well, not much of anything. I’m talking, of course, about our benches.
New Orleans has Mardi Gras and Bourbon Street. Austin has 6th street and live music. Dayton has….well, they’re bound to have something I’m sure. Here in Crested Butte, we have a long proud tradition of Elk Avenue and sitting on benches. It’s simple enough, really, and anyone can do it. I’ll give you step-by-step directions. Step one, walk down Elk. Two, find a bench. Three, take a seat. Aaaaand, you’re done. You get bonus points if you have a cup of coffee or a dog.
It’s strange to think that something so abundantly simple could be so transformative but I promise you it is. I read a book recently where the main character gained the ability to, in essence, slow down time. But the trick was, he wasn’t really slowing down time, he was just paying attention to so many of life’s minute and easily overlooked details that the passage of time seemed to warp around his focus. Sitting on one of our ubiquitous benches is precisely the same. I find that when I take a seat I notice the minutiae of the day that typically go unacknowledged; the wind blowing through the aspen leaves, the smell of flowers from a hanging basket, snippets of an overheard conversation, the change in temperature as the sun dips behind a cloud. I don’t know if time slows down, but I do know that whatever was occupying space in my mind prior to the bench seems a little bit smaller and less demanding. It’s simple, but it’s potent.
Listen, not to brag, but I’ve been to a lot of places. In my life I’ve been fortunate enough to go New York City, Delhi, Tokyo, London, the fjords of New Zealand, the jungles of Vietnam and well beyond. I’ve truly been gifted the opportunity to indulge in some of the very finest experiences in some of the most exotic locations in the world. But when it all comes down to it, for me this little village at 9,000 feet has always been the pinnacle of life. It’s funny the way that works. In the middle of the aria by the world-famous opera singer, the transcendent moment is in the laugh of the child three seats away from you. During the African safari, the most indelible memory is the smell of the driver’s aftershave. Sure, all those places I’ve been were remarkable, but for me the child’s laugh and the driver’s aftershave is found in a square mile at the base of Paradise Divide.
Despite all our expectations and plans and intentions, we can never be quite sure what will resonate and what won’t. Whenever I’m playing music for people, I find myself in the business of manufacturing moments for them; of trying to move their emotional dial somehow. Sometimes it works, sometimes it fails miserably. When it all comes down to it, I’ve come to realize a lot of it doesn’t have to do with me. It’s more a factor of a thousand tiny variables that all need to stack upon each other in precisely the right way. But when they do…man, magic happens.
Here in Crested Butte, it seems to me that 95% of the variables have already been stacked in the right way for us. Most of the leg work has been done. You’ve come this far, you’ve packed up your bags and loaded the kids into the family truckster, you’ve driven who knows how many miles – all to take in our majestic mountains, crystalline waters, vibrant wildflowers, and unique community. And for good reason, like I said, Crested Butte in the summertime is the best place on earth. That’s the 95%. The trick is to figure out where you’re going to encounter that last 5% and be struck with a moment that won’t wear down with time but will become more cherished and more distilled.
It’s a hectic world, no doubt. What we need is to take a seat, take a breath, take a sip. I’m getting older, so I don’t feel too much regret saying this out loud to you to help you find that final 5%. “Hey look, there’s a bench.”