Wednesday, January 3, 2018

2017, A Year of Highs and Lows, of Loss, Entertainment, and Travel

2017 has been quite a ride for me – emotionally and spiritually. This past year, I experienced some of the lowest and highest points of my life so far.
2017 Butterflies - Tennessee Aquarium
2017 Butterflies (Photo by Rich Pearce)

First, the lows - the big low: My brother and I sadly, and somewhat unexpectedly, lost our 89-year-old mother in early May. Although we get some consolation from the fact that she lived a wonderful, full life in her nearly nine decades, and even though gradual health declines made her passing not too much of a surprise, I am still sad and miss her terribly.

With all of the logistics and paperwork that follow the death of one’s parent, especially the last parent, I sometimes feel that I haven’t even had the chance to mourn properly. I am working on that, even within this post.

But, the point of this piece is not to focus on the lows, the negatives, because part of mourning is getting through it and moving on. It is what our mother would want – she told us so. So, I will move on to the high points of 2017 for me – and these revolve around entertainment and travel.

Even though this blog is about what goes on in and around Aspen, Colorado, and although some of what 2017 had in store for me did take place here, much did not. That being said, it all ties back to Aspen because my living and working situation here is what allows me to do all that I do, and that includes outdoor recreation, entertainment and now, travel.

Music Festival Performances

Aspen Music Festival Nima (3)
Photo Credit: Zereshk (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons
Some of my fondest recent memories of spending time with my mom are of driving her to the parking lot of the Aspen Music Festival and School, where we would listen to the great performances from a bench at the edge of the lot (she was not able to sit still long enough to actually attend the shows themselves). After her passing, I decided it might be healing to actually see some shows for a change. So my girlfriend, Jo, and I bought a locals pass.

It had been a couple of years since I had taken this opportunity, although I had enjoyed a few performances from the lawns outside the tent from time to time. I’m so glad I did; I had forgotten just how beautiful and inspiring being enveloped by the music right inside the venue is. And, I also got to experience the musical atmosphere of Harris Concert Hall as well.

I had never seen an Aspen Music Festival performance in Harris Concert Hall before – quite a different experience than in the tent. It was much more intimate and offered a different, subtle kind of vitality as opposed to the overpowering energy of a full orchestra.

The show we attended there featured a variety of violin and piano pieces, from the well-seasoned performance of Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No. 10 in G major, op. 96 (1812; ?1814–15), featuring Masao Kawasaki on violin and Wu Han on piano, to the energetic whimsy of Dukas’ The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (1897; 1899), featuring the youthful energy of Dongxu Jin and Youlan Ji on dueling pianos.

The concert also included the interesting and sometimes humorous solo performance of Sylvia Rosenberg, on violin in GYÖRGY KURTÁG’s Signs, Games, and Messages (1989–97).

Unfortunately, due to a ticket/scheduling snafu (I forgot the date), I missed an Aspen Chamber Symphony performance, featuring virtuoso violinist, Sarah Chang, but did get my in-the-music-tent, traditional classical music fix with a beautiful performance of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in C major, op. 15 (1795–98), showcasing Paul Lewis on piano instead.

Recent Theater Shows Near Aspen 2017

Spamalot Poster
* taken from – @joefoodie – re-sized from the original
Classical musical was not the only item on the entertainment agenda for me in 2017. Jo and I treated ourselves to a couple of fantastic local theater shows, Little Shop of Horrors, produced by the talented cast of the Glenwood Vaudeville Revue, and Spamalot, produced by the Aspen Community Theatre.

As usual, both local theater companies exceeded expectations with their lively, professional renditions of these American classics. The shows were predictably hilarious and very entertaining, not only because they were so well done, but because they included so much local talent (faces and names I recognize, and even some friends) as well.

The highlight for me in Little Shop of Horrors was the puppet-driven portrayal of the nefarious plant, Audrey, itself. And, of course, who cannot help but love the epic, signature scene featuring knights dancing on the tables, singing the main theme song, Spamalot, in that same-named production.

Trips and Vacations

This past year, I also made it past the roundabout for several mini-vacations (something else I hadn’t had the opportunity to do in a while). These included going to Jackson Hole, Wyoming to see the 2017 Great American Solar Eclipse, visiting Oklahoma City to hang out with Jo’s family, and venturing to Chattanooga, Tennessee to visit my oldest step-daughter, Michelle, and her family.

Total Solar Eclipse in Jackson Hole, Wyoming

2017-Solar-Eclipse-Totality-with-planet - Jackson Hole, Wyoming
2017-Solar-Eclipse-Totality-with-planet (Photo Credit: Rich Pearce - all rights reserved)
Watching a total solar eclipse and visiting Jackson Hole Wyoming have long been on my bucket list. And in 2017, I was able to do both – and on the same trip! 

We headed off to Wyoming a couple of days before the eclipse and caroused around Jackson Hole, Teton Village, and Grand Teton National Park before the event. We even had time to venture off to Yellowstone National Park before experiencing one of the universe’s most glorious (and rare) sights.

Grand-Tetons-piercing-the-sky (Photo Credit: Rich Pearce - all rights reserved)
Old-Faithful (Photo Credit: Rich Pearce - all rights reserved)
The eclipse, itself, was intriguing, beautiful, breath-taking, and awe-inspiring.

2017-Solar-Eclipse-Totality (Photo Credit: Rich Pearce - all rights reserved)

It was also a lot of fun!

2017-Solar-Eclipse-feigning-horror (Photo Credit: Rich Pearce - all rights reserved)

Oklahoma City

Winnie May - Oklahoma City
Winnie May - Oklahoma City (Photo Credit: Rich Pearce - all rights reserved)
This was the first time I had been to Oklahoma City, and I found much more to see there than I had imagined. In particular, the depth and breadth of the museum experience there is exquisite.

We went to:
 The National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum features exhibits, collections, and artifacts documenting Western American history, art, and culture so that visitors may better understand the story of America as it played out, and continues to play out, across the west.

National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum -- Oklahoma City
National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum (Photo Credit: Rich Pearce - all rights reserved)
The Oklahoma History Center traces the history of the territory and state of Oklahoma, highlighting its Native American Heritage, the great land rushes of the late 1880’s, and its importance as a “Crossroads of Commerce”.

The exhibits show how Oklahoma’s challenges mirrored the struggles with racism, war, industrialization, and economics of our nation as a whole. It also provides a glimpse of our collective current efforts to embrace diversity and social and economic regeneration.

Native American Hut - Oklahoma History Center
Native American Hut - Oklahoma History Center (Photo Credit: Rich Pearce - all rights reserved)
Printing Press - Oklahoma History Center
Printing Press - Oklahoma History Center (Photo Credit: Rich Pearce - all rights reserved)
Oklahoma History Center
Oklahoma History Center (Photo Credit: Rich Pearce - all rights reserved)
Finally, I got to see where Jo grew up in nearby Shawnee, Oklahoma, a sleepy, little town that transports you back to the 1950’s and 1960’s.

Hamburger King - Shawnee, Oklahoma
Hamburger King - Shawnee, Oklahoma (Photo Credit: Rich Pearce - all rights reserved)

Chattanooga Tennessee

Raccoon Mountain Caverns - Cave Shield
Raccoon Mountain Caverns - Cave Shield (Photo Credit: Rich Pearce - all rights reserved)
I also had never been to Tennessee before, and it did not disappoint.

The area around Chattanooga is comprised of urban centers, small communities, and rolling hills, all intersected by the mighty Tennessee River. It reflects an interesting mix of urban and rural, modern and timeless.

I actually stayed a few miles away from the city, in the town of Dayton (of the Scopes Monkey Trial fame), with my step-daughter, Michelle and her family who had recently moved to the area after being chased out of Corpus Christi, Texas by Hurricane Harvey.

While I was there, we toured fascinating caves, split some geodes, and panned for gemstones at the famous Raccoon Mountain Caverns & Campground nearby.

Raccoon Mountain Caverns
Raccoon Mountain Caverns (Photo Credit: Rich Pearce - all rights reserved)
Raccoon Mountain Caverns
Raccoon Mountain Caverns - 2 (Photo Credit: Rich Pearce - all rights reserved)
And we checked out the excellent Tennessee Aquarium in downtown Chattanooga.

Tennessee Aquarium - fish
Tennessee Aquarium - fish (Photo Credit: Rich Pearce - all rights reserved)
Tennessee Aquarium - Sea Turtle
Tennessee Aquarium - Sea Turtle (Photo Credit: Rich Pearce - all rights reserved)
We also took the kids climbing at the thrilling High Point Climbing and Fitness center, and toured the surrounding neighborhoods, taking in all of the wonderful holiday light displays. The one put on (with accompanying music on the car radio) at the local county fairgrounds was especially festive.

High Point Climbing and Fitness center
High Point Climbing and Fitness center (Photo Credit: Rich Pearce - all rights reserved)
There was a lot more to see and do around Chattanooga and the surrounding area, but we didn’t go out and about a lot because there was so much going on right at Michelle’s 4-acre spread.

We explored the “backwoods”, an all but impenetrable bramble-walled, tree-filled, ravine-threaded fortress portion of their land, and we spent some quality time with chickens and quail they are raising. We were even treated to a few fresh eggs while I was there. It was a very calming and relaxing experience.

Chattanooga chickens - Dayton Tennessee
Chattanooga chickens - Dayton Tennessee (Photo Credit: Rich Pearce - all rights reserved)
I can’t wait to get back to Wyoming, Oklahoma, and Tennessee. I have much more of Yellowstone to see and more museums to visit in Oklahoma City. And, we also have our sights set on catching the next North American total solar eclipse in 2024 – it just happens to be visible just a few hours from Chattanooga!

As I reflect on the highs and lows of 2017, one more fond memory of a great time with my mom comes to mind - watching the transit of Venus across the Sun from behind our house in Aspen in 2012:

In Memory of Mom - Watching Venus Transit
In Memory of Mom - Watching Venus Transit (Photo Credit: Rich Pearce - all rights reserved)


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