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Wandering Through The Best of Summer in Aspen. For Free.

Jamie Lynn Miller's picture

“It all started when you tried to jump over Niagara Falls.” My friend Jill laughed, recalling the day her mom couldn’t take it anymore. “She said, ‘Jill, I never thought I’d become a leash mom, but that was it.’ One time they called the ranger, looking for me, but I was just down at the other end of the campground, having pancakes with two old ladies. I was one of those wandering kids,” she declared.

Fortunately, unleashed wandering is not always cause for alarm. It tends to lead to mental meandering, as well. Exploring Aspen town without an itinerary is one of summer’s greatest pleasures. Best of all, some exceptional destinations and activities, designed to take your thoughts in a new direction, are absolutely free of charge.

This weekend wraps up the Aspen Music Festival and School’s special summer season, featuring those refined-yet-industrious music students and visiting acts that fill the Music Tent with sound and feeling and inspiration. Around town, near peaceful brooks and overflowing fountains and wherever people gather to relax and take in the sun, music students set up shop and enhance these stolen moments. Yes, their gifts are free; but if you feel compelled to leave a token in the violin case, go with your instinct.

To truly take in the splendor of their summer music, a visit to the Music Tent lawn is in order. And soon. This weekend wraps up the bulk of the season, and this Saturday, at 5 PM, celebrate 60 years of the Aspen Institute and the Aspen Music Festival and School with a Community Party, and Special Concert. Enjoy performances from renowned violinists Robert McDuffie and Angela and Jennifer Chun, and featured recitals from Aspen Opera Theater Center students; and, as always, an opportunity to let your mind wander where it may during an afternoon beside the Tent.

One more Sunday at the Tent, the preferred time to pack a lunch, bring some wine – or beverage of your choice – a blanket, a book, your Sunday best; little girls in crisp white summer sundresses play in the brook and inevitably, the dirt, a slight breeze makes the Aspen leaves move to the music, and the piano, opera, orchestra and any number of delights accompany your random thoughts.

Author Oliver Sachs has written much on the effect of music on our brains. Apparently, we are a musical species, and listening to music- especially without lyrics-has been proven to increase math scores. Now in this age of adding machines and cell phone calculations, there’s not much need to carry a one and personally, I’ve never met a mathematician; but the link between the ability to become one and listening to world-class classical music, for free, seems to make hovering outside the Music Tent its own reward.

And while most head to the lawn on Sundays, virtually any night of the week hosts more of the same and Aspen’s own orchestra continues to perform throughout the summer; now sometimes, if it’s too windy, the conductor may close the tent blinds. Simply finish your wine, then take that plastic cup and hold it to your ear. The show must go on.

Another favorite just-because destination, a perfect wandering-off point, is the John Denver Park, tucked along the Rio Grande River beside the Aspen Art Museum. My parents were campers, slide-show holders, simultaneously bohemians and hippies -and big, huge John Denver fans. My fascination with living in Colorado probably started during one of those family hootenannies, circa 1978; here in Aspen, I can relive the magic through lyrics beautifully inscribed onto huge stone tablets, propped upon a grassy hillside above soft waters, in the John Denver Park.

Big rock formations are everywhere, like a musical Stonehenge. Put your feet in the river, lie down and look up at the set-list; or skim some stones across the water while dogs plop down, in cool relief. Bring a journal, a camera or just your need for stillness and let your mind wander where it may as you re-read the lyrics of Rocky Mountain High; the sounds of nature provide background music.

From late-afternoon sunlight and the rustling Aspen leaves outside the Music Tent, to the spirit of John Denver alongside the river, music and nature come together in an Aspen summer. Wander into a fresh perspective. Free of charge. Now, go unleash those children.