365 Days in Aspen

Monthly Archives: June 2016

Is This Love?

love marleyYou know those first stages of infatuation?  When there's a special light shining on your beloved?  When even their flaws entice you?  When you want to spend every moment together?  When you can't imagine living without them?  Or your life before them? 

I think I'm in love.  As Bob Marley says "I wanna love you, and treat you right. I wanna love you every day and every night."  

No, I'm not talking about meeting a romantic partner.  I'm talking about the feelings I'm developing for my newly adopted home.  

Yesterday I met a new friend that further sparked my developing lovestory for Aspen.  She's lived here either full or part time over 30 years, and was a wealth of information about the nature of this place filled with so much… nature.  To hear how passionate the residents are with volunteering (10x other places she knows), how the community celebrates the upcoming Independence Day and the offerings for those of us who might not have the same financial resources as other residents, truly fanned the flames of the passion I was already quickly developing.  

marleyrainYesterday was the first day it rained since I've been here.  Even something that can often be depressing (or at least relegating you to indoor activities) felt like a call to go outside and… feel.  

Whoever you are, wherever you live, I hope you're able to fall back in love with your surroundings.  

Sending much love,

– Brownell

I Love Change

I Love Change273x240One of my mottos – and a key message in my book, Five Reasons Why Bad Things Happen: How to Turn Tragedies Into Triumph, is:

"I Love Change."  

How do you feel about change?  Do you fear it or embrace it? Or is your answer "it depends?"  

My move to Aspen encompassed a great deal of changes.  Not just in location but also in leaving behind a lot of things.  Friends, family, just about all my possessions, and most importantly my "comfort zone."  

Years ago, a wise friend offered an interesting question about change: "Are you running away from something?  Or toward something?"  

Hmmm… Both?  

Atlanta is a beautiful city with a long list of advantages beyond some wonderful friends.  I have nothing bad to say about it, even with its challenges (like traffic).  But it was never a good place for me.  Did I learn a lot through the challenges I faced?  Of course?  Do I think, on some level, I "signed up" for those challenges?  Yep.  (You see, I believe that "destiny" includes events that we co-create in order for us to learn and evolve).  So I wasn't running away.  Not really.  Okay, maybe a little.  fortune2

I do know I was also running toward change.  To live somewhere beautiful.  To meet new people.  To live a more outdoor/physical life.  To look for new experiences.  Will it help my writing?  I hope so.  Will it help my health?  I hope so.  Will it help my luck?  We'll see.  I do believe that "Audentes Fortuna Iuvat."  Fortune favors the brave.  

I also know, beyond any doubt, that "bad things" happen in order to get you to change something.  And so far this change has been opening me up to appreciating life in a much more expansive, profound way.  Yesterday as I was hiking I came up with a simple prayer:

Lord, please don't allow me to become complacent to the magnificent beauty of this amazing planet.  Amen.  

Let's end with a little David Bowie…

What do you think about change?  Have any songs or quotes to add to the discussion?  

Offer your thoughts on the 365 Days in Aspen Facebook page:




Virtue in Eternity














Yesterday I went back to a trail I'd hiked 19 years ago. Wow, Snowmass has changed!  It took me awhile to get re-oriented.  I wanted to revisit two places.  First, the path through the Aspen grove on the Nature Trail pictured here.  I had an old picture of this trail but it was in the days of film and negatives, before digital (and before I worked for Kodak and saw how digital changed everything in the world of photography).  Now I had my phone with an awesome camera with photos backed up into the cloud and MP3 player built in.  Gotta love it!  

I had another agenda, too.  To hike up to an incredible view – and special place.  A bench placed in memoriam of a man named Patrick Virtue.  I couldn't imagine a more incredible tribute to someone's life.  And given the bleak future I envisioned at the beginning of this year, it was even more important to explore mortality – and immortality.  Forget a funeral – give me a bench with a view for all eternity!  Here's a video I shot to give you the full 360 degree perspective: 

My sister quips with a quote from one of my favorite movies, Annie Hall, that my "favorite subject is death."  Actually, it's more like the meaning of life and beyond. Sneaking a peek through the spiritual veil.  So this memorial of Mr. Virtue prompts an interesting discussion about Virtue and Eternity.  Here's the definition and history of the word "virtue" on one of my favorite websites – The Online Etymology Dictionary:

virtue (n.) 
c. 1200, vertu, "moral life and conduct; a particular moral excellence," from Anglo-French and Old French vertu "force, strength, vigor; moral strength; qualities, abilities" (10c. in Old French), from Latin virtutem (nominative virtus) "moral strength, high character, goodness; manliness; valor, bravery, courage (in war); excellence, worth," from vir "man" (see virile).

And here's the definition of "eternity."  Interesting that "virtue" came before "eternity."  

eternity (n.) 
late 14c., "quality of being eternal," from Old French eternité "eternity, perpetuity" (12c.), from Latin aeternitatem (nominative aeternitas), from aeternus"enduring, permanent" (see eternal). Meaning "infinite time" is from 1580s. 

How would you like to be immortalized?  How important is it for you to be remembered?  Through your kids?  Your work?  Volunteerism and causes?  A bench on a mountaintop?  

Here's a favorite song of mine… "Hey, Man, Now You're Really Living" by the Eels.  A tongue-in-cheek look at the meaning of life.  Click here for a link to the lyrics, including:

Now you're really giving everything
And you're really getting all you gave
Now you're really living what this life is all about

This song really affected me at a transitional point in my life.  If you're going to really live, you have to take the good with the bad.  

What does this song say to you?  What does "virtue" mean to you?  How about "eternity?"  Offer your thoughts on the 365 Days in Aspen Facebook page:





You Wanna Get High? Part 1

smugglers626Quite a view, isn't it?  It's from the Smuggler Mountain Overlook.  Yes, that's Ajax.  Looks like an easy mountain to ski from this perspective. But as we all know, a shift in perspective can change everything.  

Like this hike did for me.  It's classified as a "moderate/intermediate" hike and only about a mile and a half in length one way, but for me it was a milestone.  

This was only my third day in Aspen, and my first two days I got winded carrying boxes up the flight of stairs to my new place.  A big part of it was the shift in altitude.  Atlanta is about 1,000 feet (higher than most of the state because of its proximity to the Appalachian mountains) and Denver is the "mile-high city" (around 5,200 feet).  Aspen is 7,900 feet.  So this hike – up an additional 800 feet – was an accomplishment.  

But that's not the only reason it was a breakthrough for me.  You see, I started this year with practically zero endurance due to a toxic reaction to a product (tuna fish) I got at Costco.  I was used to working out 1 1/2 to 2 hours a day (1 hour on the elliptical machine and another hour to hour and a half on a recumbent bike), but that product very nearly killed me.  That's not an exaggeration.  I quite literally thought this was going to be the last year of my life.  

Once I realized the cause, I gradually got better, but never got to 100% of where I was before.  So the ability to hike up 800 feet was a testimony to my body's cooperation in its own healing and how good this move was for "her."  (As you get to know me better, you'll learn about how I see the connection of body to mind and spirit.  More on that in future posts and in my book, Five Reasons Why Bad Things Happen: How to Turn Tragedies Into Triumph.)  

So – to "get high" – even if it was only 800 feet up – was a rush – in more ways than one.  


Here are a couple of videos I shot from the Overlook:

Here are some songs that played during my hike…




Rocky Mountain High

2016-06-24 06.49.49As you drive west from Kansas and  a few hours beyond into Colorado the landscape is pretty much the same – flat, open fields with varying crops like wheat, soybeans and corn and cattle pastures.  The even terrain allows for views of incredible distance.  The Who's title "I Can See For Miles" describes it perfectly.  

As you get closer to Denver, you start to see something in the distance.  At first it looks like it could be clouds.  Or maybe a trick of the eyes.  I can't imagine how the early American settlers felt when they took in this sight.  Were they croppeddelusional from their long trip?  Was it a mirage?  

Thankfully, it didn't take me nearly as long to see the majestic reality.  A few of the mountains still had snow on top. While that may be surprising to some for June, it's even more fantastical when you realize they were skiing up until just a few weeks ago.  Yes, skiing on Memorial Day.  I can't think of a better way to pay tribute to our magnificent country and those who fought to protect it.  

John Denver's lyrics, "…coming home to to a place he'd never been before" are some of the most powerful lyrics ever written.  (To read the full lyrics, click here).  This life-affirming feeling of purpose, of destiny, whether it is a person, place or thing, is what compels each of us.  It could be the arms of a soulmate, the first grasp of a newborn, the completion of an inspired book or song or the vision of a place that feels like "home." 

Whether Aspen is my forever home or just a one-year journey, I don't know.  I do know that I could relate to Denver's lyrics:

Now he walks in quiet solitude the forest and the streams
Seeking grace in every step he takes
His sight has turned inside himself to try and understand
The serenity of a clear blue mountain lake

And his prophecy:  "He left yesterday behind him, you might say he was born again. You might say he found a key for every door."  















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This Land is Your Land

On my second day of driving across America (originating in Atlanta, Georgia and traveling through Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas and into Colorado), I was struck with the diverse beauty of this country, inspiring me to listen to this song:

I first heard this version by Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings in the movie "Up in the Air."  Great cover.  

I drove through cities (Nashville, St. Louis and Kansas City), up and down mountains and past pastures and farmland.  And I listened to music.  

As I drove past Topeka I was reminded of a memorable scene in one of my favorite movies, "Almost Famous."  (See the video link below).

I also listened to Bruce Springsteen's cover of the Woodie Guthrie classic.  As he introduced the tune he calls "the greatest song written about America," he said that he learned that Guthrie wrote it in protest to the song God Bless America. 

Makes you think, doesn't it?  About the diversity of our country beyond its beauty.   

Some more songs I listened to on this part of the drive…

Real People in Topeka… Clip from the movie Almost Famous…

And the scene afterward – demonstrates the transformative effect of music:

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The Road Less Traveled

Claude_Monet._Haystack._End_of_the_Summer._Morning._1891._Oil_on_canvas._Louvre,_Paris,_FranceJune 24, 2016

I suppose Robert Frost would agree that I am taking The Road Less Traveled. Leaving friends and securities and opportunities behind to go halfway across the country on a new adventure.

Yesterday was my first day of driving and I observed the country that I live in via the interstates that I drove. I guess I could have taking a cue from John Steinbeck in his book Travels With Charley, which I read ages ago, and experienced a much more intimate view of this country. Maybe another time. This time I have a destination in mind and I want to get there as soon as I can.

As I traveled on my route I saw a variety of scenery and landscape.  I saw roads I knew well, and I saw highways that I hadn't taken and many many many years. I went through the mountains of Tennessee and The Plains of the Midwest. As I drove past haystacks it made me think of Monet and his famous paintings. It made me wonder why he chose that subject as something to paint. Yes, I could probably Google and try to find out the answer, but this is one of those questions that's more interesting when it's asked and pondered than when it's researched. Did he like the shape? Did he like the normalcy? Did he want to make something ordinary into something beautiful? Or did he like that they seem abnormal, these cylindrical shapes on a flat, mown field? Or were they symbolism for a man's hard work?

I suspect he might not have even been able to answer the question.  The motivation probably came from within. or, more likely, from an external, more mystical source.  Because that's really where all art comes from. Our connection with the Divine.

And I suppose that's also the source that's propelling me on my journey.

So, as I take The Road Less Traveled, and embark on my adventure, I hope whoever reads this will find their own spark inside – and outside – themselves to explore.  To love. To create. To connect.

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