365 Days in Aspen


Almost Heaven

Jd-sanctuarysignI can't be in Aspen and not think of John Denver.  Although the "Almost Heaven" lyric is talking about Western Virginia (and West Virginia) and not Colorado, it seems like an appropriate title for this blog in tribute to the singer/songwriter and actor.  

I'd like to start with a couple of personal stories about John Denver. The first is the time I spoke with him. Yes, really. It was my Sophomore year at the University of Georgia, and (to steal from another blog title), I remember it well. I had a friend I'd met the previous summer who'd been seriously hurt, and I wanted to do something for her. Sally had been jogging and tripped over some kind of city plumbing pipe jutting out in the sidewalk; her jaw was broken and had to be wired shut for months.

She was a huge John Denver fan, so I sought out his fan club and reached out to him. I told him what a big fan she was, and how much it would mean to her if he could just call her. He called me first, giving me a thrill – and filling my heart with love for him as a person, beyond the music I already enjoyed. And, needless to say, it meant a lot to Sally, too. 

So – John – wherever you are – Thanks.  

Another of my John Denver stories is a memory I had of when I was in high school and used to go to a place called "The Ground Round."  It was a fun restaurant/bar that often had a singer singing live music. Every so often, I'd join in and sing backup, including "Country Roads" and "Rocky Mountain High."  Such a lovely memory. Now, when I listen to the songs, I still sing harmony.  heart

There's a park here in Aspen called the John Denver Sanctuary. I visited it today – it's quite a sight. Hope you enjoy these pictures – and the songs below.  














My favorite John Denver songs:

And don't forget – one of my favorite movies of all time.  I can't find a full video of the scene I love the most (in the hotel room where God answers the questions), but there is a small (but important) clip, with an article on the topics covered – and some others:


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Celebrating Independence

2016-07-04 21.14.462016-07-04 21.15.54Yesterday was the Fourth of July. Independence Day.  

Symbolic for Freedom and Independence. 

I won't get into politics here, other than to say that I believe in peace and love. You can figure it out from there. 

When I told friends I was coming to Aspen alone, many of them couldn't imagine it. Leaving behind friends and familiarity to go somewhere I didn't know a soul. As I said in my post on change, there were a lot of reasons. And one of them was to celebrate Freedom and Independence. 

stencil.facebook-post (5)I've always said "the other side of relationship is freedom." So many single people lament their lack of a partner, but they fail to see the incredible freedom that goes with it. Loneliness, you say? I would counter with the quote attributed to Amelia Earhart: "Being alone is scary, but not as scary as feeling alone in a relationship."  Or Robin Williams' "I used to think that the worst thing in life was to end up alone. It's not. The worst thing in life is to end up with people who make you feel alone."

As Dr. Seuss suggests in his classic, Oh, The Places You'll Go!, “All alone! Whether you like it or not, alone is something you'll be quite a lot!” 

So yesterday (and every day) I'm celebrating the freedom and independence that allowed me to move to Aspen.  And, in the spirit of the holiday, here are some pictures I took. There's nothing like being in a small town, seeing people of all kinds and ages celebrating the holiday!


july4parade4 july4parade3 july4parade2 july4parade1july4goats2016-07-04 20.22.492016-07-04 20.26.03
























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Into Each Life…

2016-07-02 10.38.35You can't have this kind of verdant landscape and not get rain from time to time. And I'd much rather live where it's lush and green vs. a desert mountain where, as a friend said, "makes you appreciate the different colors of brown." 

Given how beautiful this place is, it's breathtaking even in the rain and clouds. And even if it's raining, you still feel a compulsion to be outside. 

Yesterday I went hiking and it started to drizzle. Instinctively I thought maybe I should turn around. But I fought the instinct and kept on. Guess what discomfort resulted? No, not being wet. I got a sunburn on my neck! I should have worn sunscreen even in the clouds. Live and learn. 

On a less literal basis, I faced some "rain" the past few days. Cigarette smoke was emanating from the person living below me. Now, I'm a very open, accepting and non-judging person, but I draw the line when one person's "rights" conflict with another's health and well-being, and this smoke was not only infiltrating my place, it was settling into my lungs and sinuses. Oh, no, I thought! Will I have to move? I've only been here a week, so the person below has probably been here longer. I love my place! Love the location, the view, the everything. Even how small it is! And especialy the clean, mountain air. 

Thankfully, I found out this is a nonsmoking building. And I also found out that it's illegal. Yay! Problem solved. I hope. 

Some more pictures taken yesterday:

2016-07-01 07.19.08wildflower1purpleflowers











Here are some songs and poems about rain, covering a range of emotions:

The original poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow:

The Rainy Day

The day is cold, and dark, and dreary;
It rains, and the wind is never weary;
The vine still clings to the mouldering wall,
But at every gust the dead leaves fall,
And the day is dark and dreary.

My life is cold, and dark, and dreary;
It rains, and the wind is never weary;
My thoughts still cling to the mouldering Past,
But the hopes of youth fall thick in the blast,
And the days are dark and dreary.

Be still, sad heart! and cease repining;
Behind the clouds is the sun still shining;
Thy fate is the common fate of all,
Into each life some rain must fall,
Some days must be dark and dreary.

The song performed by Ella Fitzgerald and the Ink Spots:

Sad and beautiful Joe Cocker cover of a Randy Newman tune. It makes me so happy I'm not mourning the loss of a relationship right now…

And both a live and studio version of one of my favorite songs by one of my very favorite artists, Sara Barielles. Sing it – Sing it LOUD. Like an anthem!

And – in anticipation of the Fourth of July tomorrow (and because it's a metaphor for the smoking incident):

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I Remember It Well…

Brownell and BeckyLike the classic song from the movie "Gigi," reflecting back on my first time in Aspen, my memories might be a bit jumbled, but still, "I Remember It Well."  (Video below.)

This is a picture taken during my first visit to Aspen/Snowmass. (I'm on the right). It was in April, 1987. I had skied a few times before. That is, if you can call skiing in Georgia, Tennessee or Kentucky real "skiing." But at least I wasn't relegated to only green slopes when I got here. 

Why did I choose Aspen as my first trip out west? A few reasons, I guess. A few years before I had dated a guy who'd been a ski instructor in Aspen, and his stories had captivated me. Also, I had a timeshare week where I could put in some options and then take whatever came available. Snowmass in April was perfect. 

The things I remember most were someone playing Bob Marley music on an outside deck (which I heard here the other day, too; Marley is timeless), how much fun (and warm!) spring skiing was, and, of course the majestic beauty of the place. 

It made an impression for sure. So much that I made several other trips out here, too, in both the winter and the summer. Which do I like better? Kind of a "Sophie's Choice" kind of decision. Don't make me choose. I love both hiking and skiing. And let me live through the rest of this year to let you know what I think of fall and spring, too. 


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Whatcha Doin’ There, Brownell?

yourlifeI've had a lot of people asking me what I'm doing here.  I want to reply, "Why I'm here on the planet?  Or why I'm here in Aspen?"  Or do they want a more specific answer, like, "What do I do every day?  What do I do for work?"

I'm not sure if this post wil answer – or prompt – more questions, but here's an attempt.  

First, I was able to move here because I inherited a little bit of money and wanted to use it to enjoy life, even if it only lasts a year.  As I told my financial advisor, "I'd rather live 5 years living a life I love than 25 years in mediocrity."  Does that sound irresponsible?  Or enlightened? I don't know.  And I don't really care what anyone thinks.  It's my life to live.  As I explained in a previous post, I started this year thinking I wouldn't live through the rest of the year.  If that's not an incentive to go out and "live life" I don't know what is.  

So I'm "giving up" the attachment to earning income.  I've struggled financially for so many years, so now that I can breathe, at least a little, I will.  Besides, my definition of "giving up" isn't how most people define it.  To me, it's "releasing to a Higher Power."  

That doesn't mean I'm not also doing my part in co-creating my reality.  I'm just not worrying about the outcome.  As one of my favorite philosophers/teacher Anthony de Mello would advise, I'm releasing the attachment.  And I agree with him that attachments are the source of unhappiness.  So, now I'm "working," which means that I'm still doing what I do – writing, inventing, creating, helping.  I'm just not going to freak out if what I'm doing doesn't produce an income.  

Paradoxically, it could just end up being that by releasing this attachment/fear, I might actually open more doors to success.  Who knows?  And though it would be nice, I also say, "Who cares?"  

For a more specific answer to the question in this post, other than working on this blog, I'm working on the script for a movie screenplay.  It's VERY exciting!  And, like just about everything else I do, it has the potential to change the world.  

So, on days like today (this picture was taken this morning, even though I could still be outside enjoying the day (and I will, later), I can enjoy life through writing.  

clouds on the mountaintop

Sending much love,


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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?  

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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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