The impossible beauty of an autumn in Vail

You see Vail’s impossible beauty as it holds in tandem both summer and fall. Heaving mounds of flowers burst from windows and garden beds beneath aspens glowing gold. Both seasons seemly suspended, with no wilted flowers or falling leaves to suggest the end.

Vail’s beauty is impossible in other ways as well. Its buildings are strong and picturesque. Its river clear of any pollution. Its streets free of cars. Its children play pirates with ships to aid their imagination.

You can’t see the infrastructure, cost or labor that creates these visions. You can’t see the conference calls and emails that stalk its visitors’ days. Vail’s beauty excludes the imperfect and asks you to forget pain. But in your gut you know they are there. To see beauty at its peak is to know it cannot last.

I first went to Vail in Christmas of 1998 on a ski trip with my father. We talked about going back with my siblings, but I remember him saying to wait and see what the new year brings. We didn’t go back. Perhaps it was the impossible beauty working in me even then, but I knew that moment would not last. By the next year, circumstances for my family had indeed changed.

I walked through Vail again today with my own child. A little girl hugged him and asked his age. I replied, “Nearly two.” She corrected me and said, “Then he is one.” And today he is one. Like Vail itself, he’s at an age full of wonder and no pain. One day he’ll be two, and one day he will know pain. But not in Vail on this day.

The nearly twenty years that have intervened between these two visits are marked with potential fulfilled and unrealized, with comprises, knowledge and regret. I know Vail’s beauty is impossible, yet I find peace in it. Sweet memories and the moment coexist in my mind like summer and fall. I sense a wholeness — a best-, true-self built on both promise of a future and selective exclusion of memories — as fear, pain and regret fall away. A glimpse of atonement.

I know that this feeling, like Vail’s impossible beauty, cannot last. I know that my child will age. Like Rivendell, Vail is a sanctuary that must be left to have a story worth telling. But there is truth, hope and beauty in this feeling that I wish to guide my days.