Small town living has its challenges: For example, it's tough to fly under the radar when you live in Telluride, a community no larger than an urban high school. Another disadvantage is that one individual can make a huge impact. On the surface, that might sound like an advantage -- and it is if you're a dedicated schoolteacher, passionate town council member, motivated activist or skilled chef. The flip side, however, is that when someone of note departs, there's nothing left but a gaping hole in the proverbial community fabric.
So it was when "Captain" Jack Carey died this summer in a bike accident. We'd lost a legend. Captain Jack was known internationally at freeskiing championships, where he worked as a starter for the young racers. At 64, he was older than most working the ski circuit, but beyond age, people noticed him for his wild chest-length gray beard, wicked New Hampshire accent and genuine warmth for humanity -- especially if the humanity could link a few turns together with grace.
Back home, we were accustomed to his odd look and funny accent. Jack moved to the San Juans 30 years ago, fell in love with them and was a fixture on the ski hill, logging over 100 days every season. To ski in Telluride was to see him on the slopes, his gray beard flying past his shoulders as he descended, and on deep powder days, it looked strangely like an ermine prancing down the snow beside him. If you were lucky enough to join him on a chairlift, he would rave about the fresh "powdah."
Even if you didn't know Jack, you recognized him. He was a beloved character. I suppose we realized this before his death, but when 400 people gathered on a rainy afternoon in Telluride Town Park to celebrate his life, it became readily apparent. Along with throngs of locals, some notable envoys arrived from afar. The mayor of Rossland, B.C. -- another tight-knit community -- traveled at the behest of his citizens to read a tribute. Speeches, proclamations and remembrances flowed. The day was topped off with a thunderclap that echoed in the valley.
We came to rely on Jack's exuberant personal greetings, wild ski stories, thundering alpine turns, enthusiastic howls and signature beard. Without Captain Jack, there's a void in Telluride. But maybe I'm wrong; perhaps, in a strange way, the loss is an advantage. Small town living prevents me from becoming numb to people. Feeling that hole makes me a part of something, a part of this diverse community where everyone from real estate broker to rasta is united in the same sentiment, which promotes what Jack always embraced -- warmth for humanity.
Of course, we Telluriders also prefer it if humanity can ski, so this week, the Telluride Ski Resort will dedicate a new run to Jack, and I, for one, can't wait to ski it this winter. I just wish he were here to show me the way.