Gone too soon

(Note: Mark is gone this week, but he will return soon and be back to his usual editorials.)

When a friend passes away in this valley, the ripple effects travel quickly. People care for each other in a small town, and in this mountain town my experience has been that common ground is almost a foundation for us—most of us got here one way or another, and stayed because it’s more magical than most other places we’ve known. We might sometimes question it or even leave and return. Many have left and long to return. But to be here, living in this valley, we have many common reasons for that choice. It could be a collective preference to eschew suburbia or urban life, take solace in the outdoors, enjoy cold, snowy winters, be adventurous souls who wander the woods more often than most. Intrepid spirits of all kinds have long made their way to this mountain town at the end of a road in a far corner of our state. And many have stayed because it’s a place that means so much to them. 

Here we have access to not just mountains, rivers and trails but access to community and to a deeper sense of being. That sense of others around brushes into you on the corner, at the chairlift and at any music, literary, political or nonprofit event you will ever attend. You see people you know, and you get to know people by inches, year after year. 

The diverse interests of those here expand the richness of this community. I saw this firsthand at the Kissidugu Foundation events last week where my kids got to dance, drum and learn about another culture far, far away from our alpine reality. I went to my very first Move the Butte a couple weeks ago, and I admit I was expecting to cringe at some amateur dancing the way I imagine a crowd had cringed at me and my fellow ski patrol girlfriends back in Breckenridge about 15 years ago when we all decided to take a hip-hop class together and got reeled into performing it for an end of the season party. 

But I didn’t cringe at Move the Butte. Not once. I was blown away by the world-class dancing, the flawless choreography, the beautiful energy and creativity and support for each other. There was an outpouring of community there, on and off the stage. I cheered, howled, hollered, danced and also cried a little when they made a tribute to each of the lives that have been lost this winter.  

That number of lives lost has sadly increased since then, and that is heavy on our hearts whether we know these people personally or not. Because we know someone who did know them personally. And we remember the feeling of losing someone we had held close in our own recent or distant past. That feeling stays with us.

Our editor Mark Reaman is away skiing with old friends in Austria this week. So as we all work in his absence to deliver the news to our community, it seems worthwhile to notice again that we do sometimes lose community members to adventures out in the wilderness. When Eric Freson died, Mark addressed the reality that many of us who live here are, as Eric apparently referred to himself, adrenaline enthusiasts. And that does come with inherent risks in our various extreme sports, that sometimes someone will lose their life. 

As we have seen in the past six weeks, and many times before, we also lose community members to natural causes, non-adrenaline-related accidents, diseases and other ends. All are tragic, because someone is gone too soon. When someone has had a smaller apportionment of life than our luckiest, oldest aspirations would prescribe it is hard to fathom how they could have crossed over so suddenly, and so early. In our small community, those individual lives lost perhaps affect us more because they aren’t lost in a sea of others—they are each counted and felt deeply. And as the news of Kelsey Boleski’s tragic death last weekend came in, it became apparent that she too was one of those people who loved adventures, skiing, biking and community. 

My heart goes out to everyone here who has known the people we’ve lost this winter. Many people are feeling that pain right now, and it is a bittersweet reminder that we are all here to live for whatever time we have. That might mean dancing on a stage with a group of incredibly talented dancers, taking a chance on making new friends, joining a new club or offering up your time to a cause that resonates with you. It may just mean calling your mother, your sister, your brother or dad. Or guiding your children with extra hugs. 

My cousin used to make stickers that read “Know Fear” and put them on our skis. It was a rebuke to the 1990s “No Fear” apparel company that, according to Google, appears to still be around. I’ve always liked that saying: Know Fear. It’s not fear that we have to avoid, or pain that we have to hide from. Fear and pain show us what we care about and what we want to protect. Experiencing them means we are living deeply, taking chances, pushing to the edges where fear and pain can be found. And taking a chance to care about each other means we will indeed encounter fear and pain sometimes. It’s unavoidable, but the courage and joy on the opposite side of those experiences are part of the balance. As we mourn such a hard season for so many in our community, I hope everyone takes the time to check on each other and I hope we all check in with ourselves. We can celebrate the courageous acts, joys and the loved ones we’ve lost too. They can be all too fleeting.

—Katherine Nettles

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