It’s an offshoot of the traditional family tree, a familial variety that crops up most readily in small towns where most residents are far-removed, geographically speaking and often on a spiritual level as well, from the people who raised them. Telluride is a place that draws together clans of unnamed families like these, amalgamations of folks brought up under different family crests but nurtured beneath the same umbrella of married interest and parallel life paths. It’s a connection that’s deeper than mere friendship, a bond stronger than amity. It’s comradeship on an intuitive level.
The Telluride Ski Patrol is one of those clans.
Last week, Craig and I took time off our normal jobs to spend a long, early summer day consumed by the good work of building something alongside our brothers and sisters of the Ski Patrol.
“My dad wouldn’t have been happy with those tools lying around like that,” Amber, Nick’s eldest, said to me. We stood in the shade, watching the small and misfit army of wintertime patrollers – who in the summer are landscapers, farmers, golf course workers, camp counselors, rafting guides, and day traders – build a patio.
“We were working together on a house in Dolores one time,” she went on, shifting baby daughter Alexa to her other hip. “I put my tool belt down when I left for lunch, and when I came back, he had nailed it to the floor.”
We laughed, sadness lilting with our attempt at lightness. Nick was famous for doing things like that; it was the way he shared his lessons, and in that way he made sure his lessons wouldn’t soon be forgotten. Tackle every project with a rigid work ethic. Do things right, the first time. Stand up for what’s right, every time.
How cool that is, I thought, to build something with your dad.
Amber handed me the baby, picked up a mallet and returned to the work of building the patio her father was building when he died.
Last week, our Telluride Ski Patrol family lost its patriarch; or most appropriately, its Commander, as Nick Kyle was so suitably called. The sharp sting of loss precipitated by the passing of our Uncle Nick, the Commander, could have sent factions of the group spinning off into the solitary hinterlands of grief, lost and directionless and dubious about which direction to turn for support. Instead, we had a patio to build.
That was thanks to Nick. That was the final gift he gave to us, the gift of using our hands, our sweat, and our tears; working shoulder to shoulder with the people we love and sometimes hate, to build something, together. It wasn’t easy and it didn’t erase the ache, but it felt like comradeship, on an intuitive level.
How do we carry on the Commander’s tradition?
By tackling every project with a rigid work ethic. Doing things right, the first time. Standing up for what’s right, every time. And rallying around those members of our rebel family tree, when it’s their time of need.
“Why couldn’t Uncle Nick get better?” Elodie asked me, following his memorial service last weekend. She knows all about getting sick; her time in the Pediatric ICU this winter gave her perspective most 3-year-olds don’t have, about the tenuousness of our health.
But Elle got better. Her 3-year-old perspective doesn’t reach far enough into death’s ambiguities to allow her to grasp what passing on really means.