TAHOE/TRUCKEE, Calif. - One Sunday, standing under a big wooden cross and hoping for someone to show up for Homewood's two o'clock mountain service, I indulged in some blatant people-watching. As someone who got on skis the first winter I could walk, I tend to snobbishness on the hill: I don't get why people would set themselves up for a miserable (and abnormally frigid) day by skiing without hat, gloves, glasses/goggles, or wind/waterproof outer layers. It's five below and you're skiing in jeans without gloves, hat or goggles? Really? Not to mention it's train-wreck fascinating to see the skills on display on a resort's main beginner run on a holiday weekend.
Then I saw a real peach: some dude in a clown suit. He carved an impressively smooth line, but a guy big enough to be middle-aged, skiing alone, in a clown suit? Come on. Please - just ski right on past me like everyone else.
Naturally, he came to a beautifully graceful stop right in front of me, introduced himself, and lit into fervent God-talk. Great: someone who looks old enough to be my grandfather, wearing a clown suit, lighting into impassioned evangelism with me, a complete stranger. But, well, I'm here as the mountain chaplain, so I might as well hold up my end, right? And really, standing on Rainbow Ridge with a panoramic view of Tahoe, Lake of the Sky, reflecting a brilliantly cloudless winter day, it's easy to experience divine beauty and grace.
That's about when I got a verbal slap upside the head.
"I can look in the mirror and focus on this wrinkled, gray face," the overly fervent guy in the clown suit said. "Or I can slap a big red nose on it ... (I was somewhat relieved he was wearing goggles and hence no big red nose) ... put on a clown suit, and make people smile."
How dare I judge? How dare I impose my own biases on others' motives? How wonderful that he looks at a withered old face and turns it into smiles for those around him? How great would it be if we all took such initiative?
- Russell Richardson, MM, MFA, St. Nick's (Tahoe City) tuba player and publicist