I went cross-country skiing the other day. With a new layer of snow on the ground and a temperature of -5C, the conditions were perfect. The good news is that when I got to the trail head I was the first one there. The scene was pristine and there wasn’t a sound to be heard. The bad news is also that when I got to the trail head I was the first one there. That meant that I would have to break trail all the way up to my destination, Elk Pass in the Peter Lougheed Provincial Park.
I headed out and after correcting my ski wax a couple of times for some strange snow conditions, I settled in to a constant pace, pushing snow aside as I made my way along the almost distinguishable trail. I am a pretty efficient skier using the traditional glide method of cross-country skiing, but on this day I didn’t have much success trying to glide. I estimated that I was taking about three strides for every one normal glide stride. Still, the country was as visually overwhelming as always with mountain vistas up the valley and the fresh snow hanging on the evergreens, decorating their branches.
Knowing how far I had to go, I was careful to not start out too fast - I just kept my pace constant and enjoyed the journey. When I got to the top of the pass I met a lone skier who had just had the same challenge coming up the other side. He said it took him about an hour longer than normal. We talked about the challenges of the day, then stopped and looked around. We laughed together at what we were saying and quickly agreed that we weren’t complaining, just stating the facts. How could anyone complain being out in such beautiful country?
I worked my way back to the trail I had come up and found that several other skiers had followed in my tracks, widening them and packing the snow down some more. I immediately took advantage of this and was able to start moving much faster with long gliding strides as I started back to the trail head. I was feeling pretty good, moving along at speed for a change, when I started to think about the difference between now and when I came up the pass. When I came up to the pass, I made a unique track in the snow that was mine alone. Now, I was caught up with many others and my track was indistinguishable from those that had followed me.
As I ruminated on this I started to feel like one of the masses again - nothing unique, no personal mark left to show I had passed. I started feeling a little sad. Then I came across a place where I had stepped away from the trail to either look out over a vista that struck me as unique or to take a photograph of something I found visually appealing. My individuality was still there. No one else had the interest or reason to follow my off-the-track wanderings. So I did leave a personal mark. Those tracks in the snow were mine alone. It occurred to me that we crave that in our lives. We want to leave our mark, some evidence we were here. Seeing my tracks in the snow after others had passed made me think that each of us is unique and we will leave some marks in life regardless of how many there are around us. My guess is that is because we each have our own, unique view of the world and from time to time we will step off the trail that the rest take to leave our own mark in the world. Sometimes we will do this without intent, it will just happen, while other times we will do it purposefully.
What an interesting discovery for me while out in the woods.