My brother and I walked to school every day when we were kids. No, it was not uphill both ways, and no, it was not dozens of miles in either direction. At least not most of the time. One particular day, however, a light snow covered the Denver metro area, and on our way up Harrison Dr., my brother became transfixed by a set of animal tracks. He veered off our normal course, eyes and feet attached to the imprints in front of him. I found my way to school directly, while he traversed the neighborhood; through front yards, over fences and around trees, eventually arriving to school an hour late, and subsequently into the principal’s office for a talk with our parents. Thirty years later, I do not remember which spelling words or grammar lesson I attended that day, but I can still recall my brother’s winding course through the snow, as we went back later to see the circuitous route his morning adventure had taken.
A typical weekend for me and my family involves packing lunches, driving up the highway, parking in a very familiar parking lot, unloading our treasure trove of ski equipment and heading up the chairlift before choosing from a familiar set of ski runs. It is a routine that I would not change for the world, and, in fact I look forward to it just about every weekend. But the routine can become, well… a bit too routine, I suppose.
This past week, I have had the luxury to spend quite a few days home in the snow with my kids, and was reminded of my brother’s escapade yesterday as my two boys and I wandered out on cross country skis. I was thrilled to see that the cross country track had been set, a perfect set of parallel lines laid down to guide our skis on our march to nowhere in particular. Such is my mindset, all too often, of following the set track.
We made good time slipping up the trail for a while, until we came to a hill, which absolutely had to be explored. The snow was deep and light, and the tips of our skis sliced neatly through the previously untouched crystaline blanket. A few side steps up the hill, a not-so-graceful run down, then, “Daddy, are those cottontail tracks?” We were hooked.
Those tracks lead us twice around a chokecherry bush, like Winnie the Pooh in his hunt for the elusive Heffalump. Hoping to find its den, we followed the familiar tracks further to a pile of rocks, which certainly concealed our animal of interest. We weren’t the first to find the den, as a set of coyote tracks wound its way several times around the heap of stones. A scent mark was sprayed as a reminder to return later for a chance at a winter feast.
A cold wind had set in, so we headed back towards the car and a waiting thermos of hot chocolate. But wait, over there is another hill. My oldest had to explore it. Just one time. Another traversing hill climb, a ski down, a crash at the bottom, a few tears as snow crystals clung to his cheeks. And of course, the younger sibling must follow the tracks of the older, and he was set to go too. Five more trips up and down, plus a jump off the kicker at the bottom and we were all pretty worn out, and cold too.
As we approached our car we crossed paths with a mother and her 12 year old daughter returning from an out-and-back on the groomed path. “I’m trying to instill an interest in cross country skiing, but it’s pretty hard to gain much interest from this slower pace and added effort,” the mother commented. I agreed outwardly about the slower pace, but with all the exploring, the spontaneity and the unpatterning of the day, we are heading out for another cross country adventure tomorrow.