A foot of powdery snow fell on a recent Friday, so early the next morning I put my x-country skis in my car and drove 20 miles to Mount Desert Island to ski on the carriage roads in Acadia National Park. I noticed that the thick snow-covered trees at home gave way to sparkling, ice-covered branches on the island, but it was so beautiful I didn’t pause to think what this might mean for the trails.
When I began the 14-mile loop around several mountains, the snow was not nearly as deep as at home and had a thick layer of crunchy ice, with a bit of powder on top. The ice wasn’t thick enough to ski atop, rather each glide ended with a thump as my weight (all 96 pounds of it) caused the crust to break. It was a slog, but I suspected that the volunteer trail groomer would be out soon. Or some other skiers coming from the other direction would have broken some trail, too. I plowed on.
Despite the hard work, it was breathtaking. The evergreens were weighed down with thick, crusty snow and the tips of the needles shone with teardrop-shaped icicles. The deciduous trees were sparkling in the sunlight, all lit up by a coating of ice. I followed a coyote’s tracks for a couple of miles and then a fox track, which converged with the coyote’s. There were rabbit tracks, mouse tracks, and squirrel tracks, too, all made within a few hours. Perhaps some of these animals were watching me. I was so noisy with my skis and poles crunching the ice that they certainly could hear me coming, but perhaps they observed me, as I observed their tracks. For about 1/4 mile, I skied alongside a human’s footprints accompanied by a dog. It was interesting to compare the dog prints to the coyote and fox prints, the wild canines’ so different from their domesticated cousin’s.
Then I noticed another kind of print in the snow, random and patternless. It took me a little while to figure out where they came from. They were leaf prints from the oak and beech leaves that had been clinging to the trees since last fall, finally released by the stormy winds, skittering on the snow before coming to rest in little drifts.
I felt good about all this noticing; it brought a kind of joy, this simple observation of what was around me.
Then I reached the fork where I expected to see others’ tracks. Alas there were none, and the trail groomer hadn’t yet made it this far, either. I faced a long and arduous uphill. I began the climb enthusiastically, but by the time I reached the top and the next fork and there were still no tracks or groomed trails, my spirits sank. By now the sky was overcast. I was only at the halfway point and this side of the mountain had borne the brunt of the storm. Whereas the other side had a thin layer of powder atop the crunchy stuff, here it was mostly ice. Each glide resulted in shards cracking and a deep, unpleasant, body-jarring thump. And I still had another slow uphill before I’d reach a point where I might have a downhill respite. When I did finally reach that point, going down was hardly easier, as my skis got stuck in the ice, tripping me up. I finally paused for a snack and something to drink, and the first and only live animal I was to see, a woodpecker, flew next to me and pecked away at a birch while I sipped my tea. I was so appreciative of that bird. The woodpecker, along with gorgeous blue-green ice overhanging the cliffs beside me, renewed my spirits.
The slog resumed. My spirits declined more quickly this time, especially when I reached the next fork and the next big uphill stretch and it, too, had seen neither skier nor groomer. Finally, I ran into two good friends coming my way who listened to my grumpy complaints about being tired (I’d now been skiing 4 hours and had broken 10 miles of trail) and then turned around so that we skied together. I thought of how my mood had changed, from joyful appreciation of the tremendous beauty; from rapt attention to every detail, to exhaustion, frustration and moodiness. That in itself was a lesson. I could have continued to observe carefully. I could have recognized the blessings surrounding me, rather than bemoaning the lack of groomed trails and the unexpected icy conditions. I could have stopped wishing that I’d taken a different route, or that I’d gone skiing closer to home where the snow was snow, not ice, instead of focusing on the “what ifs.” My friends were just what I needed though: ears to listen to a few minutes of complaints, so that I could put my grumpiness aside and revel in the now groomed trail I was delighted to ski upon.
Joy in observation; changing moods; kind listeners. Attitude may not be everything, but it counts for a lot.
Image courtesy of Roland Tanglao via Creative Commons.
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