When I cross-country ski, I like to step into a previously cut trail. I take comfort in the smooth, clean parallel lines stretching out before me. My skis move easily and I glide, listening to the rhythmic sound of snow and ice raking against the sharp edges of my skis. I lack confidence when I ski and often worry that I won't be able to make it the whole way, that I'll grow tired long before the outing is over. I wonder things like "Do I look awkward?"and "Is it obvious that I don't know what I'm doing?" Hat, gloves, coat, snow pants, boots, skis, poles, anxiety and self-consciousness.
A cut trail makes it easier so I try. I step in and move and watch my skis the entire time to make sure that I stay in the lines.
Yesterday, I went skiing again and used the trail that had been cut the day before. We set out from the cabin and wound our way around the edges of the lake and I focused on my blue skis in the sparkling snow and fell into the usual rhythm, arms and legs, poles and skis all moving forward.
At one point, we were halfway around the lake and I realized that I was bored. My friends and I hadn't been chatting as we usually do and I didn't have a camera and just like that - I was done. I wasn't physically tired, just mentally done with the monotony. So, I stopped and looked around and decided I was just going to go back, that I was going to cut across the lake on my own. I told my friends and, as they continued around the edges, I turned and set out across the middle, towards the point of the island.
The snow had been blown down to a thin layer on the lake so I moved quickly at first. I focused on the point ahead and, as I got closer to the island, the snow deepened, covering my skis. I was cutting my own trail through deep snow and noticed the beauty of the brown marsh grass poking through endless white and the way the pine trees on the island seemed to stand watch. I laughed as I stumbled and lost my balance and there was no one there to see me, no one around to judge. I looked at the trees on the island that were stripped of leaves and remembered the way they looked last summer when they were green and rustling in the hot breeze. I reveled in the quiet hush of my own ragged breath and the movement of my skis.
And as I came around the point, I realized that when cutting my own trail, I had stopped watching my own feet.
In making my own way, I had laughed more, seen more, felt more.
I stood alone with my skis in deep, untouched snow and I closed my eyes and knew this was a lesson to remember.