It was snowing hard, the way it almost never does anymore, and I decided I needed to go for my walk, heedless of the weather.
“I probably won’t be gone long,” I texted a friend in California as I headed out the door looking like an Arctic explorer. The snow was coming down fast and sideways. Many businesses were closed, and the streetlights had eerily popped on at midday.
Once outside, I wondered if this was such a good idea.
It was impossible to keep the snow out of my eyes. I pulled my fur-trimmed cap down so it nearly hid my eyes. I pulled my face mask up over my nose and navigated through a narrow strip of vision with a fringe of fur on top.
It was a lot of work. Between four to five inches of snow had already fallen and only a few people had traversed the sidewalk ahead of me. I found myself tripping and slipping in their tracks.
“I’m going to walk to the next cross street and turn around,” I promised myself. “A short walk is better than no walk at all.”
I kept trudging.
But a funny thing happened on the next block. The last of the footprints disappeared, and I was walking through untouched, fresh snow. Once I was no longer stumbling in the footsteps of previous pedestrians, the walk became easier. The snow had a bounce to it. My steps, though slow, were even and smooth. I started to have fun.
“I’ll go one more block before turning around.”
The block came and went. Every so often, I’d hit a patch of sidewalk where someone had shoveled, and walking became amazingly easy. Then I’d go back to what I was now used to.
And, eventually, walking through the snow became normal. I settled into a slow but steady pace and observed the closed businesses and the unshoveled sidewalks and the snowplows trying to clear the street beside me. At one point, I saw two young people trying to pry a car out of a parking spot, and I helped push it free.
“Thank you,” they called as they headed down the street, wheels spinning in the deep snow.
“They’re going to get stuck again,” I thought. And they probably did.
I heard sirens in the distance and watched great whirls of snow gust off the rooftops and fill the air with dancing snow phantoms. I ended up walking my whole route.
I remember hearing the neural pathways of our brain described as paths through the snow. I can think in new ways, but it is much easier to follow an existing path, one that has already been cleared, and so I’ll do that whenever possible.
But I wonder if there isn’t more to it.
I think of all the times that I’ve heard there was a “right way” to do things, and remember all the times the right way hasn’t been all it’s cracked up to be. Of course, it’s always easy to walk on a clear path. But sometimes I have to break a new trail and, when the path is new, it’s often a good idea to find my own way.
“I did the whole loop,” I told my friend in California once I was back. “It wasn’t too hard to walk because I was the first one to make tracks.”
“It’s harder to follow in someone else’s footsteps?” she asked. She hasn’t seen a lot of snow.
And it was. And there’s a lesson for me in that, I am sure.