There’s been a foot of snow on the ground for the last few days which makes my morning walk on the cross country course seem more like trudging. It’s hard to get a meditative rhythm going when every few steps my weight breaks through the snow and I lurch forward like a bad tennis player—my Leki walking stick helps. It’s easier to find a trail of footsteps that have already been made and then carefully place each of my feet one after another into those prints; sometimes they are my own from the previous day, and sometimes they belong to the guy whose boots make tracks like bare feet who I’ve never actually met.
Now I know we’ve been told by spiritual leaders and self help gurus that we should always make our own paths, always take the roads less traveled (to borrow from Scott Peck), and to never follow another’s road just because it is easier and well known. I feel really bad about this as I am picking my way each morning through the snow, but after much inner wrestling and visual investigation, I discover that the wildlife, for whom I have the utmost respect, are doing the same damn thing! Hell, I love animals so altruistically and believe so enthusiastically in the goodness of their instincts that I’d probably eat the bark off a tree if I actually saw them doing it, so why should I feel guilty?
So here is what I witness—deer prints placed very carefully inside each heel print of the human track as if they have been stamped there with a stencil and rendered identical every time! At first I am a bit disappointed by the sheepishness of the deer and their shortcuts but now I have learned to cut them some slack. Everything is awfully hard in winter and there is absolutely nowhere to hide; the branches are bare, there is no foliage, and one’s tracks can lead the big bad wolf directly to one’s door. So why not take a shortcut when it presents itself, just for now, just until it gets a little easier to find food, shelter, and a fire in the heart?