When I pull into the Bouton Creek parking lot, I’m surprised to see only one other car. This is one of the more popular cross country ski areas in the Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, an hour and a half outside of Calgary, and it seems odd to me that it isn’t busier on this beautiful day. I pause only momentarily and get about organizing my skis and pack. I think I’ve done my due diligence by checking the trail conditions online. But within mere metres of strapping on my skis I realize why the parking lot is empty as I see the bright yellow sign reading “Flood Damage”. I take a moment to consider my options. There are tracks through the woods of other skiers who’ve forged onwards ahead of me, and I decide to follow suit.
Very quickly I see the evidence of the damage from the devastating summer flood. The pine needles on the tracks are nothing compared to the uprooted trees and fallen logs which pepper the trail. I continue along cautiously and wonder if I’m crazy. This trail bears little resemblance to the one I recall from last year’s idyllic day. I was out for a solo ski, similar to today, but the terrain was peaceful. The smell of pine, the sun leaning up against the trees, the sound of the open creek bed all left me feeling enchanted. Today all I see is uprootedness, twists and jags in the trail. I bend down to duck under a fallen tree and find myself removing my skis altogether to step over and around washed out bridges. I feel disappointed and irritated - this is not what I had envisioned for my day.
Last year I was full of hope as I set out on this trail. The ski itself was a metaphor for my point of view; I was stepping into new territory in many areas of my life. I was oriented toward possibility and the future. But the year had other plans for me. There were accomplishments, but they were layered in and amongst disappointments. I was disengaged from work that I thought would be stimulating, and encountered relationships that challenged my personal edges when I thought they would be smooth sailing. And of course there were literal floods in cities where I have deep history; where I felt intwined with the collective consciousness. Many friends and family had a very hard year last year. Unexpected, unfathomable realities were brought into sharp focus.
As I continue my ski along Boulton Creek, something begins to shift in me. I start notice a sense of quiet and beauty in the debris. I find myself paying more attention to the trees, giving more consideration to the sounds of the forest around me and the choice of my route. I check in with myself to make sure I still feel safe. I know it’s a short distance before I meet up with the other trail and I’m starting to feel charged by the challenge this terrain presents.
Eventually the trail converges with the the Elk Pass route and I find myself gliding along, falling into a relaxed rhythm on a clear track. But I can’t help but wonder about the meaning of the first part of my ski. I think about expectations and hope. Where do I need a dose of reality - a being present with what is rather than what I “hope” it may be? The balance of holding potential as possible but not missing the clues of the present. I think about letting go of ideas, assumptions, and false beliefs. This past year has provided me with many opportunities to practice this. It wasn’t all forgiving snow and easy gliding. But like today’s ski, I realized that I have the capacity to be with all of it - the pleasure and the pain as Pema Chodron says; to discover the beauty in the chaos.
Here are some thoughts and questions I’m taking with me into this year from my ski up Boulton Creek: Pay attention to signs. Check in with myself as I take each step. The territory I may think is familiar is anything but. Stay open. How can I continue to let go of my agenda and comparisons of what I think the trail “should” look like? How can I keep my sense of humour and faith even while I’m bush whacking? How can I keep stretching my capacities? And ultimately, how do I want to feel in the process?