To see animal tracks is not tracking an animal.
Mike Reimer, our guide at the Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge in Manitoba, Canada, reminded me that when it comes to finding what you seek, you must do more than look. “This place is always telling a story. These animals are always talking to you. It’s up to us to listen to what they are saying.” You have to look for what to listen to. The ability to see what is not there comes down to using your mind’s eye to see with purpose. Study. Question. Absorb. Compare. Become. Experience. Evolve. Progress. Reflect.
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A layer of dusty snow softens the trace of the step with age. The track was made before the last snowfall. The paw prints of the front left leg are nearly invisible—a sign of a limp. The prints move further apart on the other side of the willow trees. Obstacles gave way to a change of pace. A chase? Miles later, the tracks stop and to a depression in the meadow grass lies where the weary body took rest. Then they continue on, now without a shake of snow covering them. A quarter mile down the road a second set of tracks hitches on. Why were these two animals together? Another quarter mile later, alone again. The path continues on with a steady pace and even steps. You may never see this animal, but because of its journey and the details you discern of its travel, you can envision what the wolf or bear or fox looks like.
In life, we oftentimes have to approach our path not knowing what we are looking for and always uncertain of what lies ahead: new jobs, new challenges, and new changes. Each outline is a chance to discern the present from a thing of the past. What’s detectable under the initial impression of a track becomes the trace of life, a map of your journey. It frames where you are going and what lies ahead.
When you follow one trail and leave your own behind. Maybe tomorrow, or next month, or next year, or someday, someone will see your footprints and follow, learning from the path you set forth on today. Maybe they’ll see an uneven step followed by a change of pace. They’ll know that it’s possible to walk on, even with a limp. Maybe they’ll find your steps joining with another’s, and realize that sometimes we need someone beside us. And so allows your past to become part of a present moment that someone else will study. Question. Absorb. Compare. Become. Experience. Evolve. Progress. Reflect.
Every place has a voice; every course you take has a discourse. It’s just up to you to listen. And it’s up to you to respond.
Follow Columbia Sportswear’s Directors of Toughness, Lauren Steele and Zach Doleac, as they journey around the world and put our latest gear through the harshest conditions on Twitter, Facebook, Periscope, Instagram, and Snapchat (columbia1938).
Lauren Steele is a Midwestern farm girl turned migrant. She is a writer who knows that the unknowns in life make for the best stories—and for the most amazing adventures. Chasing those stories from Chile to Switzerland have prepared her to become Columbia Sportswear’s Director of Toughness. You can follow Lauren’s journey as Director of Toughness here and social channels including: Twitter | Instagram
Zach Doleac is an adventure travel and sports photographer (and full-time outdoor junkie) born and raised in the Pacific Northwest. Traveling through places such as Central America, Canada, and the mountain ranges of the U.S., he only pauses long enough to make photographs of the people and places that he encounters along the way. You can follow Zach’s journey as Director of Toughness and social channels including: Instagram | Twitter