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Unbroken Snow & Writing

There are different kinds of snow, and different kinds of snowshoeing. Snowshoe hiking up a mountain is very different than snowshoeing across a snow-covered field. Like walking on these terrains when there’s no snow, there’s a certain tactical change that develops with each. Hiking up a mountain, there’s a unique relief in flipping up the heel lifts on snowshoes to level your foot to the incline that you naturally wouldn’t feel on flat terrain. There’s also a wholly different intensity in grinding up an unbroken mountain trail. Steep terrain and unbroken snow are a workout. For me it’s a bit like technical writing, you know the payoff will be big but in your lowest moments the effort feels like it isn’t worth it (it’s almost always worth it).

Flat terrain snowshoeing is a different story altogether. Easier, in a lot of ways, but that ease releases you to explore more than you might on something more technical and demanding. But that very freedom can force people to stick with the formula of the familiar. Why be uncomfortable in breaking new ground? Because that’s where things get most interesting!

There are times when you’ve got to stay on the path. Inevitably, you’ll begin on broken ground: trails that lead from a parking lot to open fields, or woodland trails that must be honored before you reach open space. There’s an obligation, unsaid, to help groom the trail by tamping it down with your snowshoes. We do our part, but it feels like paying penance, and you look ahead to where you might break free. The very unevenness of the broken trail is what makes it a chore. Compacting broken snow means staying in your lane, taking what others have left for you and finding a path through it. Broken snow, especially when regular walkers use the same trail, exposes boulders and roots and ruts that lead to post holing on the trail. There’s a certain satisfaction in tamping down the brokenness, akin, in a way, to editing a sloppy bit of writing.

But the real fun begins when you find an opening to fly. A small break in an old stone fence that leads you to a virgin field of unbroken snow, or a wide open field with a single broken path going across it each whispers, “It’s time: FLY!” and gives you the opportunity to break from all expectations and obligations and just go for it. Like a plane freeing itself from the obligation of the runway, launching yourself into unbroken snow is freedom. It’s just you and the snow, and you can go in any direction you want.

Writing can feel very much the same. You chafe at the obligatory structure, you get caught up in the rules of punctuation and order, you try to clean up run-on sentences and spelling errors and the like as you go. But to really fly with writing you’ve just got to just launch yourself into it, technique and order be damned, and just see where it takes you. Inevitably to places you never imagined when you started. If you truly let yourself go you don’t worry about editing the broken trail you leave behind you. There’ll be time for that another day. No, this is your time to take wing.

If you’ll forgive me another analogy about snowshoeing and writing, it’s the conditioning. When you haven’t been out on snowshoes in a while you forget the pace and rhythm and become a bit breathless. When you do it every day you quickly find your pace and rhythm and just get right to it. It becomes natural–a part of you. And when you reach that point you can cover so much more ground than you would otherwise. The lesson, of course, is to get to it every day.

The obligation of the broken trail
The freedom of unbroken ground

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