Some Things Don’t Need a Reason
by Brendan Keating
I am a born and raised Minnesotan. I’ve lived in the state my entire life. I’m a Twins fan, a Timberwolves fan and even a Spam fan. I have no intentions of ever moving, and every time I travel, I realize more and more how great the state is. Of all the things I love about Minnesota, however, Father Winter is someone who I never used to be a fan of. I thought he overstayed his welcome and he made everything from getting up in the morning to driving more difficult and in making the days shorter, sidewalks slippery and temperatures below zero, he really irritated me.
Last winter, while in Grand Marais, Minnesota these sentiments towards Father Winter started to shift. I was at my girlfriend’s family cabin and like any good North Shore cabin; it is fully stocked with snowshoes. There is a variety ranging from old school wooden snowshoes all the way to the modern contraptions made from some kind of metal. On a snowy afternoon, after lunch but before happy hour, my girlfriend suggested we dust off the snowshoes and go for a walk. “Why not just walk on the road” I asked. An exasperated look of disappointment followed but due to my desire to spend many more winters with this woman, I obliged to an afternoon of snowshoeing.
Because of my experience, I knew that the only way I could tolerate being around Father Winter is by wearing 15 pounds of clothes, so the first step was to gather up all the gear: wool socks, snow pants, a jacket, gloves, stocking hat, boots and of course, snowshoes. After bundling up and loading the car I made a wise comment about my elevated heart rate and core temperature meaning there was no longer even a need for exercise. The comment fell on deaf ears. I was committed now.
A short drive and we arrived at the trail head and started to put on our gear. “It just seems like so much work” I grumbled as I strapped my boot into the binder. “Come on, it will be fun” she said in a half optimistic and half demanding tone. “When in Rome…” I sighed. My breath made a cloud the size of Isle Royale as I unenthusiastically started down the trail. Knowing my girlfriend, I knew I was in for at least a 10K trek so I regretted the extra hot toddy’s I had the night before.
The first few kilometers I felt uncoordinated, clumsy, and even a little bit silly. After all, I wasn’t trying to get back to my teepee after a moose hunt, I wasn’t trying to find a village after a plane crash left me stranded in Siberia, and I wasn’t on a Hollywood set, so what on earth was I doing, in the middle of nowhere, trudging around on a pair of clown shoes? With the thought of that disappointed face, and quite honestly the fear of getting left behind, I pushed on. I started to get into a rhythm which made my strides more efficient and made the shoes feel less cumbersome. I was able to walk and look around, simultaneously. I breathed deep and felt the cool air rush into my lungs. I stopped and listened. Silence. No cars, no planes, no phones, no co-workers or televisions, just winter. I took a few more strides, and the epiphany finally occurred: The point of snowshoeing is nothing more than to just get outside and enjoy winter, and it doesn’t need to be anything more than that.
In Minnesota, or anywhere in the Upper Midwest for that matter, winter is typically approached in one of two ways. The first, and unfortunately the most popular, is to avoid it as much as possible by scurrying from home to car, car to office, office to car, and car back to home. By so many, Father Winter is viewed through the prism of negativity where everything is just cold, dark, and colorless. In a life that is short enough of as it is, winter is wished away and complained about. The second way winter is approached, however, is my new found preference. It is to actually embrace winter and to be a part of it. Rather than avoiding winter, it can be lived by doing things like snowshoeing, skiing and snowmobiling. By viewing winter not as a cynic, but as an enthusiastic participant, I have come to see the beauty of it. I have come to appreciate the stillness, the crispness and even the darkness. I have also recognized the fact that a large percentage of people in the world will never, ever have the opportunity to be part of this season, so to squander it would be a tragedy. Just like it is better to live a life of excitement than it is to watch someone else do it on TV, it is better to be in and to be a part of winter, rather to just look at it through a 3x5 window.
Finally, in a world full of commitments, deadlines and thousands of motives, it’s important to embrace and enjoy the opportunities to do something just for the sake of doing it. To me, that is what snowshoeing is. It’s not a way of life, a philosophy, a source of income, an investment or an expense. It’s just snowshoeing for the sake of snowshoeing, and the fact that is all that it will ever be is precisely why I love it so much.