At the beginning of each ski season I set some goals – how many km I want to ski, how many times I want to ski, and what wildlife I wanted to see and photograph. I usually reach the km and visit goals, but never the wildlife ones. This year my goals are to ski 700 Km, go skiing 55 times, and photograph the front end of a moose, a lynx, and an owl.
Christmas Eve, 2015 – Like many of my other crazy things, this just started as a normal day.
First, some background. After I graduated from university I moved to Dublin for six months of doing nothing. I had already spent two months backpacking around Britain and Ireland. It seemed like a stupid and frivolous thing to do, go back with no plan, but it was easily one of the most important things I’ve ever done.
I was exhausted from school. After graduating with a science degree all I wanted to do was be a writer. I felt, at times, like I had wasted four years of my life. I hadn’t it turns out. That science degree is always valuable when I least expect it. More importantly I felt like I had lost my way. The strong, intuitive part of me had been ignored and devalued. Moving to Dublin gave me an opportunity to reclaim that part of myself. I didn’t know how I was going to do it but I knew I would. It took me a few months to figure it out, but eventually I was able to let go of lists of things to do, obligations to others, and expectations of others. It’s probably the only time I’ve lived completely for myself.
I was alone, intentionally, and it was an incredibly important time in my life. I learned that when I followed my instincts I could create magic. Amazing things happened. Coming home, and in the years since, the challenge has always been to find a way to live that honestly with myself, and at the same time live in a world where I had lists of things to do, obligations outside of myself, and people I loved who had expectations of me.
This year on Christmas Eve I had to work a half day in Logan Lake at the Library. It was a good day – fun and festive. Two friends brought me pizza for lunch because I had complained that staff who worked Christmas Eve at the bigger branches in town were given pizza. In the smaller branches we got nothing. My homemade pizza and a can of coke arrived and it was delivered by two people I adore. It was yummy! Pretty awesome day so far. In the past few years I have surrounded myself with amazing people and they even bring snacks!
I planned to go for a long ski at Stake Lake after work and then get into the festive spirit when I got home. When I got to Stake it was almost 2 pm and I realized I didn’t have as much time as I thought and a long ski was out of the question. I’m a creature of habit so I thought I’d just do one of my other regular routes, a shorter one that would only take me an hour or so. As I was setting out, I realized that for some reason I wasn’t going to take that route and I really didn’t know where I was going. I felt that instinct sensation, a homing device in my spine, and I knew I just had to follow along and go wherever I felt like I should. I ended up in an area I don’t usually gravitate to because it’s full of steep trails that are often icy.
I believe that wildlife, or any kind of wonder in the world, allows you to find it, and you can only find it when you’re ready to receive it. You can’t go chasing it. You have to be open to it and it will let you in. It’s like riding a wave – if you catch the wave it’s amazing and you have that mythical feeling of being one with it. Sounds corny, but I think it’s true. If you try and force it – well that’s just painful and rarely gets you the results you’re looking for. I usually know when I follow my instincts and ride that wave, something special will happen. This time I wasn’t disappointed. I came around the corner and found myself face to face with a moose calf – one of the moose that regularly hang out around the ski trails. This wasn’t the first time I’ve seen a moose, or her in particular, but it was the first time I’ve been this close (and not in a car), and the first time I’ve had the time and the space to get some really good pictures.
As I came around the corner she looked up at me from where she was standing and eating. She acknowledged me, and then continued looking for food. We had at least 20 minutes where I slowly moved closer and took more pictures. I didn’t see one skier, and it was a busy day at the trails, the whole time I was with her. I was about 20 ft from her and I’m pretty sure I took over 100 pictures. Finally I knew I was done. I skied past her, maybe 10 ft away. She looked up at me, and then walked off into the bush. It was like she was waiting for me. It was the best Christmas present ever.
Why was this a crazy thing?
I had to slow down, and remember to follow a feeling that used to be so familiar to me. It used to be second nature. Now I have to remember it and relearn how to access and sustain it. Instinct is powerful and it’s like a muscle – it has to be worked and trained.
Would I do it again?
Absolutely. I have to keep working that instinct muscle and I’m committed to stopping and taking the time to appreciate beauty when I see it. I have to be prepared to catch the wave and enjoy the bounty at the end. I still have the owl and lynx to go this winter and I may or may not get lucky, but that’s OK. I had the moment and that is better than anything. I’ve seen this lady a couple of times since, never in good enough conditions to get good pictures. I always smile at her, nod in acknowledgement. Maybe she’s smiling too.