December 6, 2012

At some fundamental level, we all want to leave trace of our passing, beyond the biological urge of children, that

At some fundamental level, we all want to leave trace of our passing, beyond the biological urge of children, that is. We want to know that we made a mark, that our time here created something indelible. Hence, I suppose, a granite headstone, with name chiseled deep and a life described in two dates and a few short words.

But even granite washes away, erodes, breaks down one tiny grain at a time, and sooner than you’d think. It’s better to acknowledge the impermanence of things right up front, to understand that everything is ephemera in its own way, and appreciate it not just for what it is, but for its temporal nature, too.

In winter, these lessons are everywhere. During the warmer months, mountains project an image of stability, but cold creates more fragile states. A snowflake changes quickly.

We don’t make snowflakes, but we do make contrails and ski tracks. No matter where we ski, we always leave tracks, even on the hardest Stowe packed powder, and some bit of shavings, too. But contrails, well, the true contrail only develops when the surface snow is light and conditions are frosty. The true contrail is cold smoke, lingering in the air and swirling in our wake, comprised perhaps of teensy tiny particles of happiness, a byproduct of bodies too filled with joy to contain it all.

The track and contrail can be viewed separately, but they’re better understood as being two sides of the same thing. Indeed, the contrail is the track, isn’t it? Those levitating snow crystals had to come from somewhere, that track had to be emptied of something. The contrail is the track taking flight, and neither really exists without the other. Perhaps in its very short life, the contrail is the like the ringing sound of hammer hitting chisel, and the track is like the epitaph carved in rock. It echoes and then it’s gone, except when we hold it in our memories a little while longer.

Photo of Kaj Zackrisson in Engelberg, Switzerland, by Mattias Fredriksson See more from Mattias here.

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Steve Casimiro is the editor of Adventure Journal.
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