BOS 07 06 2022 doublesize
Back in my twenties, I went backpacking near Jasper, Alberta with two long time friends. One night it snowed. As we climbed above the tree line, the snow was so deep that it hid the small cairns of stones that marked the trail. At one point, we realized we had missed the trail, that we were supposed to be in the valley to our right. We headed that way, and realized that we were on a cornice of snow. We backtracked. At this point, we headed instead down the mountain toward the valley to our right.

When one of my friends remembered that the base of this mountain was all muskeg, we stopped. Now beyond the snow, we could not retrace our steps. We waited to be found, three days later.

For years, I said I would never go backpacking again without topological maps to guide me. Some time later, I realized that I had been on the trail after spending the summer with a broken foot. I was out of shape, tired, and not making good decisions. As soon as we realized that we had missed the trail, we should have back tracked along our foot prints, gone back to the camp site from the night before, and waited for the snow to melt the next day. That’s what people who broke camp later did. They turned back when they realized we were off track.

We made the wrong choice that day. And it took years for it to sink in to my brain that we should have gone back.

We make wrong choices all the time. Some are small. I step over the baby gate that at times keeps our dog in the kitchen. I could move it, but I don’t. Instead, I risk tripping, which has resulted in a broken mug and some bruises. Some mistakes are bigger. I took on a job once that had hours that did not match my sleep needs—eight hours a night at least. It did not work out well for me. At least, after six months, I realized that I dreaded going to work and quit. I shifted direction at that point and went back to school to finish my training to be a minister.

Sometimes, the choice we made is one with lots of commitment. The cost of change would be huge. We just keep going, hoping that as we make small adjustments, things will get better. The hole just keeps getting deeper.

Sometimes we realize the path is not great, and we try to branch off to adjust the direction, fix things incrementally. Sometimes this works out. Sometimes, we just get more tangled and have to try a different branching pathway.

There are times when things are going really well, when we are content and productive. In this situation, we try to “stay the course.” When there are choices to be made, we make the ones that will keep things from getting disrupted. If we find ourselves shifting direction, we know where we want to be and make choices that take us back on track.

It is interesting that when things are not going well, going backward often does not occur to us. Not that we can ever actually go back, as my friends and I could have on that snowy day above Jasper. But it is possible to back off from the direction we are headed and reset our pathway.

At this time, most of the world wishes that President Putin would take a ninety degree turn and summon his troops back home. Not likely to happen. He has too much invested—time, money, and ego—to just tell his troops to turn around and leave Ukraine. Instead, the world is going to have to find some path that opens a back door that he can exit and end this war.

In our personal lives, when we realize we’ve made a bad choice, there will be consequences that we cannot erase. Still, we can take our ego out of the situation, acknowledge the mistake, and back up. One choice affects our path, but does not set our direction permanently. We can reset our direction. And even when we are on the right path, we have to keep making good choices to stay on track.

Cathy Hird lives on the traditional territory of the Saugeen Ojibway Nation


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