When the snow had let up and the girls could see their way to the shed behind our house, my wife made a discovery.
“Deer tracks,” she said. “From the driveway to the back fence. Looks like it jumped over and into the neighbor’s yard.”
“From our backyard?” I asked.
We live in a part of the country where deer are abundant. Our house is surrounded by trees, and we spot deer all the time as we drive to gymnastics classes and school activities and the train station. They hide in the tree line along the road, noses poking out just to test their luck.
We’ve seen evidence of something on our property: the tops of tiny trees nibbled away, droppings that made us wonder.
But nothing so definitive as a track. A series of tracks, in fact.
“That’s pretty cool,” I said. My wife nodded again. All the while, our girls made tracks of their own.
Snow days can be something of a hassle. Dangerous roads. Missed appointments. Parenting while working while shoveling the driveway. Just walking the dog can become a life-and-death activity. And that’s to say nothing of folks with no permanent shelters, folks forced to exist out in the frigid temperatures with no promise of a hot cup of coffee or a roaring fire.
Last week, I turned to St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians: “When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became an [adult], I put aside childish things.” (1 Cor 13:11) That passage seems just as relevant this week, but this time for snow days.
As our responsibilities increase, so, too, increases the inconvenience experienced when our plans are torn asunder. And nothing tears apart plans like feet of snow and inches of ice.
And so, I return to those deer tracks around my house. Because while snow is inconvenient — and at times, dangerous — it also leaves proof of the passing of others. Not just deer but children on their way to the sledding hill, birds as they bounce about in the fluffy powder, the tracks of that first driver brave enough to journey into the unknown, the footprints of a stranger whose destination we can only guess.
It’s so easy to go about our day, focused solely on the people we need to engage with, on the creatures in our immediate path — the dog we need to walk, the cat we need to feed. We don’t need to think about anyone else.
But in the inconvenience of a snowed-out day, for just a moment, tracks through the snow are an unavoidable reminder that creatures great and small, people just like us, walk the same paths we do, though we may never see one another. We may never meet face-to-face.
Yet, we’re on a common, shared pilgrimage. So often, we must be inconvenienced simply to recognize this truth.
The snow inevitably melts and the tracks with it. Our fellow travelers vanish into obscurity once more. But I wonder: Snow or no snow, the next time we find ourselves stuck, our plans disrupted, our life trajectory pushed off course, is there someone we’re being asked to see? To really see? A person who we never would have been able to encounter on our previous life path?
Or, are we simply being invited to contemplate the mystery of God’s creation in a series of common, snowy tracks?
Regardless, in it and through it all, we hear the echo of that essential Ignatian insight: God is here; God is in all things.
Eric A. Clayton is the award-winning author of Cannonball Moments: Telling Your Story, Deepening Your Faith (Loyola Press) and the deputy director of communications at the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States. His essays on spirituality, parenting and pop culture have appeared in America Magazine, National Catholic Reporter, U.S. Catholic, Busted Halo and more, and he is a regular contributor to Give Us This Day, IgnatianSpirituality.com and Dork Side of the Force, where he blogs about Star Wars. His fiction has been published by Black Hare Press, Small Wonders Magazine and more. His next book, My Life with the Jedi: The Spirituality of Star Wars, an exploration of Star Wars through the lens of Ignatian spirituality, is due out in February 2024 from Loyola Press. Sign up for his Substack “Story Scraps” here. He lives in Baltimore, MD with his wife, two young daughters and their cat.