Making tracks

Gary Lester

Grandpop, Dad’s Dad, was a character. He had all kinds of stories. Some taught lessons and some were silly; just for the fun of it. In the latter category, there was this time when I was probably seven or eight that I flipped over a rotting log and discovered a colony of huge black ants. Grandpop said that woodsmen used to collect them and eat them with milk and sugar, like berries. It didn’t occur to me to ask how they kept them in the bowl.

Grandpop worked in the oil and gas leases in McKean County his whole adult life. He knew how to dress for the cold. One day he said it was a “three shirt day.” That meant long underwear, a flannel shirt, and a heavy Woolrich shirt under a canvas jacket. (I still have that Woolrich shirt.) Another cold day he announced that: “It’s colder than a well-diggers butt.” I was probably ten or twelve. I said: “What does THAT mean??!!” Seemed like a sort of risky, off-color comment. He told me about how people used to dig water wells by hand and how after you got down a few feet, it got very cold. In the close quarters, people leaned against the cold walls of the well and that’s how their butts got cold.

It snowed a little the other day. We have deer in the area so there were tracks all over the yard. While the dog busied herself smelling each and every footprint, It reminded me of another episode that I hadn’t thought of for a long time, long before I started searching for meaning in all my weird experiences. This one happened when I was eight or ten. Grandpop and I were walking in the snow and I was checking out all the deer tracks. He said: “If you follow these tracks, there will be a deer at the end.” “REALLY??!!” I said, astounded, amazed, and awed at how he could know such a thing. But he was Grandpop, so, of course, I took him at his word.

As this story came back to me, I noticed that, right then, right there in front of me, were dog tracks and a few feet farther along the trail there was the dog! Then I thought about MY tracks. I looked over my shoulder and there they were! And sure enough, I was right there at the end of them! Yup, all this confirmed Grandpop’s amazing prognostication.

So, here we are, and we’re always right at the end of our tracks, aren’t we? I never thought about it quite like this. We’re always right at the end of our trail, whatever we’re doing. But what happens next? Well, we take another step and continue to make tracks on our trail.

Right there is the key to a successful, happy life; those next steps on the trail. Aimless wandering can be nice sometimes, but most of our travel on our trail is goal-directed. We are, or should be, headed where we’re headed for a reason. Even the seemingly aimless wandering of the deer is actually purposeful; they’re always looking for that next meal and a safe place to bed down. Until the day we die, there are always choices of where the next steps lead.

So, when we’re standing there, in our tracks, at the temporary end of our trail, I think we need to hesitate just a minute to consider the next step. I think it’s a good idea to reestablish the goal; an original one might need modification. Then we need to think about whom and what got us to where we are. What did we do that worked? What didn’t work that we need to avoid? If we need help, who can we ask? Are there unhelpful people we need to avoid? Our trail will be easier and more productive if we do these things.

I don’t think Grandpop could have imagined all the positive impact his stories have had on me. But he was just the kind of person who shared his ideas. Heck of a blessing, isn’t it, when I’m still learning from his stories 60 years later? So while we’re making our tracks and deciding where to go next, we all should share those little ideas with others. You can never know the positive impact they might have.

Here’s one more bit of wisdom from Grandpop: “If you have to eat two toads, eat the big one first.”