You must know that there is nothing higher and stronger and more wholesome and good for life in the future than some good memory, especially a memory of childhood, of home…. If a man carries many such memories with him into life, he is safe to the end of his days.
The Brothers Karamazov
Here I raise my Ebenezer, hither by Thy help I’ve come…
“Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing”
“We’re going marker to marker again today,” I admit to one of my teammates.
“You mean paycheck to paycheck,” laughs another.
“Marker to marker,” I insist, and it’s true.
We woke up this morning at Simonyhütte, at the base of the Hallstätter Gletscher to find a fine layer of snow dusting the ground. Our path for the morning took us higher, to where the fine powder became a thick blanket of snow, softening our steps and stinging our faces. As I checked the students before sending them on an icy climb over a lower pass on the north side of the Dachsteingebirge, our guide admonished me to put my gloves back on because “your fingers really could freeze off now. Keep them on.”
In the afternoon, we descended again into the wind and the fog, tied together and following in one another’s deepening footsteps, up and around
and then down the Gosauer Gletscher. I was thankful to follow, thankful for the compass and knowledge of the mountain guide to bring us down through the storm. I’d been up there before, on this very glacier, but very seldom during the day could I have found on the map just where we were. In the snow and the mist, it all looked the same.
Now we’ve left the glacier, and are hiking down through the moraine at its base. A century ago, this chasm held a thick strip of glacier; all that remains is a giant’s quarry, strewn sparsely with blue and yellow flowers. On a sunny day, like the last time I was here, I call this place austere and otherworldly. Today, we call it “Mordor.”
It would really be easy to get lost here, I think while I walk. The trail here is more of a suggestion than a path, and often it disappears entirely, when stones are just stones, and giant holes open up to swallow me. How easy it would be, in this visibility, to miss the hut entirely, to keep walking down and down, lost in the storm.
Then I see the markers.
Freshly painted, splashes of red on grey rock, this trail is the dotted line on a treasure map, so clear that I expect to see a red X painted on the roof of the hut. Sometimes they are far apart, these markers, so far that you need to stand almost on top of one and then turn around, slowly, until another pops into focus in a new direction. The trail is hazardous and hard to see, but the markers are always there, reminding us when we get there that we’re still on the right track.
And I think about walking with God, about how sometimes the way ahead it clear and simple, truly as easy as placing one foot in front of another. Yet how often the trail seems faint and mysterious, especially in barren places. I think about the markers, times and places that reminded me, surely, that God was with me. It’s not every step, not every day. But I can always see one ahead, or look back to the one I’ve just left, walking in the safety of God’s leading.
So the dotted line leads us, cold and weary, to the glowing windows of a beautiful place, our home for the night. From the doorway, as I wring ice water out of saturated gloves, I look back through the swirling snow, back up the trail we’ve just come down. Its twists and turns are lost in the grey snowflakes; its markers still shine faintly in July’s early twilight.