“It just seemed a natural thing to do.”
– Simon Beck
When images of Simon Beck’s work first appeared on my computer screen, I did a double-take: how was it possible for one person to create giant, geometric patterns in snow simply by walking? What would motivate someone to do this? How are pieces of this scale actually accomplished? Some further researched easily answered all of these questions and more, proving that one man is indeed capable of changing the way we look at snow — and showing the infinite possibility in walking with purpose.
Water in its solid, frozen state frequently inspires artists to create: from stunning ice sculptures of large magnitude to macro photography that reveals water’s microscopic symmetry, the magic inherent in everyday, mundane snow and ice stirs creators across the globe.
When Simon Beck, a professional orienteering map maker, began having foot problems that limited the type of terrain he traversed, his life changed direction. In search of exercise, and comfortable using a compass to guide his way, he naturally began making geometric patterns in the snow on a frozen lake outside his winter home. With the help of snowshoes, some string, and his trusty compass, Beck used his well-honed orienteering technique of counting paces to create epic drawings in the snow.
As Beck explains on his popular Facebook Page, he started this mindful practice almost a decade ago, during Christmas in 2004:
“I made a 5 pointed star then added circles in the spaces between the points. After this had been covered by fresh snow, I made a 10 pointed star and made straight lines linking all the points, and filled in the resulting areas alternately. The result looked so good that I attempted a larger one on a larger lake. This was hard work as the snow was too deep, so I bought snowshoes and that was where the idea really took off.”
He explains that a single piece usually takes about 10 hours to make, though this can vary greatly depending on the pattern, his personal fitness level, and weather conditions. Inspired by geometric patterns and crop circles, he usually draws the pattern first on paper using a protractor and ruler.
The patterns usually last until the next heavy snow fall. When they are naturally covered up, the blanket of snow produces a fresh, blank canvas onto which Beck steps with his next creation. I see Beck’s unique art practice as an exercise in letting go: by giving his work over to the ephemeral nature of life, Beck embraces the beauty of transience. The photographs of these works are special because they are the only remaining documents of his incredible, fleeting creations. Like Robert Smithson’s work with the concept of entropy, Beck’s patterns will forever return from whence they came.
By combining his desire for physical exercise outdoors, his skill-set in orienteering map-making, and his need to create art with nature, Beck shows us what is attainable when we move forward, one mindful step at a time.
If his snow patterns first seemed impossible to my eyes, they’ve now re-inspired me to believe in the limitless possibilities of human creativity and effort. Knowing that countless hours spent trekking through thick snow will eventually — or, immediately! — be wiped clean with a new snowfall lends to this artwork a Zen-like aspect. Letting go of our need to hold on and control outcomes is part of what meditation teaches us: accepting change enables us to live more gracefully in our eternally liminal state.
And as for Beck’s ultimate goal with these epic creations? The artist thoughtfully shares:
“I hope to spread the message that the mountains and snow are beautiful and worth preserving. And, there are better things in life than spending so much time doing things you don’t want to, so that you can spend money you haven’t got (yet), to buy things you don’t need, to impress people you don’t like.”
A decade’s worth of mindfully walking in snow has given Beck an admirable outlook on life. Taking a page from his book can inspire us all to embrace the ephemeral, let go of what no longer serves us, and illuminate our lives with nature’s beauty.