Before watching Greg make this about five years ago, I would have skipped right past any recipe asking me to make a balsamic reduction. I would have simply assumed this was far above my skill level. It turns out, the reduction is so simple, I can’t believe I might have missed out. All it requires is to pour some balsamic vinegar into a shallow fry pan and gently heat it until the water evaporates off, and a beautiful thick balsamic reduction is left. It might take slightly more than five minutes, but it won’t take a full seven.
A reduction, it turns out, is exactly what it is advertised to be. It is something that is made smaller or less in amount, degree or size. I also like to think of it as something that has been reduced to its essence.
My friend Brenda, and I have been heading out on Tuesday Treks since late last summer. We meet every Tuesday morning, with a new trail mapped out, ready to spend a day with our friend, the great outdoors. This past week, Brenda recommended hiking a trail we’ve only done once before. Last July, we navigated Tom Snow and Ridgeback 1, 2 and 3, but we haven’t done it since there has been snow on the ground so we assumed it would be a nice new adventure. We were not disappointed!
With a fresh falling of snow Monday night, there were no tracks to guide us. The trail is fairly well marked at lower altitudes and we each have an app on our phones allowing us to use GPS to make sure we stay on track at higher elevations when the trail is impossible to pick out. We thought we had all our bases covered. We had our phones, we had our trail downloaded onto our app, we had food and water and great hiking gear. We left our start point and route with Jim and Daryl, and we left early in the morning with a good forecast ahead of us. What we didn’t account for was this: when it snows 10cm in the city, more often than not, the mountains where we hike get about triple that amount.
As the hours marched by, and we marched higher and higher, our memories about snowfall amounts became much clearer. By the top third of the hike, we were pushing through snow well above our knees. We knew we’d come to a ‘road’ at the top that we’d walk along for about 1.3 km before beginning our descent. We were looking forward to the reprieve for our tired legs. Surprise doesn’t begin to describe what we saw at the top. Not only were there no footprints anywhere, there was no sign that any human had been to the top all winter. The only thing that told us we were on a road was there were no trees on it! We were now well above our knees, surrounded by the beauty of it all.
As we finally reached the summit, we heard the sound of motors approaching. We knew it could not be a car or truck, since the road was impassable for vehicles. It turns out it was two snowmobiles, driven by workers heading to remote gas, pumphouse station near where we were. We waved as they slowly went past, working hard to push through the deep snow.
We knew our trailhead back down was located near the pumphouse station. However, it wasn’t until we got near the snowmobiles that we recalled how difficult it had been to find the trailhead in July, even with clear ground, uncovered by snow. In the deep, untouched snow, it became much harder. With our most confident expressions locked on our faces we headed toward what we thought was our best bet.
In snow now up to the top of our legs, it took some time to get far enough to recognize we had made a mistake. Had we continued we’d have had to cross a significant ravine. We had no way of knowing the depth of snow in the ravine, so erring on the side of good sense, we decided to retrace our steps back up to the road, get to the other side of the ravine, and head down again. As luck would have it, the two workers were still at the transfer station collecting their data. We didn’t want to appear as though we were having trouble (how could they possibly guess?!) and Brenda mentioned she wished they had left already. As we got closer, with our legs absolutely burning from the climb, I said in a quiet voice, “Ok, Brenda. Look calm, act casual”. That was all it took; with exhausted legs, bruised egos and a healthy sense of our own silliness, we were both gave in to gales of laughter. Everything else just stripped away and we embraced this unexpected but welcome reduction. We’d been reduced to exactly what we aim to do each Tuesday - find a way to fully feel the incredible gifts nature can offer; peace, acceptance, joy, beauty, friendship, simplicity, escape, and health.
Pondering reductions has given me some needed insights this week. I spend a lot of time in my head. My busy little mind can create and follow multiple stories at once. I can wrap myself up so tight in the doing of life, it’s easy to forget the importance of it sometimes. Not the importance of my busyness, but the importance of exactly what, when I’ve reduced it to its most pure form, I am trying to accomplish, what impact I am trying to have. When I am thinking and rethinking the exact colour to use on a quilt I’m designing for a special person, I can get bogged down with all the possibilities. When I reduce it to remembering what I’m really sewing is love in a blanket form, the hamsters in my head can rest.
I don’t ever want to be reduced by others; to be reduced to a sentence or a proclamation about me. No one appreciates this kind of reduction. This is diminishing. It doesn’t acknowledge all of the bits and pieces that make each of us who we are. The kind of reductions I find helpful are the ones where I can reduce my actions to a basic intention. These reductions provide clarity and sometimes even grace.
I had some devastating news about one of my most precious friends this week. I’ve been shaken to my core. I want to fix things. I want to know magic and miracles. I want to know just the right thing to say and do. When I’ve allowed myself the grace of using my recipe of reduction, not the one for strawberry crostini but reductions for life, I know what I really want to do is make sure they know how precious they are to me, and how loved. That’s it.
My inquiry for you this week is, ‘What reduction is needed?’
Elizabeth is a certified professional Leadership Coach, and the owner of Critchley Coaching. She is the founder and president of the Canadian charity, RDL Building Hope Society. She works with corporations, non-profits and the public sector, providing leadership coaching. She creates and facilitates custom workshops for all sizes of groups. She has particular expertise in facilitating Strategic Plans for organizations. Contact Elizabeth to learn how to create spectacular reductions.