Nothing But Footprints

By Jane Mountain | November 11, 2011

Wilderness Hiking

When I was a kid my Dad used to make us go on these crazy hikes. Crazy as in 10 miles of backcountry trails up the side of a mountain in Banff National Park. As the youngest of four kids, I was so little I had to be carried in a backpack.

A typical hike would go like this:

  1. Sing 50 rounds of A Knapsack on My Back.
  2. Play I Spy while looking for forest creatures, birds, and wildflowers.
  3. Ask at least 100 times “Are we there yet?” to which my Dad would dutifully reply, “Just around the next bend”. It never was.
  4. Stop for lunch.

Usually around the time we were packing up the remains of our peanut butter sandwiches, Dad would quote the well worn backcountry motto:

Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints, kill nothing but time.

In the wilderness this made perfect sense: the idea of leaving a piece of litter or picking a flower was unthinkable. The only thing we took away with us were Dad’s photos of tiger lilies, fire weed, and us kids scrambling up rocky hillsides.

Somehow, he even managed to keep my two hyperactive brothers on the trail when we finally got above the treeline. After all, there were dozens of mosses and lichens that struggled to survive in that inhospitable terrain. These living organisms would have been killed in an instant under the sole of a teenaged boy’s running shoe.

While most of my childhood has been lost to a fuzzy memory, I remember those hikes in sharp detail. I know that what my Dad taught me in the middle of nowhere, Canada, was the beginning of the journey that led to me starting this blog.

What I don’t understand is why, when we drove back home, the motto stayed in the backcountry.

Not that we ran around littering and killing small animals or anything. But we had a big house in the country, three cars, plenty of heat in the winter and air-conditioning in the summer. We ate hearty meals of steak and hamburger and chicken. We didn’t recycle and we had all the electronic toys and kitchen gadgets we could get our hands on.

In everyday life, we were taking and leaving and killing like crazy.

So here’s what I’m trying to figure out now.
How can I take that backcountry motto and apply it every day? How can I help others do the same? How can we, together, inspire everyone to treat every part of our planet as if it were a sacred backcountry space, like Yosemite, or Banff, or Masai Mara?

How can we start to move through this life taking nothing but pictures, leaving nothing but footprints, and killing nothing but time?

How can we help each other? What can I do to help you? Please let me know in the comments.

Hi, I’m Jane, founder and chief blogger on My Five Acres. I’ve lived in six countries and have camped, biked, trekked, kayaked, and explored in 50! At My Five Acres, our mission is to inspire you to live your most adventurous life and help you to travel more and more mindfully.


  1. Comment by how to get followers

    how to get followers Reply January 10, 2014 at 8:58 am

    Highly descriptive blog, I liked that a lot.
    Will there be a part 2?

  2. Comment by Chris

    Chris Reply July 19, 2013 at 7:23 am

    I don’t understand how you cook a meal on your travels. What equipment do you use?

    • Comment by Jane

      Jane July 21, 2013 at 12:29 am

      Great question Chris. The quick reply is that we use a Trangia camp stove, and we carry our food etc with us. But one day soon we’ll have to do a full post on the ins and outs of camp cooking.

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  7. Comment by postal rates

    postal rates Reply November 15, 2011 at 12:16 am

    i love your blog, i have it in my rss reader and always like new things coming up from it.

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