It seems most people think of a path in terms of how we move upon it – this way, that way, sometimes off it (if we're willing to take the risk). But I believe a path can be a living thing, a complicated thing, rich with stop and go. I guess what we know of it depends on how we walk it.
This week, I followed the witch-ways of my old summer home. I wasn't going anywhere, I was being with the paths. Often, people would pass me. They had destinations, and sensible shoes, and they powered on with little thought of what lay beneath them except where it might trip them. So they missed tiny pink flowers growing at the edges, all unexpected – flowers I had never seen there before. (Their seeds blew in on a westerly, I suppose, or were walked there by some gardener with dirty shoes. They had the sweetest sense about them, as if they were happy with where they grew. Ants clambered over their petals. Bumblebees bobbed in their scent. But I digress .... Or better to say, I linger ...)
This is the kind of thing destination-seekers everywhere miss constantly. But it's not entirely what I meant about their poor experience of a path ...
If they had slowed their feet, opened their hearts, they might have noticed places where a tree arched over the path, or roots rose in intricate weavings – and they might have sensed that they were crossing a threshold. For paths are a stitchwork of territory, and the mindful traveller is aware when the mood changes, and is full of wonder as to who may be watching her go. A deer perhaps, or a small black bird, or a fey creature beyond our awareness. My own paths, being coastal, and under mountains, in a wild dreaming land, call always for caution. I don't know exactly who holds their territories, perhaps the memories of miners, or a spirit of stone, or a coterie of trees who live in that zone. But I always pause when I enter one, and say thanks when I go. Good manners are just as strange – or as reasonable – as barging on through, depending on your perspective.
And then there is the problem of time. It's not too bad on a earth track, or a paved roadway. But when your path rambles and heaves and breaks open through the rootwork of old trees and deeper stone, then you are walking on wilded ground. Time does not exist on such ground – any ground, really. Time is only a beat inside our own minds. But its easier to stray out of our own kilter when we take a tangly road. And we don't notice until later that our watches have gone a little slow, or we've misjudged when we need to be heading home. I know most of the snags on my summer paths; that is of course the blessing of living long in one place. Or maybe it is just the way I walk.
I'm nothing special, not at all. I was just taught from a young age by paths that are tough with memory and ghosts, and now I want to tell you about it, to share the perspective. Those childhood paths demanded my attention and I, already primed to story by the forest of my winter home, was happy to walk them, talk with them, as if they were people or books. Plenty of times I just go places, like other people do. But best of all I love to loiter, and to have a conversation with the way. I've never felt the wanderlust of so many in my generation. They go far, but there's a depth that can be travelled too.
I will admit it hurts me when I see people trudging around with no awareness except of themselves and where they want to go. It's not only that it's disrespectful to the path which serves them, but that it seems to do a psychic harm to the stone. After all, it was laid down to meet with walkers. It offers a relationship. And most people just move on through.
Some paths feel so lonely. Some feel like they have turned away from people, gone within their silence, and those are the dangerous ones, because you can not trust where they might carry you. Other paths call for walkers, call and call, and if they are lucky they will be visited by someone who will talk with them, foot and stone, wonder and memory, and who will journey rather than just travel.