One day thru the primeval wood A calf walked home, as good calves should, But made a trail all bent askew, A crooked trail, as all calves do. Since then three hundred years have fled, And I infer, the calf is dead; But still behind he left his trail, And thereon hangs my mortal tale.
The trail was taken up next day By a lone dog that passed that way, And then a wise bell-weather sheep Sliding into a rut now deep, Pursued that trail over hill and glade Thru those old woods a path was made.
And many men wound in and out, And dodged and turned and bent about, and uttered words of righteous wrath Because “twas such a crooked path” But still they follow-do not laugh- The first migrations of that calf.
The forest became a lane That bent and turned and turned again; This crooked lane became a road where many a poor horse with his load Toiled on beneath the burning sun, And traveled some three miles in one.
The years passed on in swiftness fleet, The village road became a street, And this, before the men were aware, A city’s crowded thoroughfare.
And soon a central street was this In a renowned metropolis; And men two centuries and a half Followed the wanderings of this calf.
Each day a hundred thousand strong Followed this zigzag calf along; And over his crooked journey went The traffic of a continent.
A hundred thousand men were led By one poor calf, three centuries dead. For just such reverence is lent To well established precedent.
A moral lesson this might teach Were I ordained and called to preach.
For men are prone to go it blind Along the calf paths of the mind; And work away from sun to sun To do what other men have done. ~Sam Walter Foss “Cow Path”
Each day and night fly by more swiftly than the previous. It is as if minutes are exponentially more compressed than in the past, hurtling forward to an inevitable destination, but the estimated time of arrival is unknown.
I struggle in late middle age to keep perspective while traveling this road of life, looking back at where I’ve been, and hoping for the best about where I’m headed, and trying to stick to the winding path ahead without deviation. My regret about this journey is that I haven’t stopped nearly often enough to simply take in the scenery, listen to the birds, smell the orchard blossoms, and feel the grass under my bare feet.
It is the conundrum of following the cow path laid down before me, traveling the well-worn pathway of precedent.
Nevertheless, as with all cow paths, there may have been no greater reason for the bend or curve than a patch of tall appealing grass at one time, or a good itching spot on a tree trunk or a boulder obstructing the way. Still I follow the curve, dodge the boulder, tread the zig zag. My path may appear random without focus on the destination and that’s okay: I need to stop once in awhile, settle down for a really good nap, enjoy a particularly fine meal, read an insightful book, or play a lovely hymn. It is not which path I’ve traveled to my eventual destination but the quality of my journey along the way.
I enjoy the twists and turns of life if I take the time to appreciate them. Just maybe – I’ll throw in a few curves of my own for those who are following behind me.
photo by Per Wolfisberg this morning from north-central Montana
Two lonely cross-roads that themselves cross each other I have walked several times this winter without meeting or overtaking so much as a single person on foot or on runners. The practically unbroken condition of both for several days after a snow or a blow proves that neither is much travelled.
Judge then how surprised I was the other evening as I came down one to see a man, who to my own unfamiliar eyes and in the dusk looked for all the world like myself, coming down the other, his approach to the point where our paths must intersect being so timed that unless one of us pulled up we must inevitably collide. I felt as if I was going to meet my own image in a slanting mirror. Or say I felt as we slowly converged on the same point with the same noiseless yet laborious stride as if we were two images about to float together with the uncrossing of someone’s eyes. I verily expected to take up or absorb this other self and feel the stronger by the addition for the three-mile journey home.
But I didn’t go forward to the touch. I stood still in wonderment and let him pass by; and that, too, with the fatal omission of not trying to find out by a comparison of lives and immediate and remote interests what could have brought us by crossing paths to the same point in a wilderness at the same moment of nightfall. Some purpose I doubt not, if we could but have made out.
I like a coincidence almost as well as an incongruity. ~Robert Frost from “Selected Letters”
When a man thinks happily, he finds no foot-track in the field he traverses. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson from “Quotation and Originality”
Robert Frost enjoyed how readers misinterpreted his ironic “The Road Not Taken” poem. His point was not “the road less traveled” “made all the difference” but that the roads were in fact the same. As humans living our daily lives, we have to make decisions that take us one way or the other, not knowing and very uncertain where our choices may lead us.
Our assurance lies in understanding the Hand that guides us, should we allow Him. We may choose a path that leads us astray; God continually puts up signposts that will guide us home. Our journey may be arduous, we may get terribly lost, we may walk alone for long stretches, we may end up crushed and bleeding in the ditch.
He follows the footprints we have left behind, and we are found, rescued and brought home, no matter what, and that — not the road we chose at the beginning — is what makes all the difference.
We want to reach the kingdom of God,
but we don’t want to travel by way of death.
And yet there stands Necessity saying:
‘This way, please.’
Do not hesitate to go this way,
when this is the way that God came to you.
We too easily forget;
we are not asked to bear more
than God endured for us.
We follow a well-worn path
bearing the footprints of Him
who has come to lead us home.
Do not go where the path may lead; go instead where there is no path and leave a trail. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson
Just like a certain recent U.S. President, my father chose to relax by brush cutting. Later on in life he enjoyed the still peace and quiet of fishing, but when I was young, his favorite thing to do when he had extra time was to grab his brush hook from the garage, sling it over his shoulder, and head out into our woods. There he would spend hours whacking away at the undergrowth of a lush Pacific Northwest forest, creating open areas for our cows to graze and making trails through seemingly impenetrable trees, foliage and blackberry patches.
Making trails seemed to give him a sense of control and accomplishment that he rarely felt in his government desk job. It created huge “brush piles” which became controlled bonfires on “burn” days in late October, reducing to ashes what once had been an impassable mess.
Somehow I found and married a man who also enjoys clearing brush, using that same sixty year old brush hook handle that now bears the sweat marks of two beloved men in my life.
The path for me is clearer after their work is done. I can now find my way.