Following well-worn footpaths

Sunday, March 16, 2003

I have always had a love for footpaths. Old dirt paths. A network of such paths held our early community together like so much featherstitching.

Research tells me that the earliest footpaths were made by wildlife -- deer hunting for salt licks, others making their way to the rivers and streams in search of food and drink or just to play in the water. Mankind followed these ready-made paths. Horses and wagons widened them. Ultimately mankind laid concrete over these old paths, connecting neighbors in a more harsh way. So much of the charm of the flower-bordered paths is gone.

I like to imagine some paths that my old literary friends made. Surely Thoreau had a well-worn path from his cabin in the woods to Walden Pond. There may have been widened places in the path where he stopped to push aside some underbrush so he could see if herons were floating on the water. It would have been more difficult for him to see the loons, but he could tell where they were by their distinctive call, especially when they had been disturbed.

I have never heard a loon but once checked out a recording of wild bird calls from the public library. One of the recorded calls was the wild frenzied call of the loon. No doubt that loon needed help. It made me think of the time I stooped to gather a bouquet of bluebells and there was a rattlesnake all coiled up with his rattler extended upward and tongue sticking out. I made frenzied calls all the way home, my fear making them louder than the loon's. I had already survived a copperhead snakebite and didn't want to go through that again. Later, I was assured it would have been much worse.

I can picture Thoreau walking along another well-worn path through the woods to his friend Emerson's home in nearby Concord.

So what would Henry and Ralph talk about when together? Henry might talk about his bean patch. Maybe he even brought a mess of green beans to Mrs. Emerson. Or he may have talked about his experience of "driving life into a corner to see what it was made of," and at the same time forming a sentence in his mind which he would later use in his book, "Walden." "If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, endeavor to live the life he has imagined, he will meet with a success undreamed of in common hours."

Waldo, as I like to call him because it sounds so authoritative, would no doubt speak of some facet of his philosophy, transcendentalism. "Henry," he might say, leaning over to brush a small green measuring worm from Thoreau's coat, "you know a version of the whole universe can be seen in that little worm?"

Henry would nod his head in agreement. He held the same view of the smallest things in the universe. At the same time, a portion of his mind might be thinking of the worms that were eating the vines in his bean patch.

On his way home, Thoreau may have sat on an old familiar stump and spoken aloud to whatever might be around, "I'd rather sit on a stump than a velvet cushion."

The Queen of Amherst, Emily Dickinson, because of poor health, would not have made many paths. Perhaps only from a porch out to her shade tree where, with some book in hand, she would follow many imaginary paths and proclaim in her well-known statement, "There is no frigate like a book."


Jean Bell Mosley is an author and longtime resident of Cape Girardeau.

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