dew covered brambles growing across a muddy, narrow path on a cold winters day
Winter path – …kruse 2021

When Little Red Riding Hood went into the forest did she follow a path all the way to her Grandmother’s house? Hansel and Gretel hand in hand, woke up in a part of the forest they didn’t know and it was a path, not a road that took them to the witch. Robert Frost followed the, ‘road less taken,’ but I think he was being a little grandiose there, the ‘two roads’ were in a wood and both were grassed over, so were these really roads Robert, or merely paths?
There are a great many stories and poems about roads, Edward Thomas,’ ‘Now all roads lead to France,’ is full of sadness and menace, A.E Houseman, Kipling, Walt Whitman, G.K Chesterton, all write of roads. Roads may be grand, they may be dusty, they may take you on to the hell of a war or be the same road refugees flee along seeking safety.
Roads were built for armies, and after the wars those roads remained for commerce. Trade maintained the old battle-roads, and the grandest routes still exist, cutting across continents and centuries.
Back in the day, in England, travellers were charged to keep on the ‘king’s road,’ stepping off it into the wood was trespass and punishable. But then, back in the day, the dark woods or lonely moors beside the road were the hunting places of bears, wolves and dangerous men, so staying on the road was safer anyway.
Following the road is always easier than stepping off it, especially if the road is tarmacked, a smooth skin over the mess and inconvenience of nature. And everyone knows where the road comes from and where the road goes, even if they never travel along it themselves. On the road you are in community, you follow its laws, you follow its route, on the road you are seen, on the road you are known, you are part of the crowd and that brings with it both safety and danger. Safety in numbers? Maybe (has that ever been true?). Safety from dangers lurking beside the road. Safety in that the road will bring you to food, a bed, shelter. All roads do that eventually. But there is danger on the road too, danger in being so visible, danger in following a well travelled way.

“Stay off the road,” warns Gandalf to Frodo in Lord of the Rings, knowing that it is on the road that Frodo’s enemy will seek him. Frodo takes a path through the woods, a path across open country too, but the fickle paths lead him astray. Through the woods the path changes direction and eventually it fades away altogether. This is the danger of paths. Paths are wild things. You follow a path at your peril.

A path will take you into nature, brambles snatching at your hair, mud in winter, adders in the grass, no surety of direction, no certainty of food or shelter ahead. A path invites you to have faith, someone came this way once, that’s why the path is here. It’s not community on a path, the others are too far ahead or behind for that, but there is a kind of fellowship, others have been here, once, and your solitude is a little less lonely because of them.
A path is a quiet thing. It exists because other beings have trod the way, but only a season or two without passersby and the path returns to the wild, disappears into the grass and wild flowers. A path stays open because it is wanted.

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