I’ve been thinking about paths lately. The one just outside my door was built by and for friendship. Made of slate donated by a friend who moved away, it meanders down the slight rise from my step, sidles along the dog fence, and rounds the corner before ending at my landlady, Eileen’s, back door. It alleviates the muddy track we’d worn in the yard between our two dwellings and gives my little cottage a fairy-tale appearance.
Like any number of paths, this one evolved over the past several months. I came home one day last year in early June to find my friend making a trail of small white stones in the grass. Piled around him were two-dozen slate slabs. Together we sorted them and laid them this way and that, working our way to the corner of the fence. We ran out of filler stone and slabs at the same time.
For a while, the path languished. I hopped and skipped to my door on the ones that were there until another day in mid-summer brought my friend with more stones and a few more slabs. By then, the hollyhocks that surround my cottage were reaching for the sky, their blossoms every imaginable shade of pink.
The finished path has become a magical thing, a connection of earth and stone and good intentions leading from my door to Eileen’s. More than just a walkway, it’s a declaration of affection, a composite of artistry and shared work that connects the three of us in a more subtle way than the obvious stones linking both doors. I can’t walk it without thinking of friendship.
Paths always lead somewhere. Beyond my slate walkway, at the far end of my yard, is what my granddaughter, Sophia, calls the Secret Path, a narrow trail through a small stand of woods that leads from my yard to my neighbor’s. You have to duck under the lower hanging branches and skip over the fallen ones, all the while dodging summer spider web strands or winter snow showers. Once on the path, you disappear from sight, as though some magic there made you part of the small forest. At the neighbor’s end is sunlight and a square sand pile bristling with Tonka trucks.
A path of convenience, this small connector has also become a place of enchantment. There might be a majestic spider web fraught with dew glimmering between two trees. Some small animal might dart in front of you. Some flower you hadn’t noticed before might be blooming in secret under the leaf mold. Standing in the green gloom of the trees, the glittering promise of sunlight at either end can make you catch your breath.
Paths are like that. You think you know where you’re starting from and where you’ll end up but the space in between can change you. A path that looks as though it simply leads from one place to another can be, in secret, a pathway to the heart.