Leaving a Footprint

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…And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
~Robert Frost from “The Road Not Taken”

 

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photo by Per Wolfisberg this morning from north-central Montana

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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”

 

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When a man thinks happily, he finds no foot-track in the field he traverses.
~Ralph Waldo Emerson from “Quotation and Originality”

 

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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.

 

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Go This Way

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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.
~ Augustine

 

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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.

 

 

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Dreaming With Wide Open Eyes

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photo by Kate Steensma

 

The cattle crouched round them in soft shadowy clumps, placidly munching, and dreaming with wide-open eyes. The narrow zone of colour created by the firelight was like the planet Earth – a little freak of brightness in a universe of impenetrable shadows.
~Hope Mirrlees from “Watching the Cows” 

 

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Sometimes I feel I am dreaming awake with wide-open eyes.  There is a slow motion quality to time as it flows from one hour to the next to the next.  Everything becomes more vivid, as in a dream — the sounds of birds, the smell of the farm, the depth of the greens in the landscape, the taste of fresh plums, the intensity of every breath, the reason for being.

The rest of time, in its rush and blur,  can feel like sleepwalking,  my eyes open but unseeing.  I stumble through life’s shadows, the path indiscernible, my future uncertain, my purpose illusive.

Wake me to dream some more.    I want to chew on it again and again, like a cow it’s cud, savoring.

 

 

 

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A Path of Pathlessness

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Wind finds the northwest gap, fall comes.
Today, under gray cloud-scud and over gray
Wind-flicker of forest, in perfect formation, wild geese
Head for a land of warm water, the boom, the lead pellet.

Some crumple in air, fall. Some stagger, recover control,
Then take the last glide for a far glint of water. None
Knows what has happened. Now, today, watching
How tirelessly V upon V arrows the season’s logic.

Do I know my own story? At least, they know
When the hour comes for the great wind-beat. Sky-strider,
Star-strider–they rise, and the imperial utterance,
Which cries out for distance, quivers in the wheeling sky.

That much they know, and in their nature know
The path of pathlessness, with all the joy
Of destiny fulfilling its own name.
I have known time and distance, but not why I am here.

Path of logic, path of folly, all
The same–and I stand, my face lifted now skyward,
Hearing the high beat, my arms outstretched in the tingling
Process of transformation, and soon tough legs,

With folded feet, trail in the sounding vacuum of passage,
And my heart is impacted with a fierce impulse
To unwordable utterance–
Toward sunset, at a great height.
~Robert Penn Warren from “The Collected Poems”

 

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I wish I could be as sure
as the geese and swans flying noisy overhead~
they trust where they are led
is where they belong.

They may not make it there
but nevertheless they go.

I wish I might fly into the setting sun
on a path of pathlessness
knowing only that I am sent
because the call is stronger
than I am.

paths

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To Wander Slowly

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photo by Emily Gibson (Dark Hedges, Ireland)
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photo by Joel DeWaard (Whatcom County, Washington)

 

For how many years did I wander slowly
through the forest. What wonder and
glory I would have missed had I ever been
in a hurry!
~Mary Oliver from “Leaves and Blossoms Along the Way” from Felicity

 

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photo by Emily Gibson (Mt. Stewart Gardens, Ireland)
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photo by Ben Gibson (New Hampshire)

God is at home, it’s we who have gone out for a walk.
~Meister Eckhart

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photo by Emily Gibson (Ireland)
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photo by Emily Gibson (Scotland)

Sometimes going for a walk is too much like a sprint, as far and as fast as possible.
Sometimes it is a spontaneous trek into the unknown, just to prove it can be done.
Sometimes it is a climb into the dark, with precipices and crumbling ledges under our feet.
Sometimes it is simply a journey of curiosity to see what may be around the corner.

No matter why or where or how far we wander,
or how slowly,
the path home shines just bright enough
to show us the way back to His glory
when we are ready.
He is there, waiting.
He keeps the light on for us.

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photo by Emily Gibson (Vancouver Island)

Distinguish Light from Dark

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Like animals moving daily
through the same open field,
it should be easier to distinguish
light from dark, fabrications

from memory, rain on a sliver
of grass from dew appearing
overnight. In these moments
of desperation, a sentence

serves as a halo, the moon
hidden so the stars eclipse
our daily becoming. You think
it should be easier to define

one’s path, but with the clouds
gathering around our feet,
there’s no sense in retracing
where we’ve been or where

your tired body will carry you.
Eventually the birds become
confused and inevitable. Even our
infinite knowledge of the forecast

might make us more vulnerable
than we would be in drawn-out
ignorance. To the sun
all weeds eventually rise up.
~Adam Clay “Our Daily Becoming”

 

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I walk among clouds
suspended above me and surrounding my feet,puff balls that blow and shatter,
scatter that covers the path,
if I knew where to step next.

And I don’t know.

All I know is to keep moving toward the light,
to leave darkness behind,
to rise up determined
to reach what just exceeds my grasp.

 

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The Path Taken

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paths

Twice each day I walk the same downhill path to the barn for chores.  Sometimes I’m half asleep, sometimes weary from working a long day at the clinic, most often in the dark,  sometimes sliding on icy snow, sometimes slipping in mud from unending rain, sometimes wading through a sea of overgrown grass.   The constant in this twice daily journey is the path itself and where it always takes me– no matter what time of year, the state of the weather, or how temporarily difficult to discern. My feet have learned the way by feel as much as by sight–the twist here, the dip there, the curve around the septic tank lid, the aromatic stretch through the stand of wild mint, all while trying to avoid stepping on the playful farm dogs or the swerving barn cat perpetually underfoot.

I prefer to take the demarcated path to the barn as it keeps me focused on the task ahead of me.  If I happen to deviate, I will surely find weeds to pull, a woodpecker to admire, a cluster of cherries to eat, or a sweet pea blossom to smell.  The distraction may bring me momentary pleasure but so much work remains yet to be done. I must find my way back to the path and stick to it.

As a teenager, I was a trailblazer, bushwhacking my way through brambles to see what might be on the other side, or to discover a new favorite place in the woods, or simply to prove I was stronger than the brush that yielded to me.  In my middle age, I tend to stick to the familiar.   I like knowing where my feet will land, what work my hands will touch, and where my head will rest.  The adventure of the unknown, so attractive in my youth that it took me to remote Tanzania, is less appealing now.  The visible path, even when difficult to follow due to cover of snow, sea of mud, or abundance of overgrowth, is reassurance that I have a purpose and a destination.   I can see where I am going and I know where I’ve been.

We tread many paths during our time on this soil–some routine and mundane, leading to the barns and chores in our life, and others a matter of faith, trust, heart and spirit.  As tempting as it is to deviate, the path is there for good reason.  It doesn’t have to be a super highway, or lined with gold or even paved with good intentions. It is rarely straight. But it must be true, steadfastly leading us to where we are called and back again to where we belong.

It’s time to pull on my boots.

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