Retrospect: the lost path

Self-tutoring about people and events of the past: the tutor reflects…

Decades ago, on a bright day like this one, but in mid March, three friends walked home from school. It was so warm out, they took their coats off. (I was one: we took our coats off.)

In the Maritimes, winter comes late but hangs on: the day was unseasonably warm. Moreover, we were tired of winter. The day’s warmth and brightness lightened our steps and and spawned possibilities.

“Do you want to do something?” someone asked as we closed on the nearest house.

“Sure. Let’s meet back here in half an hour.”

I went home, put my books in the house, and changed jackets to a lighter one. Then, I left to meet my friends.

“Let’s go out in the woods,” someone suggested.

We all lived on the same road, one side of which backed onto woods that truly were endless. A road or two crossed them, but they continued past it, with no fences anywhere.

We all had motorbikes but even today was too early for them. “We can’t get far on foot…we better start,” one of us commented. We did.

By this age we seldom entered the woods on foot; we wondered if we’d overlooked some closer trails because we always took off far away on our motorbikes.

The idea of undiscovered, nearby paths was certainly possible: many paths crossed those woods, and none of us knew who’d made them or when. I wasn’t from that village, but my two friends were. The history of those paths – or even those woods – was never discussed. Therefore, there could have been a path anywhere, for any reason.

Snow still lay in a lot of places but not everywhere. We were wearing boots so we could traverse messy terrain; if we’d stayed in our yards we’d have worn runners that day.

“Where does that go?” someone pointed.

Paths can be harder or easier to spot when there’s snow – it depends. Definitely, in winter, the underbrush isn’t as thick, so it can be easier to get through some places then. We started down the path – or was it one? The snow lay undisturbed except for animal tracks.

The path led us back and forth through mixed forest . After a while it widened, which was curious. Its snow thinned until, sometimes, we were walking on earth. We came to a fork.

We all liked one path better, but chose the other – I don’t know why. “We’ll save the other for another day when we have more time,” one of us observed.

We started down our choice and soon were in woods unlike we knew. The trees were a different mix, and spaced differently as well. The path sometimes widened, sometimes narrowed. We joked and talked low in the afternoon sun, buoyed by its warmth, yet cautious that we were in unfamiliar territory. Though we were arguably close to home, none of us (to my knowledge) was knew this path.

Birds chirped and flitted across our way. Rabbit and deer tracks crisscrossed the trail – many animal paths diverged or converged along it. We continued, somehow aware that every step forward meant a step back. The sun was still bright, but after awhile you could feel its heat weaken – especially as the woods got thicker.

Eventually we met footprints coming from the opposite way that stopped and turned around. They were adult prints, it looked like. We all stopped and looked down at them.

One of my friends looked at his watch. “What do you think?” he asked.

“Let’s go a little further…see where these tracks come from,” the other friend suggested. “We’ve got time for that.”

“Okay.”

With fresh caution we followed the trail, walking over the adult’s tracks. We followed for probably a couple of miles. The woods became uniform, featureless; the trail straightened until it seemed like a narrow road. Eventually we turned back, convinced it would lead nowhere.

Now we were in a hurry to get home. Where we’d found the new trail we parted ways: “We’ll follow that other one next time,” we agreed.

Life happened and we never returned to those woods, on foot, as a group of three. I went back myself late that spring and found the entrance path but never could find the fork: without the snow the woods looked different. Yet, I still wonder about returning to try again.

Jack of Oracle Tutoring by Jack and Diane, Campbell River, BC.

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