The Path Best Not Taken

Sun-dappled shade blanketed the woodland floor. Green ferns peeked through last year’s papery fallen leaves. We heard the rustle of small feet scampering and the sleepy call of a bird in the tree tops. Along the trail, ferns stood guard over a slumbering, moss-covered log.

Ahead of us, we saw a sun-filled clearing. Stepping into the sun made me squint. Cleared by man, the woodland corridor allowed poles topped with electrical wires to march through the property. The path diverged at this point. A map mounted on a post showed different route options.

The path to the left would take us directly back to The Clearing’s campus schoolhouse. The path to the right would meander further from the campus, but eventually bring us back to the schoolhouse, too. Glancing at Tammie, I asked, “Which path do you want to take?”

My daughter stated, “I want to take the one to the left.”

When my daughter Tammie and I visit The Clearing for a vacation, we take classes to learn new crafts or perfect crafts familiar to us. This year, because of COVID 19, classes were canceled, but the venue remained open for self-directed retreats. We decided to go. A handful of other people had done the same. Consequentially, the campus was strangely empty and quiet. Following the hiking paths on the 128-acre campus, we found the less traveled paths were not as trampled or easy to follow.

Tammie led the way back into the woods. We took turns leading, because of the spider-webs strung across the paths. Neither of us thought it fair for one of us to always get them in the face. We stopped often to rest and look around. This part of the woods was further from the campus than we usually roam. After resting, Tammie looked around, but couldn’t tell where the trail was.

I scanned the woodland floor. Guessing where the trail was, I took the lead, asking, “Tammie, do you remember our family trip to South Dakota when you were eight years old?”

Chuckling, Tammie let me know she remembered it very well by repeating something she had said on that trip, “I hate my Daddy.”

I laughed aloud. “We visited Custer State park near Sylvan Lake in South Dakota. Your daddy wanted to walk one of the trails, so off we went. The rest of us weren’t as enthusiastic about the idea. He found a trail that was supposed to be only a three-mile-loop. We left our car in the parking lot and descended into a gulch over large, slippery boulders. There were handrails bolted onto the boulders to help us. When a light rain began to fall a few minutes later, you wanted to go back to the car.

Tammie interjected, “Daddy couldn’t climb the boulders with me in his arms to get back to the parking lot. So, he said we had to keep going. That’s when I cried and said what I did.

I mused, “You were eight-years-old and had had knee surgeries when you were two. Then you wore leg braces until you were six, so your legs weren’t very strong. Daddy carried you a lot that afternoon.”

Tammie huffed, “I remember walking a lot that day!”

Seeing the nearly invisible path, I moved forward as I explained, “I was upset because it was hard to see where the trail was. I worried that we were going to wander around forever, lost in a strange forest. The big motorcycle rally in Sturgis was going on that week, so everywhere we went, we’d heard motorcycles roaring. Not during that hike, though. All we heard were birds and squirrels.”

Tammie grinned as she said, “I remember how excited you were towards the end of the hike when we started to hear engines again.”

I exclaimed, “I was excited! We’d walked for three straight hours, not knowing where we were. In the years since, I’ve tried to research what trail we were on and now think it is the one they call the ‘Sunday Gulch trail’. The tourist information lists the trail as a strenuous trail, not for beginner hikers.”

“What was Daddy thinking?” Tammie wondered. “I was barely a walker, let alone a hiker! That was one path best not taken!”

Tammie hiking at The Clearing on a well marked trail.



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